Tag Archives: ALEC

Collected TNN reports on out-of-state influence — Education reformers, Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, NRA

(Note: Below are excerpts and links to a package of articles on influence of groups based outside the state on in-state policy that was produced by Tennessee’s four largest news organizations — The Commercial Appeal, The Tennessean, The Knoxville News Sentinel and The Chattanooga Times Free Press — collaborating at the Tennessee News Network. The overview story is posted in full HERE.)

Pro-vouncher lobby, including American Federation for Children and StudentsFirst, lost again in 2015 Legislature
From David Boucher of The Tennessean:
“Unfortunately, (the voucher) bill was stalled for a number of reasons. Lobbying groups representing district school boards, for instance, claimed budgetary concerns while groups like ours pointed to school choice having a positive educational impact for students,” said Ted Boyatt, spokesman for an organization called Students First.

California-based Students First…spent as much as $213,907 on lobbying in 2014, with its political action committee spending $573,917 during the two years leading up to the 2014 election, according to state finance records.

Washington, D.C.-based Tennessee Federation for Children, the state chapter of the American Federation for Children, spent as much as $150,000 on lobbying in 2014 and $606,345 during the 2014 campaign cycle, according to campaign finance records.

It didn’t work. One Democrat, former Rep. Gloria Johnson, was ousted, but other Democrat targets — including Nashville Reps. Darren Jernigan and Jason Powell — survived campaign onslaughts from outside groups.

Although Tommy Schultz, a spokesman for the Tennessee Federation for Children, argued the money helped elect “school choice” candidates, the voucher bill continues to die in a House finance subcommittee.

“Our public education system is the bedrock of our communities and their success and it is not for sale,” said Lyn Hoyt, a spokeswoman for Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a group advocating against vouchers. “Citizens see through a lot of this paid PR agenda to sway public opinion if they are experiencing the changes in the system. The changes have been so swift and painful, trust is gone.”

Schultz and Boyatt disagree. Schultz’s organization released a poll earlier this year that it believes shows increasing public support for vouchers. Both groups have advocated for vouchers for three years, and they both believe the bill is gaining some traction at the state Capitol.

“I think our organization has made a positive impact in raising the profile of this issue and advancing the debate on school choice. Progress on such an important issue doesn’t happen overnight, and each year has been more successful than the last,” Boyatt said.

The more successful groups advocated against a program that drains money from public schools and doesn’t work, said Tennessee Education Association spokesman Jim Wrye.

The TEA, one of the largest teachers unions in the state, opposes vouchers. Although the union lost considerable power when collective bargaining rights were nixed in Tennessee, it still spent big: $530,130 by its political action committee in the 2014 election cycle, and as much as $175,000 in lobbying in 2014, according to state campaign finance records.

“TEA was the key to defeating vouchers. All public education groups rallied to defeat the measure, but the political strength came from the members of TEA,” Wrye said in a statement.
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TN legislators attending ALEC: Nothing sinister here, despite claims to contrary

Michael Collins has a report on last week’s ALEC meeting in Washington and the Tennessee legislators who attended. Extended excerpt:

State Rep. Ryan Haynes has been to three conferences hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council — enough for him to feel confident the conservative group is not the sinister, corporate-driven lobbying force portrayed by its critics.

But as the Knoxville Republican and other state legislators gathered with top business executives at a Washington hotel this week for the group’s winter policy summit, dozens of protesters were marching outside against what they say is an unsavory alliance of government and corporate interests.

Beating on plastic tubs and blasting bullhorns, the marchers carried signs accusing the group, known as ALEC, of a long list of sins. “Lower Wages Brought to You By ALEC,” one of the placards read. “ALEC Shoots First…& Hits Real People,” declared another.

“The public is completely in the dark about ALEC,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., one of the group’s many detractors, said in a conference call with reporters. “They are very good at what they do. However, it is not in the public interest. And that should concern each and every person.”

Some 900 people — roughly half of them state legislators from around the country, including about a dozen from Tennessee — attended the organization’s three-day winter meeting in Washington, which concluded Friday. ALEC bills itself as supporting limited government, free markets and federalism.

At the summit, lawmakers sat down with private-sector representatives in task force meetings and debated model legislation on everything from the environment and energy to commerce, health care and international relations. Model legislation discussed at the group’s meetings is often used as a template for new laws in various states.

Lawmakers say participation in ALEC better equips them to do their jobs because it gives them a place to swap ideas with legislators from across the country.

But ALEC’s task force meetings are closed to the public, and the group refuses to release the names of its corporate participants — secrecy that critics say enables big business to cozy up to lawmakers behind closed doors and exert too much influence over public policy.

Haynes and other Tennessee state legislators who attended this week’s summit insist that perception is wrong.

“That is nowhere near accurate whatsoever,” said state Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Committee. Sargent said he has been attending ALEC gatherings since 1998.

Deputy House Speaker Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said coming to ALEC events is “like coming to the trough of conservatism.”
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Legislature’s Freshmen Getting Oriented

Georgina Vines talks with freshmen legislators about their orientation sessions…. and one who made a trip to Washington for an ALEC meeting, too.
“It’s not government civics.”
That’s how newly-elected state Rep. Roger Kane, a Knoxville Republican, described orientation and GOP caucus sessions that he’s attended in Nashville to get ready for when the General Assembly begins meeting in January. The Legislature will have a large freshman class with 22 new House members and six new senators.
Representing the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, Kane said the GOP caucus session in particular was not something he remembered studying. The vote was done by a secret ballot.
“I thought it would be more of a voice thing,” he said.
….Orientation covered everything from security to offices. A tour of the newly-renovated Capitol was given. Presentations were made by the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
“They want us to be prepared so in January everything is not overwhelming and new,” he said.
Democrat Gloria Johnson, elected to represent the 13th District, also attended the sessions.
“As I am still teaching, I haven’t had the time I would like to get familiar with things there, so the day was definitely beneficial for me,” she said.
The Nashville meetings were Nov. 26-27,and then Kane went to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28-30 to attend a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC paid the transportation and expenses at the Grand Hyatt of freshmen legislators, Kane said.
He was the only newly-elected lawmaker from East Tennessee to attend the ALEC program, he said. Johnson did not attend, saying she chose instead to meet with constituents in her district.
…Kane said the group acknowledged it had taken some missteps and planned to focus in areas where it feels it’s the strongest. Its website said ALEC works on the principles of free markets and limited government.
“I’m being inquisitive and figuring out what these groups do for me, how I can be a part of it or not be a part of it,” Kane said.

Two TN Democrats Quit ALEC as Republican Legislators Praise It

Two Tennessee Democratic legislators have resigned from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which this summer is the target of a national campaign from critics contending it has become a secretive, corporate-controlled lobby for conservative causes.
Tennessee Republican legislators attending ALEC’s national convention in Salt Lake City last week, however, say the organization has made them better lawmakers by enhancing an exchange of ideas and information between the public sector and the private sector.
“It’s an organization that promotes the principles on which this country was founded — free markets and free enterprise,” said Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, deputy speaker of the state House, a member of ALEC since 1989 and a member of its national public sector board of directors.
ALEC is largely financed by its private sector members. Two groups leading the anti-ALEC campaign — Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Color of Change — say 30 major corporations have recently abandoned membership, including General Motors and Walgreens last week. Others quitting range from Walmart and Coca-Cola to Amazon and Miller Coors.
There are Tennessee groups critical of ALEC as well.
“We think Tennessee legislators are being bought and paid for by an exclusive network of corporate lobbyists and special interest groups,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

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On ALEC’s Tennessee Ties

In a City Paper article, Steve Hale reviews some of the national controversy swirling around the American Legislative Exchange Council–it’s losing some big corporate sponsors and recently announced a decision to drop past pushing for restrictions on voting and pro-gun bills – as well as ALEC’s Tennessee ties.
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, there are 44 Tennessee state legislators with ties to ALEC. The largely Republican list includes the highest-ranking Republican leadership in both chambers of the legislature, but it also names five Democrats.
On a board of directors made up of 15 legislators — with eight more serving on an executive board — two are Republicans from Tennessee: Rep. Steve McDaniel, who has been an ALEC member since 1989, and Rep. Curry Todd, who serves as the state’s public sector chairman.
Each state has a public and private chairperson. Tennessee’s private sector chair is Patricia Cannon. She was formerly the director of state government affairs for pharmaceutical corporation Allergan Inc. According to her LinkedIn profile, she now holds the same position at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.
(Note: A bill to require disclosure of those producing model legislation in Tennessee was killed this year with Todd making the motion to table the measure. Previous post HERE.)
Todd could not be reached for comment and phone calls and emails to an ALEC spokesman were not returned.
After ALEC’s announcement, the group sent out a statement attributed to McDaniel in which he applauded the decision to “refocus [their] efforts.” In an interview with The City Paper, he confirmed his position with the organization as well as Todd’s and Cannon’s. Not surprisingly, his view of ALEC is unfailingly positive.
“Because I believe in the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, personal responsibility and all those things, I think that business ought to be involved with coming up with legislation,” he said. “If you don’t communicate with the people who are creating the jobs and who are being regulated by government, you don’t get a rounded full story of what’s going on. I think ALEC’s a good model to allow that to take place.”
McDaniel said he couldn’t point to a single ALEC bill this session and argued that even when model bills are used in the state, they’re often changed throughout the legislative process to a point where he wouldn’t call them “ALEC bills.”
Along with the aforementioned gun and voter-ID laws, watchdog groups have pointed out parts of the scientific education bill, which Gov. Bill Haslam recently allowed to pass into law without his signature, that mirror sections of an ALEC model bill. Indeed, some language from the model, focused on classroom discussions about climate change, can be found in legislation across the country.

Some Opinons on Recent TN Legislating

The Unelected Deciding Legislation?
Excerpt from a Tennessean editorial: Yes, we registered voters elected these senators and representatives. But we did not elect the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the National Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Eagle Forum. But they wrote many of these bills. These groups and their operatives are not from Tennessee, and frankly, they do not care about Tennessee except in how our acceptance of these bad bills serves their agendas.
If you’re looking for an actual vast conspiracy, this is pretty close.
Such “model” legislation, as it is known, is cooked up by these organizations to bring their extreme goals to fruition on a national scale. They only need to entice key legislators, usually with campaign contributions, to carry their bills for them as if they were their own — as if they were intended for the good of the people of Tennessee. They seldom are.
Through their bills, they are able to get laws passed that the majority of the people of this state would never approve of. So far, Tennesseans have let this happen, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, knows that. Last year, he introduced legislation to require that bills connected to such out-of-state organizations publicly identify as such. The bill was quickly quashed. But the more residents of this state who know of this sleazy practice, the more likely it will end, through the ballot box or through a call for accountability like Rep. Turner’s.

Holding Hands = ‘Gateway Sexual Activity’
Excerpt from a Wendi Thomas column: House Bill 3621 and its companion Senate Bill 3310 would keep teachers or groups from promoting “gateway sexual activity,” defined as “sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior” as if teenagers ever needed a nudge to get their freak on.
The fuzziness of the language has earned the bill, which has passed in the Senate but not the House, the moniker “No Holding Hands” bill.

Open Government: Step Forward, Step Back
From a News Sentinel editorial: The cause of open government met with mixed success last week in the Tennessee Legislature.
The effort by the Haslam administration to close public access to information about companies receiving state grants apparently has been derailed, but a measure that would keep secret applicants for top university and college positions is all but assured of passage.
On No-Sign Bill
Pat Nolan commentary on Gov. Bill Haslam’s reasons for not signing the evolution bill: Those statements are certainly good reasons not to sign the bill, but aren’t they also good reasons not to allow the bill to go into law at all? It would appear the only justification offered for why this ought to go into our legal canons is that it was approved with “bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by three-to-one majorities.”
That seems more a political reason to allow the bill to go into effect rather than a good public policy rationale.

ALEC Disclosure Bill Killed at Urging of ALEC Board Member

Democratic efforts to require lawmakers to disclose what special interests are proposing the “model legislation” members often introduce died in a party-line vote last week in Republican-run House subcommittee, according to Andy Sher (a piece of a political notebook)..
“This is a bad bill … horrible bill, really,” Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said during the House State and Local Government Subcommittee meeting. “I know what it’s getting back at. It’s getting back at ALEC.”
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group of businesses and conservative legislators from across the U.S. Critics say the group is really a front that gives large corporations a big hand in writing bills introduced in dozens of states in areas ranging from anti-teacher union measures to voting.
Todd is a board member.
The disclosure bill’s sponsor, Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said it “does not particularly talk about ALEC” and noted it also would affect groups like the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s just good disclosure to know where these bills come from.”
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, also defended the bill, saying, “All it does is tell us the source.”
The bill (HB2301) died on a voice vote
. (But all three Democrats on the panel – Reps. Tommie Brown, Larry Miller and Mike Turner – had themselves officially recorded as voting yes, which more or less leaves all the panel’s voice-voting Republicans as official no votes.)

Tennesseans in ALEC

A post on the state Democratic party’s blog lists Tennessee legislators involved in the American Legislative Exchange Commission, a corporate-funded conservative national organization that has been meeting this week in New Orleans.
There are 39 current Tennesssee lawmakers on the list. (That doesn’t count former Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, who is now chief clerk of the state House and who seems to listed twice on the blog, both as a current and a former legislator.)
The list has 30 state representatives, all Republicans except Democratic Reps. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville and David Shepard of Dickson. There are nine senators, all Republicans except Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis.
The list includes the House and Senate majority leaders, Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga and Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville, and the two chambers Republican Caucus chairs, Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville and Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro.
It does not include either House Speaker Beth Harwell or Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Report Lists ALEC Donations to State Legislators

Excerpt from a National Center for Money in State Politics news release:
For decades, some of this nation’s largest corporations have courted thousands of conservative lawmakers at annual conferences of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Along with the food, drink, and dancing, member attendance to the conference comes with access to hundreds of industry-drafted bills that their hosts would like to see passed by state legislatures and Congress.
And, like any good courtship, ALEC’s member corporations and associations were generous to their state-lawmaker partners when it came time to get serious about the relationship.
How serious?
An examination of campaign donations made by ALEC corporate members dating back to the 1990 election cycle shows that they contributed $12.2 million to state-level candidates who were ALEC members, with 98.4 percent of that money going to incumbent and winning candidates, many of whom could vote on proposed legislation. Additional analysis reveals that $11.9 million of the $12.2 million went to Republicans. Click here to download the database.
Over the seven (10 for some states) election cycles covered in a donor-data analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, ALEC corporate members contributed $516.2 million to state-level politics: $202.1 million to state-level candidates, $228.3 million to high-dollar ballot-measure campaigns, and $85.8 million to state political party committees.

A quick skim through the list of contributions shows a sprinkling of donations to Tennessee lawmakers including state Reps. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, and Curry Todd, R-Collierville; as well as former Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, (now in Congress) and former Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet. Most of those donations are in fairly modest amounts of $200 to $500.
Full news release HERE.

Virtual Schools Bill Tied to Lobbyist, ALEC and a Legislator’s Longtime Interest

(Note: The News Sentinel ran this story by yours truly along with the CA report noted in post below.)
Rep. Harry Brooks says he worked with a lobbyist on legislation that cleared the way for Union County to operate an online school system with K12 Inc., but was unaware that the bill was based on a model drafted by an organization of conservative state legislators.
The Knoxville Republican said in an interview that his interest in providing virtual schools to students dates back to his service on the Knox County School Board several years ago when he studied use of such efforts at the county’s juvenile detention facility.
Portions of the bill (HB1030) are identical to a model law developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization for state legislators largely funded by corporations. ALEC has sometimes been controversial, and last week the Center for Media and Democracy posted on the Internet some 800 model ALEC bills along with critical commentary..
Brooks, former chairman of the House Education Committee, said he shared an interest in using online materials for educating children with state Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville.
Lobbyist Beth Winstead approached him earlier this year about the proposal, he said.

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