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The Extreme Corporate Agenda

By Clyde Weiss

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is just one portion of an entire network of anti-union, anti-worker organizations that want to cut public service workers’ pensions and health care benefits, and dismantle collective bargaining rights.

Extreme corporate web

Big Business and small-government ideologues are waging a coordinated, well-financed war against the middle class, and public service workers are on the frontlines.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and other politicians have brazenly gone after public service workers and unions. But the groundwork for the attacks we see today was laid over decades — developed and spread by organizations with unassuming names like American Crossroads, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and Americans for Tax Reform.

But their goals are far from harmless. They push an agenda that is designed to weaken the power of working women and men by chopping away at collective bargaining — the very source of that power.

ALEC is among the most powerful of these groups. With a membership roll of nearly 2,000 state legislators, the organization’s influence is felt in every statehouse in the nation.

Behind Closed Doors

Based in Washington, DC, ALEC was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who is often called the father of the modern conservative movement.

ALEC claims to be “a private organization similar to membership organizations such as the YMCA,” and says its mission is to advance “free markets” and “limited government.”

But ALEC’s real work is steeped in secrecy. The organization doesn’t disclose its membership roll of state legislators and financial backers. While ALEC does disclose the titles of its model bills (such as the Prevailing Wage Repeal Act), access to the details is restricted to state legislators who pay $50 annually for membership, and to hundreds of corporations that each pay $7,000 for access.

Nevertheless, researchers and journalists have revealed a legislative agenda to weaken unions, reduce public services, thwart health care reform, and block regulations to protect the environment. ALEC supports privatization of public services such as corrections, and proposes to undermine public service workers’ retirement and health care benefits.

“Everything should be on the table, including changes in benefits and increased employee contribution rates,” states ALEC’s 2011 State Budget Reform Toolkit.

Pay To Play

ALEC’s corporate members include representatives of oil giant ExxonMobil, drug maker Pfizer Inc., tobacco producer Reynolds American Inc., and Koch Industries Inc., whose billionaire owners, Charles and David Koch, are major financial backers of the tea party.

Collectively, corporations contributed nearly $6 million in 2008 towards ALEC’s $7 million annual budget. What these Big Business players get for their money is a seat at the table to help write ALEC’s model bills, including a measure to create broad new immigration enforcement authority.

Representatives of the country’s largest prison privateer, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), were present when the measure was drafted at an ALEC conference in 2009. CCA stood to gain from additional lockups resulting from the new law. Two months later, Arizona lawmakers introduced an immigration bill that matched ALEC’s model “almost word for word,” reported National Public Radio.

In a new report, AFSCME has tracked the flow of money from private prison companies, like CCA, to lawmakers and other officials to gain their support to build more for-profit prisons. During the last 10 years, private prison companies have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates for state office.

ALEC claims that roughly 1,000 bills “based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation” are introduced annually in state legislatures. Last year, more than 200 became law. Which ones? ALEC doesn’t say.

AFSCME continues monitoring ALEC and similar groups whose goal is to make public employees scapegoats for the abuses and failures of Big Business and Wall Street tycoons. The more they are exposed to the harsh light of public scrutiny, the easier it will be to stop them.

Know Your Enemies

The corporate-funded think tanks, political action committees (PACs), and advocacy groups that push an anti-worker agenda are working overtime to attack public service workers and their unions. Knowing the enemy is the first step in fighting back. Here is a brief overview of some of the major organizations bent on taking away collective bargaining and other basic American rights.

American Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS)

American Crossroads GPS and its sister organization, American Crossroads, are affiliated with Karl Rove, the former senior advisor and political guru to former Pres. George W. Bush. Steven Law, president of both groups, was general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and also served as Bush’s deputy secretary of labor. In the midst of the Wisconsin battle over collective bargaining rights this year, Crossroads GPS spent $750,000 for a nationwide cable TV ad campaign attacking public service workers and their unions.

Americans for Prosperity

Billionaire David Koch founded Americans for Prosperity in 2004. Today, this organization (and a sister foundation) help set the corporate agenda of limited government, writing its talking points and financially supporting its candidates. In the midst of the Wisconsin battle over collective bargaining rights, Americans for Prosperity spent at least $400,000 on radio and TV ads supporting Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-worker legislation. In January, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Americans for Prosperity-Michigan Exec. Dir. Scott Hagerstrom laid out the group’s true intent when he said they wanted “to take the unions out at the knees, so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

Americans for Tax Reform

This small-government advocacy group was founded in 1985 by former business lobbyist Grover Norquist, who once infamously declared his goal was “to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The organization’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge seeks lawmakers’ promises not to raise taxes on people or businesses — the right’s key strategy for limiting spending on vital public services and eliminating the good jobs of those who provide them.

Cato Institute

This think tank, based in Washington, DC, was established in 1977 by Libertarian Party leader Edward Crane with money from billionaire Charles Koch — a founder and funder of several organizations that advocate for cutting public services, reducing corporate taxes and eliminating government regulations intended to protect the public interest. Koch’s brother, David — founder of Americans for Prosperity — serves on Cato’s board of directors. Chris Edwards, Cato’s director of tax policy studies, says states “should ban collective bargaining in the public sector.” Edwards also has written that “public sector compensation — and benefit plans in particular — need to be overhauled” and that collective bargaining “violates civil liberties.”

Chamber of Commerce

The nation’s largest business lobby organization is Wall Street’s “800-pound gorilla,” serving as the leading foe of collective bargaining rights, the Employee Free Choice Act (which would make it easier for workers to join a union), workplace safety legislation, equal pay and many other issues that working Americans care deeply about. It is also one of the biggest spenders on behalf of candidates who support their corporate-backed agenda. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, served as the Chamber’s chief speechwriter during the 1980s.

Heritage Foundation

Right-wing patriarch Paul Weyrich founded this think tank in 1973 with funding from Colorado beer magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, both longtime financiers of anti-worker groups. Weyrich also founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (see main story). With additional funding from Big Business, the Heritage Foundation produces so-called research papers — often using biased or incorrect data — to promote its causes. A paper issued in February opposed binding arbitration and collective bargaining for public service workers. Its researchers also appear before Congress.

FreedomWorks

Headed by former House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas), FreedomWorks is a major player in the tea party movement. Funded by insurance, oil, and other corporate interests, the group opposes the Employee Free Choice Act.