How is ALEC affecting Oregonians?

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Last week, we looked into what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is, and explored which Oregon Legislators are involved. Today, we’re examining how ALEC is affecting Oregonians.

How is ALEC affecting Oregonians?

ALEC’s priorities are clear: working at the state level to replace public interest with corporate interests.  And having successfully recruited Republican state leaders across the nation, ALEC has sunk its teeth into politics in every state in the U.S.A.

How has the ALEC corporate agenda affected Oregonians?  While the full extent may never be completely revealed because of the secretive nature of the organizational workings, it is evident that ALEC has been in Oregon for a number of years cultivating legislative allies, promoting policies to benefit big banks, tobacco companies, oil companies, for-profit charter schools, and other corporate interests.

Recent ALEC Bills in Oregon

In 2011, a bill was introduced into the House that recommended a series of “efficiencies” for government agencies. What HB 3484 “Council on Efficient Government” actually aimed to do, though, was to create a state council of appointed private sector individuals who would determine which state agencies and programs should be privatized. This is something akin to asking a representative from Coca-Cola to decide what kind of vending machines should be placed in schools. Of the bill’s 11 sponsors, at least 7 are confirmed ALEC members, including Rep. Gene Whisnant, ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year.” The bill was easily traced back to ALEC Exposed’s database, where it was evidently written by the corporate interests at ALEC.

That same year, Rep. Kim Thatcher introduced anti-environment legislation, hand-picked directly from the ALEC website. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported:

Koch Industries Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitals from Oregon to New Mexico to New Hampshire — and that’s by design…

The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying a fee between $3,000 and $10,000, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News…

Earlier this year, state Representative Kim Thatcher, a Republican, asked her staff to develop legislation that would put pressure on Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, to withdraw from the climate initiative.

A Thatcher aide scrolled through ALEC’s website and found a model bill that could meet the need and passed it on to her. “I read it and I said that encapsulates it very well,” Thatcher said in an interview.

For the 2012 session, Rep. Whisnant introduced another ALEC bill: HB 4154 “Federal Receipts Reporting Bill,” which would place undue burden on state agencies, requiring an increased workload while acknowledging that they were likely to lose agency funds. Due to the evenly divided House, the bill didn’t pass.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

One of the most pressing concerns about ALEC is the secrecy of the organization. Legislators are under no obligation to identify when a bill they introduce comes from ALEC models. And, though we can cross-reference the database of 800+ bills, there are far more ALEC bills than that database holds. This means that there are ALEC bills that have almost certainly been introduced in Oregon that we have no way of identifying.

But considering ALEC’s corporate sponsors and their recent “budget reform” focus, certain Oregon bills seem to fit the profile:

After two much-needed consumer protection bills to help struggling homeowners made their way through the Senate (SB 1552 and SB 1564), Rep. Whisnant and Rep. Wand (both ALEC members) attempted to block efforts by tacking on big bank-friendly measures – not only rolling back the consumer protections of the original bills, but even going so far as to remove protections that existing laws already provided. This amendment stalled the bills and appeared on track to prevent any protections from occurring; due to public outcry and pressure, though, Democratic legislators were able to carry a bill to the floor that represented the key elements of the original bills that passed out of the Senate. In the final hours of the 2012 session, the House passed a successful foreclosure protection bill.

HB 4098, introduced February 2012 by Representative Olson, proposed to increase state forest logging by nearly 80%, certainly appealing to big timber and lumber companies. Republicans cited the bill as a “jobs creator,” but environmentalists called foul – and they were joined by Governor Kitzhaber, who recognized that the bill “threatens to undermine efforts to gain consensus among conservation and timber groups,” instead catering directly to corporate interests.

Similarly, HB 4101 was introduced to expand commercial use of the Columbia River, rolling back environmental regulations established to protect fish. The chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Michael McLane, is an ALEC member; and, in fact, half of the bill’s co-sponsors are ALEC members. According to the Oregonian, while House Republicans called for this measure as part of their jobs plan, environmental groups warned that the bill “could actually cost commercial and sport fishing jobs as well as those tied to recreation.”

What now?

Oregon’s 2012 session is over, which means that concerns about ALEC bills are temporarily on hold. But what about the process itself, with its leveraged corporate influence? And what about Oregon’s elected leaders, who choose to participate in such a secretive system of policy-making?

Oregonians have a right to expect that the lawmakers they send to Salem are actually representing their interests, and not the interests of multinational corporations who are trying to buy the political system. But that won’t happen unless voters remain informed, vigilant, and active in holding their elected leaders accountable.


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