It’s amazing how a little sunlight will change the behavior of some of the biggest names in corporate America — sunlight here meaning greater transparency and accountability.
It’s also amazing how the U.K.’s The Guardian is covering this changed behavior — and its potential consequences for every American — without much competition from U.S.-based media. It seems that reporters in Washington in particular can’t be bothered.
Over the past several decades, one of the country’s most influential political organizations — the 40-year-old American Legislative Exchange Council — was able to operate largely under the radar. Never heard of it? That’s by design. Founded in 1973 by conservative political operatives, ALEC has been successful in shaping public policy to benefit its corporate patrons in part because few people — including reporters — knew anything about the organization, much less how it went about getting virtually identical laws passed in a multitude of states.
That began to change two years ago when an insider leaked thousands of pages of documents — including more than 800 “model” bills and resolutions, showing just how close ALEC is with big corporate interests and revealing how it goes about getting laws passed to enhance the profits of its sponsors, usually at the expense of consumers.
The Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit corporate watchdog organization, sifted through the documents and posted them on a dedicated website, ALECexposed.org. Those bills and resolutions, drafted by or in collaboration with industry lobbyists and lawyers, “reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state,” CMD says on the website.
I reviewed all of the health care legislation in the leaked documents and wrote about what I found for The Nation magazine in July 2011. It became clear from my review that health insurers felt one of the best ways to block the profit-threatening provisions of ObamaCare would be to use ALEC to disseminate bills it had helped write to friendly state legislators. It was also clear that ALEC’s staff and membership had been at work for more than a decade on a broad range of issues important to my former industry, from turning over state Medicaid programs to private insurers to letting them market highly profitable junk insurance.
While ALEC-member legislators hail from every state, the organization has been especially successful in getting bills introduced in legislatures controlled by Republicans. As The New York Times noted in an editorial in February, more than 50 of ALEC’s model bills were introduced in Virginia alone last year.
In addition to insurance companies like State Farm and UnitedHealthcare, ALEC’s corporate membership has included big names ranging from ExxonMobil and Wells Fargo to Johnson & Johnson and Kraft. And it has worked closely with groups like the National Rifle Association as well.