The American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) influence weighs heavy in the Ohio's GOP-controlled legislature, where brazen attempts to crush the collective bargaining rights of public workers and change voting rules in favor of Republicans have made national headlines in recent months. Over the past year, Ohio lawmakers introduced 33 bills that are identical to or “appear to contain” elements of the ALEC's infamous model legislation that promotes a pro-corporate agenda, according to a report released this week by watchdog groups.
At least nine of the 33 bills have passed the State Legislature, including the now-defunct Senate Bill 5, which was poised to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights until Ohioans overwhelmingly voted for a repeal in November.
“At a time when Ohioans are desperate for cooperation … seeking Democrats and Republicans to come together to create jobs to get our economy moving again, far too often we see legislation introduced that does just the opposite,” said Tim Burga, president of the Ohio ALF-CIO. “Far too often, we see the influence of ALEC on the legislation that's introduced, legislation that is anti-worker, anti-consumer and anti-education, and it really seems like it's on behalf of the super-wealthy and the investor class.”
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ALEC brings together state legislators and lobbyist from some of America's wealthiest corporations to draft model legislation that participating lawmakers can introduce in their homes states. Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy exposed 800 of these model bills, revealing a conservative agenda aimed at privatizing education and prisons while weakening unions and environmental legislation. One model bill, for example, would repeal a state's prevailing wage laws that require certain wage rates for those employed by public projects, making it harder for union workers to compete for contracts.
Elements of 64 ALEC model bills can be found in the 33 bills recently introduced in Ohio, according to the report. Some of the bills have the same content as ALEC model bills, while sections of others match ALEC language word for word.
Included in the list of bills carrying ALEC's stamp is proposed legislation that would require voters to show a photo or state ID to cast a provisional ballot. Another bill signed into law last year allowed Ohio to become the first state to sell a public prison to a private corporation, in this case the Corrections Corporation of America, which donated $10,000 in 2010 to Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich's post-election transition fund.
As of January, 57 members of the Ohio legislature, or 43 percent of state senators and representatives, were ALEC members. Rep. Michael Stinziano of Columbus is the only Democrat on the list, according to the report.
Senate Bill 5 champion Governor Kasich is a former ALEC member. The governor has publicly downplayed his connection to the organization, but the report references an internal ALEC document on Ohio fundraising that credits Kasich for helping “mold ALEC in its formative years.” Kasich worked as a legislative aide in the 1970s for state Sen. Donald “Buz” Lukens, who was ALEC's longest serving national chairman.
Kasich and Republican legislators that supported Senate Bill 5 received $563,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC corporations in 2010. And, last year, an investigation by Truthout revealed that ALEC companies such as Walmart and Coca-Cola quietly funneled tens of thousands of dollars into front groups like the Republican Governors Association to support Kasich's election in 2010.
“In many states across the nation, our partner organizations have also released reports about ALEC's influence, but in no state has it been as great as it is here in Ohio,” said Brian Rothenberg, director of Progress Ohio, on the groups behind the report.
Rothenberg said ALEC uses corporate donations to fund scholarships that reimburse state legislators from Ohio and beyond for “paid vacations” to ALEC conventions, where they are “wined and dined” and introduced to the model legislation promoted by the group.
The report includes an untitled document uncovered by the Freedom of Information Act that lists small donation amounts from corporate interests such as the American Petroleum Institute and AT&T under a “debit” column and a list of 20 Ohio lawmakers under a “credit” column. The lawmakers received an average of $1,900, which matches amounts they were reimbursed by the scholarship fund.
Rothenberg said a loophole in Ohio ethics law allows corporate money to be funneled to politicians via the scholarship fund and should be closed immediately.
Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Ohio and the Center for Media and Democracy released the report.