Through a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, the billionaire Koch brothers have helped advance a number of state laws that benefit corporate and right-wing interests. An internal document shows ALEC is tracking 131 bills which, among other issues, seek to roll back renewable energy standards, combat federal coal regulations and tout the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. ALEC’s efforts recently paid off in Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a measure allowing utilities to charge customers who generate energy from solar panels or small wind turbines. ALEC’s victory in Oklahoma comes as a federal judge has struck down a voter ID law in Wisconsin, saying it unfairly targeted the poor and people of color. ALEC has been exposed as the secretive powerhouse behind voter ID laws and other right-wing initiatives across the country, thanks largely to the reporting of our guest, Lisa Graves, president of the newly merged The Progressive magazine and the Center for Media and Democracy.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The billionaire Koch brothers and their allies in the American Legislative Exchange Council have won a victory in their fight against renewable energy. In a bid to protect their own corporate interests, the Kochs and ALEC have launched new efforts to roll back state policies that encourage the use of solar or wind power. Those efforts recently paid off in Oklahoma, where Governor Mary Fallin has signed a measure allowing utilities to charge customers who generate energy from solar panels or small wind turbines.
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An internal document obtained by The Progressive and the Center for Media and Democracy shows the scope of ALEC’s anti-environmental efforts this year. ALEC is tracking 131 bills which, among other issues, seek to roll back renewable energy standards, combat federal coal regulations, and tout the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Eleven of the bills seek to amend state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell excess electricity back into the grid, a system that helps homeowners offset the cost of installing solar panels.
AMY GOODMAN: ALEC’s victory in Oklahoma comes as a federal judge has struck down a voter ID law in Wisconsin, saying it unfairly targeted the poor and people of color. ALEC has been exposed as the secretive powerhouse behind voter ID laws and other right-wing initiatives across the country, thanks largely to the reporting of our next guest, Lisa Graves, who’s joining us from Washington, D.C. She’s president of Progressive Inc., which now includes the Center for Media and Democracy and The Progressive magazine. She’s now publisher of the magazine, as well as ALEC Exposed.
Lisa, welcome to Democracy Now! Congratulations on all your new hats. Can you talk about first the voter ID law and then this attack on solar and alternative energy sources?
LISA GRAVES: Well, thank you so much, Amy. Yesterday was a great day for voting rights in this country. A federal court in Milwaukee struck down Wisconsin’s restrictive voter provisions that were passed at the instigation of Scott Walker. Those voter provisions make it harder for American citizens to vote, impose new restrictions on how you can vote at the polls, in terms of ID requirements. And in this case, an independent federal court judge ruled that those provisions were plainly unconstitutional. They were—would have a tremendously bad effect on hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens. And he went on to say that, in this particular case, there’s literally no evidence that voter impersonation is a problem in Wisconsin. There was, you know, really no evidence in recent history that there is some sort of voter fraud plague to warrant this sort of impact on American voters, and so he struck down that law. And that’s a bright spot in what really—or a plus in what really has been a sea of minuses on voting rights over the past few years, not just through the ALEC measures, which ALEC has subsequently tried to disavow, but ALEC’s effort back in 2010 to really propagate these voter restrictions—was complemented, in a way, in an unfortunate way, by the Supreme Court’s ruling last year to further undermine the Voting Rights Act. And so, there’s no doubt that voting rights is under assault in this country, but fortunately there is at least one independent judge in Wisconsin, a federal judge, who struck it down just this—just yesterday.
That defeat, in a way, for the agenda of many of the ALEC legislators, comes in the wake of a big victory for ALEC in Oklahoma, where ALEC is, you know, very favored by ALEC politicians there, by ALEC legislators and by the governor, who was the featured speaker at ALEC’s last conference in Oklahoma. And in that case in the state of Oklahoma, she signed into law a provision that would allow utilities, as you mentioned, to tax solar—people who use solar panels on their roofs. And this is a big part of the ALEC agenda, as The Guardian revealed in documents published last December, where ALEC was boasting, in essence, that these provisions were a part of their agenda because they wanted to basically punish what they called “free riders,” or freeloaders, who are people who use solar panels, who put energy back into the grid. And so, this is a step forward for ALEC’s agenda; it’s a step backward for our country and for solar energy to have this provision pass in Oklahoma. And it really is, you know, a terrible—a terrible bill that passed.
But we’re not surprised in Oklahoma. Quite frankly, Oklahoma, if you’ve ever been to their State Capitol, as our research director, Nick Surgey, has, they have actually, in essence, allowed corporations to buy the Capitol, literally, or at least pay for part of the Capitol. Engraved within the rotunda of the Capitol of Oklahoma is Halliburton and the names of other corporations that helped fund a rebuilding of that Capitol.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lisa Graves, can you talk about what the impact of the Wisconsin voter ID ruling will have on other states with similar bills?
LISA GRAVES: Well, I’m hopeful that other judges will take the advice, in essence, the analysis, the really excellent analysis, of Judge Lynn Adelman, who’s the federal district court judge in Milwaukee who issued this ruling. It’s a really powerful decision. It goes through step by step and really talks about the lack of evidence, the absolute lack of evidence, of fraud that would be prevented by these laws. He talks about how the current penalties are so stiff—it’s a $10,000 fine and a three-year prison sentence if someone does impersonate another voter—that that’s enough of a penalty, and really the lack of foundation for these laws, as well as the impact on people. There was testimony in the case before the judge showing how this law would affect American citizens who want to vote. There are other states, nearly a dozen states, where these voter ID restrictions have passed. And so I’m hoping that in other states, if those provisions are challenged in court, that other judges will look to this really excellent, thorough analysis of the federal court judge in Milwaukee.
AMY GOODMAN: And very briefly, Lisa, if you can talk about this merging of your organizations, the Center for Media and Democracy and Progressive?
LISA GRAVES: Well, we’re super excited to announce this month that the Center for Media and Democracy and The Progressive Inc. have merged. We’ve joined forces. We have work to do to integrate our operations, but it’s a really exciting time for us. We’re both independent, investigative and media organizations in Madison, Wisconsin. The Progressive has a tremendous history going back to 1909. It has been the place of some of the best writing, I think, in our country on social issues through time—
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa, we’re going to have to leave it there—
LISA GRAVES: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: —but I thank you for being with us, president of Progressive Inc. And that does it for our show. I’ll be speaking at Dartmouth College on Friday, May 2nd, at 5:00 at Moore Hall. Go to our website, democracynow.org, for more details, and on May 17th in Stowe, Vermont.