PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In state legislatures across the country, very similar pieces of legislation are appearing, pieces of legislation that will limit unions’ right to bargain and organize, privatization of schools at the public school level, even at the college level. And it’s not just that state assembly members are having similarly good ideas, if you like those kinds of legislation; in fact, there’s quite an organized campaign writing these pieces of legislation and lobbying for them at the state level.
Now joining us to discuss a recent investigative report he did for Truthout is Steve Horn. Steve is a journalist based in Madison, WI. His work’s been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He’s a research fellow at the blog DeSmogBlog. Thanks for joining us, Steve.
STEVE HORN, RESEARCH FELLOW, DESMOGBLOG: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So we’ve done some reporting on The Real News about ALEC, which is one of these groups that’s been funded by a lot of right-wing billionaires to help write and push this kind of legislation. So your research, if I understand it correctly, was that ALEC’s not the only organization doing this, and you went a little further into what they are doing. So what did you find?
HORN: Sure. So what my investigation attempted to unpack was: is ALEC unparalleled, as it’s been said to be? And if it is or if it is not, what else exists? The investigation took me to many other organizations that are structured similarly to ALEC. I guess what makes ALEC unparalleled that it’s just the right-wing ideology. That part is the unparalleled portion of it. But there are many other organizations like ALEC.
JAY: Okay. Well, for people that don’t know the story, just quickly tell us what ALEC is and then what are the other organizations.
HORN: Sure. So ALEC was an organization founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, a right-wing political activist. What it says it does is it provides education for state legislatures. They tend to be conservative Republican Party legislators in statehouses around the country.
What they do in practice is they have several meetings a year in which lobbyists—first of all, the premise is that corporations fund ALEC to a tune of about 98 percent. On top of that, what happens at the meetings are lobbyists pay a small fee to be there. They produce what they call model bills, which are voted on in a closed-door fashion, that become, quote, model bills for the statehouses around the country. These bills have passed, and many bills.
They boast of their successfulness. And looking at the agenda, you can see their success in areas ranging from the charter school agenda, energy agenda, anti-regulation agenda and energy, you know, higher education, you name it. NRA has a big influence in terms of gun policy. And that’s how ALEC really got famous was due to the Trayvon Martin case and the stand-your-ground portion of what made Trayvon Martin’s killing possible, which was part of an ALEC model bill. And that’s what really put ALEC on the map nationally, and that’s what got corporate media talking about it much more.
JAY: And at the Republican—new Republican platform has a big piece of defense of that, including unlimited amounts of ammunition and things like that.
JAY: So, well, tell us, then, what other groups like ALEC did you find? And then give us some specific examples of legislation that’s resulting from all of this.
HORN: Sure. So in my investigation I found that ALEC was actually an organization whose structure was modeled after an organization founded in 1933, called the Council of State Governments, or CSG. CSG basically does something very similar, in that it produces model bills at annual meetings. They call it suggested state legislation, or SSL. And so at their [meeting] every year, they produce these—unlike ALEC, they actually do make them public. So you can look at those model bills.
What happened with ALEC is these bills had to be leaked by a whistleblower. And that’s why this whole ALEC exposed project kind of blew up in the past couple of years, actually since last summer. But going back to CSG, what that is is it’s a trade association. So like ALEC it says it provides education to legislate tours in state legislatures around the country. Unlike ALEC, which I said before is 98 percent corporate-funded, CSG is 43 percent corporate-funded, which means it’s also very heavily taxpayer-subsidized. But going back to the parallels between CSG and ALEC—.
JAY: Just one sec. What do you mean by taxpayer-subsidized?
HORN: So basically it’s—in state budgets every two years, states set aside an appropriation for, you know, CSG and another group that I looked into, the National Conference of State Legislatures, so a sizable portion of budgets. Usually what I saw was in the range of $200,000-$300,000 a year is set aside to find groups like CSG for education of legislators.
JAY: Now, is this coming from Democratic and Republican controlled assemblies?
HORN: Yes, and I guess that’s the key difference between CSG and, we’ll say, ALEC is that ALEC is mostly—you know, basically 100 percent Republican Party participation. CSG is bipartisan 100 percent. I mean, if you look at who attends and talk to—I talk to a lot of legislators who attended, especially in the Democratic Party, because I was trying to show kind of the parallels and similarities and such between CSG and ALEC. And there are lots of Democrats who are involved in CSG. And, you know, what is interesting is that although it’s—they’re receiving this education, the education is often still sort of the education that lobbyists give at the CSG conferences, like at ALEC conferences, ’cause CSG’s conferences can be sponsored by corporations, which allows them to send three or four lobbyists to these conventions to—.
JAY: Well, is there much different in the agenda of CSG and ALEC in terms of the kind of legislation that comes out of it?
HORN: Oftentimes we’ll see that the bills are actually exactly the same. So you’ll see that corporate lobbyists are smart. They’ll push their agenda and make sure that the Republican Party pushes it in statehouses around the country. But they’ll also make sure the Democrats are pushing the same agenda.
So if you look, there’s a really interesting bill on hydraulic fracturing, which was passed at the CSG national conference in Austin, Texas, in 2011. Basically what that bill says is that fracking chemicals should be—there should be transparency in what chemicals are shown, which sounds good, except that there are tons of loopholes in the bill and the bill was actually written by ExxonMobil. Months later, that same bill was passed in an ALEC conference. That’s one example. And if you look at—.
JAY: Yeah, give us other examples of the kind of legislation and bills you’re talking about.
HORN: Sure. So if you look at another area—so that was energy. If you look at higher education, one of the shared funders of CSG and the National Conference of State Legislatures and ALEC until the summer, when they dropped their funding of ALEC, was the Lumina Foundation. The Lumina Foundation is actually heavily funded by Sallie Mae. And what they do is push higher-education privatization agendae. If you connect the dots here, that means that higher education in the United States will be more expensive, which means students will be taking out more loans. Sallie Mae is the number one provider of student loans. They make billions of dollars off of student loans. And so that’s, you know, their—basically what they—instead of producing model bills, sometimes they produce studies which show the need for—in statehouses, to provide flexibility or privatization of public research universities.
JAY: Yeah, give us other examples of legislation like this.
HORN: Sure. If you look at the virtual charter school agenda in CSG and in ALEC, they’re identical. They both have model bills on the books to promote virtual charter schools. Same thing with—anything with K-12, they’re mashing bills in each one. If you look at who was—which lobbyists were in attendance for CSG and ALEC, it’s many of the same lobbyists, because Common Cause has provided sort of these lists … they obtained of lobbyists who were in attendance of ALEC’s meetings since 2010. Well, CSG also provides those. They didn’t have to be leaked by a whistleblower; they just make it public.
And you see many of the same corporations and many of the same lobbyists who are both pushing bills and charter schools, you know, for example, and these fracking bills. So it’s a far-reaching agenda. If you look at—.
JAY: Some of what I saw in your research had to do with privatization, even at the college level, being promoted. I think I saw a quote was: take the state out of state universities. What’s the intent there?
HORN: The intent there is, if you look at the battle that occurred at University of Wisconsin in spring of 2011 with this thing called a New Badger Partnership, what proponents of this type of legislation are saying is that states are broke and they need—those universities need—there isn’t funding for the universities, there’s no state funding available, so they need more flexibility from the state, they need to become sort of a charter of the state, like charter schools, in which the state provides some funding but does not directly oversee how the university functions, like the K-12 schools functions.
The point of it is that essentially when it becomes more private, it means, first of all, higher tuition, which I talked about before, which means more student loans need to be taken out. Second of all, it’s just the fact that with lost public funding, it means more and more private funding goes into the university, which means more and more funding for corporate research, especially at big research universities like University of Wisconsin, where, you know, Halliburton’s CEO is on the board of directors of the business school, where Halliburton has a research center in the geosciences department, where, you know, pretty much many departments of the university are producing research for multinational corporations. So it’s a clever agenda. But if you really, you know, kind of pick through it, you see that it’s for big business.
JAY: Now, one of the things that happened with some of the publicity ALEC attracted is some of the big corporations, like Coca-Cola and Kraft and McDonald’s, kind of dumped their association with ALEC. But you’re saying they haven’t really gotten out of the lobbying business. So why did they dump the association, and what are they doing now?
HORN: I would say that they—you know, there’s been a pretty aggressive campaign to push corporations to pull out of ALEC. Much of it has to do with a partisan agenda. Different NGOs want ALEC to basically—you know, they don’t want these corporations affiliated with ALEC, because ALEC is pushing through voter ID bills, which is another bill that disenfranchises voters, especially college voters and minority voters, who tend to vote for the Democratic Party. So they say that corporations shouldn’t be funding behavior of this sort. So, many corporations have actually dropped out because they don’t see that type of legislation really benefiting their bottom line. They’ve said so themselves.
Importantly, though, it does not mean that their actual corporate agenda changes at all. And it doesn’t mean that they are actually changing their behavior as corporations. It just means that they can drop ALEC and use it as a public relations opportunity to show themselves as being responsible, while pushing the same agenda in groups like the Council of State Governments, NCSL, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and other—like, the National Governors Association.
JAY: Okay. Well, for those of you that want to see Steve’s report—and it’s very rich with detail—we’ll put a link to the Truthout piece underneath the video player. Thanks very much for joining us, Steve.
HORN: Thanks a lot.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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