NPR: Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny

Written by admin on October 31st, 2010

NPR reports on how many states laws are written for the legislators by a little known organization in Washington DC whose backers are undisclosed in large part.

NPR

The largest prison company in the country, the Corrections Corporation of America, was present when the model immigration legislation was drafted at an ALEC conference last year.

ALEC’s Bowman says that is not unusual; more than 200 of the organization’s model bills became actual laws over the past year. But he hedges when asked if that means the unofficial drafting process is an effective way to accelerate the legislative process.

“It’s not an effective way to get a bill passed,” he says. “It’s an effective way to find good legislation.”

The difference between passing bills and “finding” them is lobbying. Most states define lobbying as pushing legislators to create or pass legislation. And that comes with rules. Companies typically have to disclose to the public what they are lobbying for, who’s lobbying for them or how much they are spending on it.

If ALEC’s conferences were interpreted as lobbying, the group could lose its status as a non-profit. Corporations wouldn’t be able to reap tax benefits from giving donations to the organization or write off those donations as a business expense. And legislators would have a hard time justifying attending a conference of lobbyists.

Bowman says what his group does is educate lawmakers.

“ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come and debate and discuss,” he says. “You have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it.”

Much about ALEC is private. It does not disclose how it spends it money or who gives it to them. ALEC rarely grants interviews. Bowman won’t even say which legislators are members.

Is it lobbying when private corporations pay money to sit in a room with state lawmakers to draft legislation that they then introduce back home? Bowman, a former lobbyist, says, “No, because we’re not advocating any positions. We don’t tell members to take these bills. We just expose best practices. All we’re really doing is developing policies that are in model bill form.”

So, for example, last December Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce sat in a hotel conference room with representatives from the Corrections Corporation of America and several dozen others. The group voted on model legislation that was introduced into the Arizona legislature two months later, almost word for word.

 

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