Crossposted from Greenpeace's blog, The EnvironmentaLIST.
Over the last four years, Greenpeace has made a Valentine's Day tradition of spoofing the influence peddling of corporate lobbyists and captured politicians. This year's installment embodies the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which reporters have characterized as a "dating service" for its role in pushing copycat, corporate-crafted laws through state legislatures.
This year, our PolluterHarmony story wrote itself. Online dating ads running on TV have featured a creepy middleman who plays third wheel on various peoples' dates. In real life, ALEC is that creepy middleman, creating a tax-deductible process for companies to vote as equals with state politicians on bad laws that appear in legislatures around the country. This all happens with little to no disclosure, away from the constituents who elected ALEC's member legislators.
This secretive attack on the public comes in many forms: privatizing education, weakening unions and public employee benefits, increasing gun violence, keeping legitimate voters away from the polls, denying climate change science, limiting the liability of corporations that harm people, and many other items on the Big Business wishlist.
Want examples? Check our humorous dating profiles (citing real-life events) on an ALEC senator in Ohio attacking clean energy incentives and an ALEC senator in Nebraska who was courted on a trip to the tar sands courtesy of ALEC, oil companies and the Canadian government.
ALEC has said that one of its top priorities in 2014 will be to make it harder for homeowners and businesses to put solar panels on their rooftops by introducing solar taxes on behalf of big utilities that are afraid of losing customers.
But thanks to increased public scrutiny, ALEC has struggled in recent years to avoid its own controversial shadow. ALEC's own leaked documents confirm it has lost at least 60 corporate members and 400 legislative members, thanks to ALEC's role in pushing Stand Your Ground laws and Voter ID legislation that keeps people with social minority status away from the voting booth.
While ALEC staff have given lip service to increased transparency, journalists like Washington Post's Dana Milbank and Mother Jones' Andy Kroll have shown how ALEC keeps its doors firmly shut on the public.
Even companies that are sticking with ALEC appear to be embarrassed by the association: Duke Energy has done all it can to not confirm renewed ALEC membership, ignoring repeated calls, emails and a 150,000-strong public petition delivered by a diverse coalition of organizations whose members don't appreciate how ALEC's bad policies make Duke appear two-faced.
Please share our video to help spread the word on ALEC, and send a message to state legislators at StandUpToALEC.org.
Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow released a series of reports on how the State Policy Network coordinates an agenda carried out by affiliate "Stink Tanks" in all 50 states. Responding to questions from reporters, SPN's CEO Tracie Sharp demanded that each of the seemingly independent groups were "fiercely independent."
But Jane Mayer at the New Yorker reports Tracie Sharp said the opposite to attendees of SPN's recent annual meeting. In Oklahoma City last September, Ms. Sharp plainly told her associates how to coordinate a broad agenda and pander directly to the interests of billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and the Searle family for grants:
Sharp went on to say that, like IKEA, the central organization would provide “the raw materials” along with the “services” needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. “Pick what you need,” she said, “and customize it for what works best for you.” During the meeting,
Sharp also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. “The grants are driven by donor intent,” she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.” She said that the donors also sometimes determined in which states their money would be spent.
Tracie Sharp responded to the New Yorker with a generic statement that didn't address her contradictory statements. And who knows if there's anything useful she could say at this point, The State Policy Network was just caught with its pants down.
For those who don't spend their days reading about the inner workings of the corporate-conservative political machine, the State Policy Network isn't a familiar name. But it's an important entity. SPN serves as the umbrella of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and all of its state and national allies pushing a coordinated corporate-friendly agenda through all 50 states.
SPN and ALEC have led the coordinated attack on clean energy in states like North Carolina, Kansas and now Ohio. Dozens of SPN groups are longtime players in the Koch-funded climate change denial movement. By orchestrating against policies to lessen global warming impacts or by directly undermining the science, SPN's efforts have ranged from urging inaction on global climate treaties and forcing teachers to misrepresent climate science to their students.
Beyond shilling for the coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies bankrolling ALEC and SPN's operations, these coordinated entities attack public employee unions, wages and pensions, block Medicaid expansion, suppress legitimate voters, push to defund and privatize schools, and undermine choice in women's health.
And who pays for SPN's work in all 50 states?
SPN's main purpose is to advance the interests of its corporate funders: dirty coal and petrochemical industries, the tobacco giants, agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, private education firms, tech and telecom companies, and the usual web of trade associations, law firms and lobby shops paid to represent each of those industries. Corporations use SPN to advance political campaigns they are typically embarrassed to associate with publicly.
The State Policy Network also serves to advance an ideological agenda that tends to undermine the interests of most Americans in favor of those who are particularly wealthy and well-connected.
The Koch brothers fit this description, of course. But they're joined by a legion of lesser known multi-millionaires and billionaires, sometimes coordinating directly with the Kochs.
These SPN funders include Richard Mellon Scaife, Phil Anschutz, Art Pope, the Coors family, the DeVos family, the Searle family, and the remains of the Bradley family fortune, to name a few of the better known of these sources of dark money. Few citizens recognize the names of this quiet minority of political puppetmasters, but people still feel the bruise of plutocratic spending as state and national politics are pushed to new extremes.
Ohio is currently fighting this year's final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).
ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states--laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC's sites in 2013.
ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy
After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan's attempt to repeal Ohio's RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC's new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law--see Union of Concerned Scientists.
ALEC's newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio's borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.
Sen. Bill Seitz's SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio's RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC's Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.
Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio's RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives "Stalinist."
Attacks on Ohio's Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits
Most of ALEC's money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil's top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC's exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.
Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC's environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).
Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).
Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack
The behavior of Senator Bill Seitz indicates he's more beholden to ALEC and the dirty energy utilities dumping tens of thousands of dollars into his election campaigns* than his constituents. There is support from a majority of Ohioans for utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from clean sources. Ohio veterans spoke up for the RPS for increasing the state's energy security and lowing wholesale energy costs.
Rather than listening to these voices from Ohio, Senator Seitz has sided with out-of-state Koch-funded mouthpieces invited to testify against the Ohio RPS. Back in March, Seitz heard anti-RPS testimony from The Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who repeated false claims that the RPS will make electricity unaffordable.
Taylor's assertions mimicked those made in a debunked series of reports written for ALEC's RPS attacks. The Ohio anti-RPS report was co-published by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), sister group to the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. ATI, now known as the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, was largely funded by Montana petroleum millionaire Doug Lair.
Senator Seitz also heard testimony from Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), who recited long-debunked statistics from the so-called "Spanish study" and "Danish study." Koch-funded groups have used these two papers for years to stifle clean energy growth in the United States. Daniel Simmons previously worked for ALEC and the Mercatus Center, which was founded by the Kochs. Heartland and the Institute for Energy Research have financial or personnel ties to the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers.
RPS and Energy Efficiency Are Helping Build Ohio's Economy
Thanks in part to energy efficiency incentives and the RPS law, Ohio's clean energy economy is expanding rapidly, with 25,000 Ohioans employed by 400 companies in the sector. Wind energy is set to expand rapidly, with the American Wind Energy Association projecting $10 billion in investments over the next decade, thanks to the RPS targeted by ALEC and its dirty companies through loyal politicians like Senator Seitz.
Not content to just weaken incentives for clean energy growth, Bill Seitz's SB 58 would also undermine energy efficiency standards, another item on ALEC's agenda. This despite a projected $2.7 billion in savings for Ohio by 2012, as directed by the efficiency and RPS laws.
No wonder ALEC got dumped by its wind and solar trade members.
*Since 2007, Senator Seitz has received $46,450 from coal utilities that are ALEC member companies:
- $21,500 from American Electric Power (AEP)
$15,300 from Duke Energy
- $4,800 of this bundled from Duke Employees in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 2008 election cycle
- $4,000 from NiSource
- $3,000 from Dominion
- $2,650 from the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a member of the nation's top dirty energy lobbying heavyweight, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
If you add contributions from FirstEnergy, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Coal Association, Sen. Seitz's coal money since 2007 tops $66,000.
ALEC's December, 2012 meeting in Washington, DC was heavily sponsored by coal companies, including AEP, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group whose membership includes Duke Energy, AEP, NiSource, Dominion, AES and FirstEnergy.
Data aggregated by the National Institute for Money in State Politics - FollowTheMoney.org
Remember that controversial law last year, legalizing fracking in North Carolina after being vetoed by the state's governor? The law bears tell-tale signs of being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group with ties to the fracking industry.
Like the Exxon-backed fracking loopholes in Ohio and numerous other states, the new North Carolina law contains the same "trade secrets" provisions that ensure the public will not have the right to know which chemicals gas frackers are pumping underground to retrieve shale oil and gas. The "trade secrets" provisions are key to ALEC's model bill in order to allow Exxon, Shell, Duke Energy and other ALEC member companies to more quickly extract, pipe and burn gas without having to bother with pesky transparency laws.
Here's a list of NC ALEC legislators who co-sponsored the bill legalizing fracking: S820 or HB1052 -- the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act"
- Sen. Tom Apodaca
- Sen. David Rouzer -- member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which created the frack fluid disclosure loophole bill with internal sponsorship by ExxonMobil.
- Rep. Mike Hager
- Rep. Tim Moffitt
- Rep. Fred Steen -- ALEC's State Chairman in NC
Rep. Fred Steen co-sponsored the House version of the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act." Steen was ALEC's State Chair in North Carolina, and his job is to ensure ALEC models are introduced and, ideally for ALEC, passed. Rep. Steen was the only state legislator serving as State Chair in North Carolina (other states often have multiple legislators serving as co-chairs), and according to ALEC's tax forms, his position implies the following responsibilities (emphasis mine):
State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, working to ensure introduction of model legislation, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative 'scholarship' funds.
As ALEC's state chairman in NC at the time of this vote, Rep. Steen appointed a "Private Sector Co-Chairman" to help oversee ALEC activity in NC. In this case, Rep. Steen worked with North Dakota lobbyist Joel Gilbertson, who represents clients like AIG, PhRMA, and Crop Life America (a front group for pesticide and chemical fertilizer interests). Rep. Steen was listed on ALEC's website as its State Chairman since at least late 2008, suggesting that he has been re-appointed to that position at least once--a term lasts two years.
Ironically, co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Hager has been asked about his role in ALEC before, telling the Charlotte Business Journal that, "I'm not a big fan of model legislation." Apparently, keeping toxic chemicals secret from constituents is something Rep. Hager is a big fan of, in which case ALEC models are pretty useful. Rep. Hager has received $15,500 from oil, gas and electric utility interests in this election cycle, on top of $3,250 from his first successful election bid in 2010. One of the utilities donating to Rep. Hager is Duke Energy, his former employer, which operates natural gas pipelines that deliver to over 500,000 customers and is expanding gas generation at its power plants.
North Carolina's fracking loophole law has drawn attention from around the country, including a statement of support from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The new NC law barely overturned a veto by former Gov. Beverly Perdue, in a heartbreaking twist involving one Democratic legislator being bought out at the last minute and another accidentally voting in favor of the bill and refused the opportunity to correct her vote, something that is commonly acceptable when such a mistake is made. The Charlotte Observer explains:
Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake,” Carney said afterward. “I take full responsibility.” Democrats denounced Stam’s quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. [...] Carney said it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state legislature.
This local news clip posted by the Voter's Legislative Transparency Project, which tracks ALEC activity in North Carolina, includes more on Rep. Carney's error:
At a campaign event today in Etna, Ohio, Governor Romney was asked, "Do you still think the rising of the seas is funny?" Romney responded, "I never imagined such a thing is funny," despite using rising sea levels as a punchline in his speech to the Republican National Convention.
Woman: "Do you still think the rising of the seas is funny?"
Romney: "I never imagined such a thing is funny."
Man: "Is climate change still a joke to you?"
Romney: "As a matter of fact, if you'd like to - I know you're filming - if you'd like to see my view on global warming, I wrote a book, and there's a chapter on global warming and you'll see what I think we can do to deal with it."
Man: "What are you going to do to address global warming?"
This confrontation marks the fifth time in two days that Governor Romney has been questioned about climate change. On Thursday, a protester interrupted Romney during a speech in Virginia Beach, shouting "Romney! What about climate? That’s what caused this monster storm! Climate change!" Also yesterday, student activists asked Romney about his plan to address climate change at three different campaign stops, in Roanoke, Doswell, and Virginia Beach, VA. Romney dodged the question each time, referring the voters to his book.
Despite Governor Romney and President Obama's reluctance to address climate change during the presidential campaign, Hurricane Sandy and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of President Obama has renewed attention to the impacts of climate change on the United States, and the candidates' plans to address the crisis.
In addition to a warming atmosphere and oceans that are loading storms with more energy and rainfall, global warming is raising sea levels and increasing the damage from storm surge and coastal flooding. A US Geological Survey report found that sea levels are rising three to four times faster on the Atlantic Coast than globally, putting several major US cities at greater risk.
Wake up and smell the frack fluid! But don't ask what's in it, at least not in Ohio, cause it's still not your right to know.
Ohio is in the final stages of making an Exxon trojan horse on hydrofracking into state law, and it appears that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) connected Exxon's lawyers with co-sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 315: at least 33 of the 45 Ohio legislators who co-sponsored SB 315 are ALEC members, and language from portions of the state Senate bill is similar to ALEC's "Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act."
...disclosure of fracking fluids? On behalf of ExxonMobil?!
Frack fluids include unknown chemicals that gas drillers mix with sand and large amounts of water. The mixture is pumped underground at high pressure in order to retrieve gas and oil by fracturing shale formations. These are the chemicals that have caused widespread concern among residents near gas fracking operations, concerns echoed by doctors who don't know how to treat patients harmed by exposure to chemicals that oil companies keep secret. Oil companies like XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, the first company lined up to drill in Ohio's Utica shale.
Concern over unconventional energy like gas fracking may be the reason by Ohio SB 315 also addresses clean energy standards and drilling regulations. While the new law will allow doctors to obtain disclosure of fracking chemicals, it places a gag order on them...meaning some chemicals aren't disclosed to the public at all (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Instead, chemicals that subsidiaries of Big Oil use during fracking can remain exempt from public disclosure as "trade secrets," mirroring language of ALEC's model law.
What's most suspicious is that seven of the ten Ohio Senators co-sponsoring SB 315 are ALEC members, as are 26 of the 35 co-sponsoring Representatives.*
Among the co-sponsors are Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus and state Senator Troy Balderson. Senators Niehaus and Balderson are members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which approved the fracking "disclosure" bill internally sponsored by ExxonMobil, modeled after a Texas bill (see New York Times and ProPublica).**
Four of the co-sponsors of SB 315 attended ALEC's meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, although it is unclear which (if any) of them may have been inside the EEA task force meeting the day that the fracking chemical loophole bill was discussed and approved:***
- Rep. Cheryl Grossman
- Rep. Casey Kozlowski
- Rep. Louis Terhar
- Rep. Andrew Thompson
Some co-sponsors became ALEC members in the lead up to ALEC's late 2011 meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, where the fracking disclosure loophole model bill was finalized by ALEC's Energy, Environmental and Agriculture task force. Emails between representatives of ALEC, the Ohio state government and Time Warner Cable's Ed Kozelek show that last-minute recruitment of new ALEC members before the Scottsdale meeting brought in three state legislators who ended out co-sponsoring SB 315 (PDF pp. 71-76): Rep. Lou Terhar, Rep. Brian Hill and Sen. Bob Peterson (who was appointed to the Ohio Senate in 2012).
Head spinning yet? Let's summarize:
- Exxon pushed the fracking loophole bill through ALEC's [anti]environment task force,
- A couple of key Ohio legislators directly involved in that task force brought the bill back home...
- ...and then a pile of Ohio legislators used ALEC's model to mold Exxon's Ohio fracking disclosure loopholes into state law!
Beyond their involvement in these ALEC task force meetings, Exxon and API were involved in the creation of a similar fracking bill through the Council of State Governments before the ALEC model even existed. As if being a Private Empire isn't enough...
ALEC, CSG, OMG!
ALEC isn't the only group that peddles corporate-written state laws, as DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn pointed out in a blog on state fracking bills and the "Council of State Governments." With direct financial support from Exxon, API, TransCanada and others, the Council of State Governments (CSG) drafted a similar fracking chemical "disclosure" bill two months before ALEC's was internally approved, although they both appear to be modeled off of a Texas law.
While one of the co-sponsoring Senators of Ohio SB 315, Troy Balderson, is a member of CSG Midwest's Energy Committee, Ohio politicians aren't part of the Suggested State Legislature (SSL) committee that vetted the Council's version of the fracking bill. Because of that disconnect and the overwhelming influence of ALEC politicians sponsoring SB 315, ALEC appears to be the keeper of Exxon's fracking secrets in Ohio.
Regardless of the varying influence of groups like ALEC and CSG forging Big Business state laws, ExxonMobil is getting what it wants. According to Don't Frack Ohio!--a project of 350:
- Fracking companies can hide which chemicals they use in the fracking process by calling them ‘trade secrets’. That means they are exempt from telling you what they put in your water. What little they do disclose is 60 days after drilling takes place, too late for communities to test to show what was in their water before drilling, rendering the disclosure meaningless.
- The gas industry pays nothing for the mess they create. Gov. Kasich’s minor tax on individual wells is offset by new tax breaks on property taxes and other giveaways, which means the gas industry will pay less in Ohio taxes than they do in any other state in the country.
- No citizen notification or input will be allowed on any part of the fracking industry. There is no public notice, no public comment, and no right to appeal for drill sites, pipelines, or compressor stations.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has numerous ties to ALEC and was "involved with ALEC in its formative years," but he called for SB 315 to include full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Senators replaced true disclosure requirements with Exxon's loopholes and ALEC Representatives decided to leave them.
ALEC secrecy in Ohio
ALEC legislators have found ways to make their moves harder to track in light of repeated exposure of ALEC's pollution of democracy in the United States over the last year, and sometimes existing state laws don't help. Ohio's financial disclosure forms for legislators specifically mention that expenses or reimbursements from ALEC conferences do not need to be publicly disclosed. In Ohio and other states, ALEC dodges lobby laws through corporate-funded "scholarship" programs that are thoroughly documented by the Center for Media and Democracy through open records requests.
People for the American Way and Progress Ohio report that ALEC's scholarship fund in Ohio is financed donations from the American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy, Reynolds Tobacco, and other major corporations interested in buying the loyalty of Ohio lawmakers.
I'm sure you'd understand if you were in the same position. Sometimes steak and cigars are more important than energy that doesn't poison us.
*Cross-referenced between a list of ALEC legislators listed in an Aug. 9, 2011 email from the legislative aid of ALEC's Ohio State Chairman, Rep. John Adams, obtained through a public records request (see PDF pp. 82-84 and PFAW p.12).
**ALEC documents published by Common Cause show that Sen. Balderson was a member of ALEC's EEA task force throughout 2011, although Sen. Balderson did not attend the ALEC task force meeting last December in Pheonix, AZ, according to a staffer at his office over the phone, nor is he listed in emails obtained through a public records request as attending the previous meetings in New Orleans (Aug. 2011) or Cincinnati (Apr. 2011). Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus was a consistent member of ALEC's [anti]environment task force from August 2010-August 2011, the time period for which ALEC's EEA task force rosters are available. SB 315 co-sponsoring Representatives Carey, Damschroder and Derickson were all listed as members of ALEC's EEA task force as of August, 2011.
***Co-sponsors cross referenced with an email from ALEC Ohio State Chairman John Adams' legislative aid to Emily Petrovich of US Steel, dated 11/22/2011--eight days before the Scottsdale meeting (see PDF p. 138).