Gov. Dayton using veto pen to hold line against ALEC-drafted legislation

ALEC helps bring corporate entities and conservative legislators together.
ALEC helps bring corporate entities and conservative legislators together.

So far this legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed 12 bills. Seven of them were originally drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to MinnPost, five of the vetoed ALEC bills would have reduced corporate exposure to lawsuits and potential damages in Minnesota. The other two are the voter ID bill and the Castle Doctrine or "Shoot First" bill.

In recent months, ALEC, a corporate-legislative council that drafts model bills and then uses Republicans to move them through state legislatures, has come under increased scrutiny for the clandestine role it plays in pushing a pro-corporate, pro-privatization agenda.

For instance, consider a column the New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote late last month:

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it's nonpartisan, it's very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn't just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization -- that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations.

ALEC boasts that it has roughly 1,000 bills introduced by its 104 member legislators each year (103 of the 104 are Republicans), with over 200 of those bills typically becoming law.

According to a Common Cause Minnesota analysis, over the last two years, 60 ALEC-generated bills have been introduced in Minnesota. Here's how Common Cause characterizes two of the more "egregious" of those bills:

Making Tobacco More Appealing to Youth (HF1079)
-- This bill would change the tax rate of moist smokeless tobacco products so that they are taxed by weight instead of by wholesale price. The legislation is actually designed to make it easier for youth to get addicted to these tobacco products by lowering the assessed tax rates. Unsurprisingly, Altria Corp. (formerly Philip Morris) is one of ALECs sponsors.

Protecting Corporate Tax Breaks in the Minnesota Constitution (HF 1598/SF 1384)
-- Corporations have spent decades creating special tax breaks and now, with increased public scrutiny, corporations are trying to make it more difficult for the state to get rid of them by passing a constitutional amendment. This constitutional amendment would require a super-majority of votes in the legislature to end special tax breaks or pass tax increases when needed.

In an interview, Minnesota Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean characterized ALEC as "a business front group." He pointed out that 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from pro-business entities such as corporations, trade groups, and corporate foundations. "That's why you don't see them get involved in social issues," he said.

Dean said that while at least one ALEC-sponsored provision slipped into last summer's state budget bill, Dayton "has been vetoing almost all" of the ALEC-drafted bills that have reached his desk. He added, however, that he's worried an ALEC-sponsored bill might be signed by the governor yet this spring "as the pressure mounts for bipartisanship."

In recent weeks, as scrutiny has mounted, numerous corporate entities have announced that they will no longer be involved in ALEC. Dean said Minnesota Common Cause will soon mount a campaign demanding that MNGOP legislators follow suit and publicly disavow involvement with the council. There are currently 27 MNGOP legislators who are ALEC members. For the full list, see this report.

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