Sunday, December 04, 2011

Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law? Lafayette and ALEC

What's Being Said Dept.

BusinessWeek LogoBloomberg Businessweek has an article up that features Lafayette's travails with the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act as a the clearest example of how corporations can buy favorable legislation. In its article, Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law? Businessweek traces the law back to its genesis in Utah and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and through "Noble" Ellington the rural legislator who got a call from the cable companies and gutted his own rural broadband bill in order to insert the anti-Lafayette law. (Gutting an already existing proposal was necessary because the deadline had passed for submitting new bills.)

ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council
The initial pages briefly recount the story of the (un)Fair Act nicely with new interviews with both Joey Durel and Terry Huval and it's worth the read for that part alone. But Lafayette serves as a human interest framing for the larger story of how ALEC operates. ALEC has appeared on these pages before. ALEC is an engine that produces ready-to-file legislation that pretty uniformly reflect the desires of the corporations that sponsors that provide the vast majority of its finances. State legislators are paired with lobbyists and executives to produce "good" laws that govern their industries. The corporations generously provide expertise, study "academies," and short issue analyses. It is through this mechanism that Louisiana got its anti-Lafayette law; a law that is extremely similar to laws introduced and passed in a number of other states—most recently, as the story notes, in North Carolina where its local adopters didn't even bother to change the name. From the article:
None of this is illegal. And it’s effective. It allows companies to work directly with legislators from many states, rather than having to lobby in each state individually to get language into a bill. ALEC says its mission is to help state legislators collaborate around the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty. It does this, and something else, too. It offers companies substantial benefits that seem to have little to do with ideology. Corporations drop bills off at one end, and they come out the other, stamped with the imprimatur of a nonprofit, “nonpartisan” group of state legislators. Among other things, ALEC is a bill laundry.
Ellington, the legislator who sponsored the law in Louisiana, was at one time proud enough of his work to he to fly out to Seattle, Washington to discuss the ALEC bill he sponsored to block Lafayette's project on July 30th 2004—with a representative from Cox Communications. The story closes by returning to Louisiana and follows up on the subsequent history:
Noble Ellington hasn’t followed what became of his bill. “I just hope we fixed it,” he says, “so private industry and the city and parish were satisfied with what we did.” Terry Huval and Joey Durel both travel around the country now, talking to other small towns about how to get wired. Durel believes it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Huval is working with towns in nearby states but won’t say where. When a plan goes public, he explains, a bill—that bill—is not far behind. ALEC’s model bill on municipal broadband works because the idea of a city providing Internet access is alien to even most lawmakers. If a bill shows up at the right time, in response to one or two cities, it smothers an idea that hasn’t yet gathered many defenders. “I tell people this is not for the faint of heart,” says Huval. “If you don’t have the drive, don’t even start.”

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