As Texans know all too well, whether it’s in Washington or Austin, money influences decisions made by elected officials. It’s what special interest groups and political action committees (PACs) count on when they contribute to politicians. These groups further the careers of candidates and incumbents and in return, they expect their “support” will make officials vote their way when it comes to legislation and projects.
Some special interest groups don’t only give money in the expectation their positions will be protected, but take the additional step of actually drafting legislation. They then give their bills to legislators to introduce, sponsor and pass into law. It’s a bipartisan problem, where legislators from both parties take sample legislation from across the ideological spectrum, and as a result, everyday Texans, who are too busy to lobby legislators themselves, get left out, and our needs are therefore unmet.
There are many different groups who lobby legislatures with proposed bill language, but one, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has generated a lot of controversy for its extensive reach into the legislative process. While advertising itself as “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators,” critics contend ALEC is little more than a front for corporate lobbying, with major corporate interests underwriting the multi-million dollar organization’s annual spending.
Lisa Graves, a former Justice Department official in the Clinton and Bush Administrations, is the former executive Director for the Center for Media and Democracy. The Center created a website called ALEC Exposed, detailing the financing, reach and membership of ALEC, including the Texas legislators who are/were members of ALEC. Graves was interviewed in the Bill Moyers documentary United States of ALEC, in which she detailed the content of some of ALEC’s sample legislation:
“I was stunned at the notion that politicians and corporate representatives, corporate lobbyists were actually voting behind closed doors on these changes to the law before they were introduced in statehouses across the country.
Bills to change the law to make it harder for American citizens to vote, those were ALEC bills. Bills to dramatically change the rights of Americans who were killed or injured by corporations, those were ALEC bills.
Bills to make it harder for unions to do their work were ALEC bills. Bills to basically block climate change agreements, those were ALEC bills.
When I looked at them I was really shocked. I didn’t know how incredibly extensive and deep and far-reaching this effort to rework our laws was.”
State Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) is one such member form Texas. Dale isn’t just a member of ALEC, he is listed as Chair for an ALEC Task Force, and has even taken overseas trips sponsored by ALEC. Instead of focusing on the needs of his suburban constituents – skyrocketing property taxes, transportation, or rising healthcare premiums – his attention is elsewhere and he is sponsoring and supporting bills written by a national corporate lobby shop, not focusing on our needs?
Who does Tony Dale really represent – the people of Williamson County or national groups disconnected from the needs of everyday Texans? We need our legislators to work for us and respond to our needs. We need to stand up to the national and local lobbying groups and make sure our voices are heard. We need to Reform Austin.