Alec, the organization that links corporate lobbyists with state lawmakers to draft laws, holds its annual meeting in New Orleans
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the south, might seem like an awkward fit for the 45th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) but he says they have much in common.
Alec began its conference in New Orleans on Wednesday, bringing its usual agenda of pro-privatization, pro-fossil fuel and anti-union legislation in tow.
The rightwing organization links corporate lobbyists with state lawmakers from across the country to collectively craft model legislation that representatives are then encouraged to take back to their home states and introduce as their own.
Among those addressing the gathering Wednesday was Edwards, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in the deep red state.
The technically non-partisan Alec skews heavily Republican but Edwards was right at home. Not only is Edwards an Alec alumni from his time as a state legislator, hes also been a torchbearer for Alec-sponsored legislation as governor, having signed at least three bills the group takes credit for inspiring.
You might think Im not the most likely person to be speaking here today, but I think youre going to find out that a lot of what youre about, and a lot of what were doing here in Louisiana, we have in common, Edwards told the convention.
One of those Alec-sponsored bills signed by Edwards is legislation that ratchets up criminal penalties for causing damage to so called critical infrastructure, which in Louisiana includes oil pipelines.
Thats a big deal to environmental activists here who see the bill, which several other states have adopted, as a play to crack down on the kind of sustained demonstration that occurred at Standing Rock in 2016.
They want to make the penalty for civil disobedience one that would deter anyone from engaging in it, said Anne Rolfes, the founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Her organization has been fighting the construction of a similar pipeline project, named Bayou Bridge, which is currently being built across most of the states porous southern coast.
Rolfes called Edwards appearance with Alec disappointing but I guess not surprising, adding: Hes been on the wrong side of [the pipeline] since the beginning.
Alec, by way of its deep ties with big energy companies, has long embraced climate denial science as well. In 2008, the state passed a bill containing language from an Alec model bill that requires educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position.
The last time Alec held its conference in Louisiana, a state that is losing a football field worth of land to the Gulf of Mexico every hour to rising seas and petroleum production, a speaker went so far as to extoll the benefits of atmospheric CO2 gas as an amazing compound from which humanity and the rest of the biosphere will prosper.
While commonly described as a lobbying group indeed its hard to describe its activities as anything but Alec is legally classified as a non-profit. This means that not only are many of its activities shielded from public view in ways that lobbying is not, but that corporations can literally write off their Alec sponsorships as charity. The luncheon Edwards spoke at was sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
Though the legislative group is nearly a half-century old, the extent of its influence in statehouses was largely unrecognized until a 2011 Center for Media and Democracy investigation exposed the extent to which laws being proposed all over the nation were literally cut and pasted, large sections verbatim, from Alec models.
More recently, the organization saw a flood of corporate sponsors rush out during the public outcry in the Trayvon Martin case, after it was revealed that the Alec was instrumental in pushing the stand your ground legislation that allowed Martins killer to initially avoid arrest.
According to Common Cause Louisiana, environmental bills arent the only ones that Alec has ghostwritten for Louisiana legislators. In an August 2018 report, the state chapter of the non-partisan watchdog group noted that Alec has a long history in Louisiana.
That includes a 2010 bill to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and during Bobby Jindals governorship, bills aimed at privatizing education and dropping taxes. Alecs influence in state legislatures is apparent throughout the nation and particularly in Louisiana, where its model legislation has become extremely prominent, Common Cause said. It went on to cite more than 60 times over the last two years where legislation introduced in the state legislature was drafted from Alec models.
The report continued: Although the bills cover a wide range of special interests, the underlying theme is their propensity to satisfy corporate needs.