Gov. LePage’s ALEC speech is latest example of corporate influence

Gov. LePage’s ALEC speech is latest example of corporate influence

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy organization that helps corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators write and submit bills in state legislatures across the country, is hosting it’s annual winter retreat and this year their headliners include Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson and Governor Paul LePage.

ALEC, which is largely funded by corporate special interests in industries like oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and tobacco, is known for creating cookie-cutter legislation favorable to these wealthy corporations. Unsurprisingly, the organization receives significant funding from the Koch brothers. Representatives from other Koch-led entities like Americans for Prosperity and their network of think tanks sit on a number of ALEC task forces.

It’s not surprising that Governor LePage would attend ALEC’s retreat – he and some of his closest allies in the legislature have been carrying water for the group since he was first elected. ALEC’s private-sector Maine chair, Ann Robinson, co-chaired LePage’s transition team in 2010 and two of his original cabinet appointments had direct ties to ALEC. Patty Aho, a former lobbyist who most recently was the head of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, was the state co-chair for ALEC and Stephen Bowen, LePage’s first Department of Education head, was a member of ALEC’s education committee when he worked for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Those close ties have continued throughout his tenure in office. In April of this year, Governor LePage held a press conference with ALEC staffers to tout his plan to eliminate the state income tax.

ALEC model legislation has appeared in Maine in many forms over the years, including attempts to undermine investment in renewable energy and dismantle unions. Most recently State Senator Andre Cushing (himself the ALEC state chair) submitted a bill on behalf of the Governor attempting to prevent municipalities from raising the minimum wage locally (you can read the model legislation on ALEC’s website here).

These so-called “preemption bills” are becoming an increasingly common tactic used by ALEC (and the corporations they represent) to take decision-making away from cities and put it back into the halls of state legislatures where lobbyists can exert more influence. In Oklahoma, for example, Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill into law preventing cities from banning fracking after local victories by environmental groups. In Missouri, the state legislature just passed a bill barring any local minimum wage increases, which prompted a court battle in St. Louis, where the city council had already passed an increase. The court struck down the ordinance and reversed the increase.

Despite an open door policy in the Governor’s office, ALEC legislation hasn’t found as much success in the Maine legislature as some of these large corporations have probably hoped. This year key ALEC bills such as eliminating the income tax, weakening unions and stopping local minimum wage increases have gone down in defeat.

The legislature returns for a shortened session beginning in January and it remains to be seen if Governor LePage will bring back any new ideas from ALEC when he returns from his trip.

Photo of Gov. Paul LePage, Sen. Andre Cushing and ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force director Jonathan Williams at an April 15th press conference via Andi Parkinson.

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