Plagiarism Or Research By Minnesota Legislators?

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Click on photo to watch interview with MN Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean

Click on photo to watch interview with MN Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) has been revealed as the actual author of many bills wending their way through state legislatures. These bills are often very close to verbatim “cut and paste’ entries from the ALEC playbook.

Minnesota Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean says a teacher who looked at one of the bills said she would have given the author an “F” because “this is plagiarism.”

Dean says that is why authors of the Minnesota photo ID constitutional amendment, such as Representative Mary Kiffmeyer, were not able to answer some very basic questions about the bill.

According to Dean, ALEC is a secretive organization that creates legislation in cooperation with legislators to benefit its corporate members and then provides lobbying support to pass them. The bills are often given a benign sounding name that obscures the real intent of the bill. Minnesota apparently leads the nation with 60 ALEC authored bills, Virginia has 50 to be the presumed second.

What ALEC is doing in Minnesota and who is behind it.

Three of the proposed constitutional amendments being considered by the legislature were originated by ALEC:
Mandate photo ID for voters
Preserve corporate tax breaks
“Right to work” anti-union
Dean says that ALEC really didn’t have anything to do with the anti-gay marriage amendment. ALEC used to be focused on social issues, but now if focusing only on corporate issues.

Minnesota Common Cause has produced an 82 page document defining the ALEC influence in the Minnesota Legislature. Another Common Cause site identifies corporate participation in ALEC.

Primarily financed by some of the largest corporations in America, ALEC has quietly brought together legislators and corporate lobbyists to draft legislation behind closed doors. Much of this legislation is designed to benefit directly the bottom lines of corporations that are members of ALEC—corporations such as Coca-Cola, Koch Industries, United States Smokeless Tobacco Company and Comcast.

Dean says ALEC exists specifically so that lobbyists and corporations can influence state legislative policies away from public view. At its meetings, held in some of the most exclusive resorts and hotels to ensure secrecy, corporate lobbyists share their wish lists of legislative proposals to be introduced at state capitols around the country. Legislators take this cookie-cutter legislation,make some changes to it, then introduce it in their own states, often without understanding the full impact of what they are proposing. With help from corporate political contributions, lobbyists then help move the legislation forward.

ALEC Draft Minn Bill

ALEC Authored Bill Compared To Minn Bill Submitted

In addition to the three proposed constitutional amendments the ALEC list includes bills that:
Stop whistleblowers at agricultural operations
Make tobacco more appealing to youth
Protect asbestos manufacturers

The Minnesota bills are never identified as ALEC authored and present and former legislator ALEC members are reluctant to talk about their association. Senator Scott Dibble introduced a bill that would require transparency and to reveal the outside authors. The bill was voted down on a party line vote.

While Common Cause and several other constitutional and human rights groups are concerned that the final legislation not in the general interest and is often specifically to increase profits for a corporation or an industry, they’re also concerned about the process. Financing and drafting these bills in secret industry-legislator meetings is not in the public’s best interest.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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