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ALEC in the Trump White House

Last Updated:2017-Jan-20
Principal Writer:Rob Dennis

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Top corporate organization comes to the White House

Half of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks, as well as Vice President-elect Mike Pence, have ties to a group that writes laws to benefit its corporate sponsors.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) writes "model legislation" used as the basis for often-controversial state laws, including "Voter ID" and "School Choice" bills.

It also has written a host of measures favorable to corporations, including deregulation, anti-minimum wage and "Right-to-Work" legislation.

Its corporate funders include billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, ExxonMobil, PhRMA, UPS, AT&T and Pfizer.

While the group focuses on state (and, recently, local) government, it has made inroads at the federal level as well. Some of its alumni in Congress have pushed for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and one of them led efforts to "reform" the U.S. Postal Service.

Now, ALEC finds itself in the heart of the White House.

ALEC is in the Cabinet

Pence, 7 of the 15 cabinet nominees, and 2 of the 5 cabinet-level nominees so far have been members of ALEC or spoken at the group's events. (Trump has yet to name a chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.)

ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said in a statement...

"In view of the incoming presidential administration's focus on rolling power back to the states and the sheer number of ALEC alumni in the new administration, ALEC is the organization best positioned to bring policy experts and business leaders together for open and substantive discussions."

Mike Pence "was for ALEC before it was cool"

Pence, who wrote the introduction to ALEC's annual Report Card on American Education in 2014, also spoke at the group's July, 2016 conference.

His education policies as governor of Indiana matched those of ALEC and Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, including funding for charter schools and vouchers. He appointed a former ALEC director to his cabinet, and once sent an email urging legislators to join the group.

"I was for ALEC before it was cool," Pence said at the 2016 conference.

Under Rex Tillerson, Exxon was on ALEC's corporate board

Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has worked his entire career at ExxonMobil, becoming CEO in 2006. The company gave more than $1.7 million to ALEC from 1998 to 2014, and has a representative on the organization's corporate board.

ALEC argues that "global climate change is inevitable," opposes government mandates that "limit or dictate energy choices," and encourages the expansion of access to North American fossil fuel reserves. ALEC also opposes the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

Hundreds of documents released this year by Common Cause illustrate how Exxon used ALEC to push the company's legislative goals on issues including cap-and-trade, fracking, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the Clean Power Plan.

Exxon continued to fund ALEC for eight years after it pledged to stop funding climate denial, according to The Guardian.

In Oklahoma State Legislature, Scott Pruitt was ALEC member

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump's pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a former state senator and ALEC member.

Pruitt has sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. In his LinkedIn profile, Pruitt claims to be "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda."

Andrew Puzder is on board of ALEC member

Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder is a board member of the International Franchise Association (IFA), which advocates for laws and policies favorable to the industry. It also is an ALEC member.

The IFA has pushed to delay the employer mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and repeal the provision requiring businesses to provide health insurance for employees working an average of 30 hours a week.

The organization unsuccessfully sued Seattle in 2014 to try to block the city from treating franchises as large businesses under its new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law.

ALEC has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and opposes minimum-wage increases.

ALEC has adopted a policy backed by the IFA that franchising is a contractual business relationship rather than an employment relationship. The policy is an effort to ensure that large franchise corporations such as McDonald's and Puzder's own Carl's Jr. are not held liable for the labor practices of their franchisees.

Tom Price is ALEC alumnus

Tom Price, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, is an ALEC alumnus.

He has introduced legislation to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and supports privatizing Medicare - mirroring ALEC's positions.

Price also is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a medical group whose statement of principles "declares that it is 'evil' and 'immoral' for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid."

The Wall Street Journal reported in Dec. 2016 that Price had traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies while sponsoring legislation that could affect those companies' stocks.

Betsy DeVos chaired organization that belongs to ALEC

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC), a dark-money group that supports school voucher programs and charter schools nationwide, funneling donations from undisclosed sources to candidates who support school privatization, mostly at the state level.

AFC is an ALEC member, and has worked with the group to draft model legislation.

Nikki Haley is former ALEC member

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump's United Nations ambassador nominee, is a former ALEC member.

She has pushed ALEC-sponsored legislation including school voucher programs, voter ID laws, and a bill allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of any person who is arrested or stopped, modeled on the 2010 Arizona law.

She signed into law a measure to block a boycott movement against some Israeli companies. About a dozen other states have enacted similar laws - a policy backed by ALEC's national chair.

Perry was keynote speaker at 2016 ALEC conference

Trump's pick for energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was a keynote speaker at ALEC's annual conference in July, 2016.

A 2011 analysis by ThinkProgress found that 10 of then-governor Perry's initiatives "mirror ALEC model legislation or policy recommendations from ALEC's state affiliate."

Elaine Chao was distinguished fellow at think tank tied to ALEC

Transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao spoke at the ALEC annual meeting back in 2002, when she was secretary of labor.

Before and after her time as labor secretary, Chao was a distinguished fellow with the Heritage Foundation. Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation, also co-founded ALEC.

Ben Carson spoke at 2016 ALEC meeting

Ben Carson, nominated for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), spoke at an ALEC meeting in 2016, calling for deregulation, school choice, a balanced-budget amendment, and changing the mission of the EPA so it would work with businesses to exploit natural resources.

Mick Mulvaney's top donor sponsored 2016 ALEC conference

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Trump's nominee to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), served in the South Carolina Legislature from 2007 to 2011, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Koch Industries has donated $31,000 to Mulvaney's campaigns. Mulvaney's top donor - The Club for Growth - gave $85,580. Club for Growth founders include a network of Koch funders. Club for Growth was a sponsor of ALEC's annual conference in 2016.

Mulvaney has called for a balanced budget amendment. He has questioned climate science, referring to "baseless claims regarding global warming," and wants to make it easier for companies to access domestic oil, natural gas and coal. He has called for eliminating the capital gains taxes and lowering tax rates for businesses.

Others in Trump administration also linked with ALEC

Several others appointed to top positions in the administration also have connections to ALEC or the Koch brothers, and share many of ALEC's goals.

Kellyanne Conway (counselor to the president)
Kellyanne Conway, who will serve as counselor to the president, spoke at the ALEC annual meeting in 2016. Conway, a longtime pollster and senior adviser for Pence, worked for a super PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign before switching to Trump. Cruz is a longtime ALEC supporter.

Marc Short (White House director of legislative affairs)
Marc Short, a longtime Pence adviser, has been chosen by Trump as director of legislative affairs for the White House. Short was the Koch brothers' top political adviser as president of Freedom Partners, the Kochs' political arm, from 2013 until he joined Rubio's presidential campaign in February, 2016.

Donald McGahn II (White House Counsel)
While serving on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Trump's White House Counsel, Donald McGahn II refused to enforce campaign finance laws.

In private practice, McGahn has represented ALEC's Freedom Partners, testifying on behalf of the group at an FEC hearing last year.

Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff)
Reince Priebus, Trump's chief of staff, served as chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, leading the party to success in the 2010 elections. Priebus' longtime friend Scott Walker was elected governor, and Republicans took control of the state Assembly and Senate.

Walker, a former ALEC member, was heavily funded by the Koch brothers, ALEC corporate members and other conservative groups. He went on to propose a budget bill that eliminated public employee collective-bargaining rights except for wages, reflecting ALEC's anti-union policies.

In all, the Republican-controlled Legislature introduced 32 bills in 2011 - 12 that reflected ALEC model legislation.

Mike Pompeo (CIA director)
Mike Pompeo, nominee for CIA director, is a member of the Tea Party movement who was elected to represent Kansas' 4th Congressional District with the financial backing and endorsement of the Koch brothers.

Pompeo has argued that climate science "needs to continue to develop" and opposed the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations and Clean Power Plan. A lifetime National Rifle Association (NRA) member, he opposes gun-control legislation. The NRA is a member of ALEC, which has written model legislation opposing gun-control efforts.

Koch Industries is Pompeo's top campaign donor, giving $375,000. Club for Growth has donated more than $64,000.

Jeff Sessions (Attorney General) and Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior)
Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions and interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke also have received contributions from Koch Industries.

Sessions claims to be skeptical of climate science, and voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. He voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and supported efforts to de-fund it.

Zinke, who has received more than $345,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, has flip-flopped on climate science, supported the Keystone XL Pipeline, limited the president's ability to protect public lands by declaring them national monuments, and weakened protections from endangered species. The League of Conservation Voters has given him a lifetime score of 3 percent. Zinke supports a balanced-budget amendment.

Wilbur Ross (Commerce Secretary) and Todd Ricketts (Deputy Commerce Secretary)
Wilbur Ross, nominee for commerce secretary, is a friend of David Koch's. Todd Ricketts, is Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary. Ricketts, the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, and his wife Sylvie Lègére have served on the National Council of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the oldest conservative think tanks.

AEI has received financial backing from charities related to the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil and Betsy DeVos' family. The Guardian newspaper listed AEI among the top recipients of donations from conservatives "to groups spreading disinformation about climate science."

Sonny Perdue (Agriculture (USDA) Secretary)
As governor of Georgia, Perdue signed into law measures based on ALEC model legislation, including the nation's second voter ID law and a school-choice program described by ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich described as "the most expansive in the nation."

ALEC praised Perdue for appointing special counsel to join other states in challenging the Affordable Care Act.

Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration)
Trump's choice to direct the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, along with Puzder, has served on AEI's National Council. Education secretary nominee DeVos serves on AEI's board of trustees, along with former vice president Dick Cheney.

ALEC influences in Congress no longer has executive branch resistance

The Trump administration might be new, but ALEC already has old friends in the Republican congressional leadership, which will control the legislative agenda for at least the next two years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has supported ALEC's efforts to block the EPA's Clean Power Plan, and has said he doesn't know if climate change is a real problem.

McConnell has taken numerous positions that match those of ALEC, including

He is married to Elaine Chao, Trump's nominee for transportation secretary.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a friend of fellow Wisconsinite Priebus, has long pushed a budget in lockstep with ALEC's goals, including tax cuts for the rich and Medicare privatization.

Koch Industries is one of Ryan's top five donors. Ryan spoke at ALEC's States and Nation Policy Summit in 2013.

Ryan, McConnell and other Republican leaders are pushing an agenda that has been pursued for years by ALEC, one that benefits corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.

Judging by Trump's cabinet selections, he will do little to stand in their way.

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