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  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Mike Pence Set To Strengthen Ties To ALEC And Corporate-Driven Education Reform

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is reportedly scheduled to speak Friday at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which takes place in Indianapolis, IN, this year. The meeting, which typically determines the legislative priorities of the corporate-funded bill mill for the coming year, runs from July 27 through July 29. Pence was originally scheduled to speak at a July 27 ALEC event co-sponsored by the conservative-leaning Center for Education Reform but later pulled out, citing conflicts with the Trump-Pence campaign schedule. The Indianapolis Star reported that Pence rescheduled his ALEC appearance, however, and will speak at the annual meeting on July 29.

    ALEC is a corporate-fundedmembership organization that connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. ALEC’s corporate-minded -- and conservative -- model policies tackle issues from K-12 education to “academic freedom” in higher education, as well as tax reform, social programs, environmental and infrastructure policies, and health care. Its corporate-sponsored model legislation on education issues is heavily focused on scholarship tax credits, vouchers, and other “school choice” programs that would lessen support for traditional public school systems. In line with the right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions -- and has so far been adopted in 26 states, although the law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April.

    ALEC is funded by several philanthropic organizations founded or supported by the oil billionaires David and Charles Koch -- including the Charles Koch Foundation, “dark money ATM" DonorsTrust, and Donors Capital Fund -- as well as several other staunchly right-wing private foundations. It boasts having “nearly 300 corporate and private foundation members,” who pay for memberships in order to influence the proposed model policies, and lists partnerships with several right-wing education privatization groups.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

    Pence’s education policies as Indiana governor have closely mirrored ALEC priorities. In fact, Pence wrote the introduction to ALEC’s annual “Report Card on American Education” in 2014, which graded Indiana highest in the nation for education policy that year. In his introduction, Pence touted Indiana’s school voucher system, which boosts federal funding for students to attend private schools, a long-standing ALEC priority. A recent study, however, pegged Indiana’s voucher program -- now one of the largest in the country -- as an example where “negative effects of vouchers” were apparent in student performance.

    Pence also pointed to increased attendance at charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by private management companies with little oversight. ALEC supports policies, reflected in Pence’s education agenda, that boost charter funding and enrollment caps but can financially threaten traditional public schools. The group is reportedly focusing on legislative efforts to make charter school closures more difficult in the coming year.

    Pence has spoken at ALEC and other right-wing corporate reform events in the past, including delivering a keynote address at ALEC’s 2013 policy summit. In 2015, Pence spoke at an Indiana education rally held by the state political action committee Hoosiers for Quality Education. The rally was sponsored by controversial online charter company K12 Inc. (also a “proud” ALEC member) and several national education privatization groups -- some affiliated with the Kochs. These connections to right-wing education reform efforts represent only a facet of Pence’s reportedly close relationship with the Kochs and of his commitment to corporate-backed policies.

    ALEC’s annual meeting has sparked protests from Indiana teachers and lawmakers. State Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat, explained, “For too many years, this organization has destroyed the character of public education in the name of choice at the detriment of our community.”

  • Senators Explain How Fossil Fuel Groups Use Media To Spread Denial And Thwart Climate Action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A group of U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor on July 11 and 12 to expose the “web of denial” that the fossil fuel industry has spun to block action on climate change. Essential to this effort is a media misinformation campaign that several senators described in detail.

    Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) remarked on the “unfortunate role” that the media has played in spreading misinformation by providing false balance on the science of climate change:

    Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) noted that “so-called experts” at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation “publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country, talk radio, helping to spread disinformation or misinformation or what we sometimes call lies”:

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) noted that some of the same groups that deny climate science are also using the media to push for a “land grab” that would transfer public lands from federal to state control, which could pave the way for more drilling and mining:

    And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose website Watchdog.org has been described as “delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism,” has extensive ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers:

  • Sen. Whitehouse Calls Out Media's Role In Fossil Fuel Industry's "Web Of Climate Denial"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From July 11 coverage of the U.S. Senate on C-SPAN2:

    SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): You have also America's national security, military and intelligence leaders warning us of the threat. You have the pope calling on us to take action, and most world leaders. So, if you are the fossil fuel industry, what do you do? You come to Congress, to the choke point for legislation, and you put a choke chain on the Republican party so you can snap it to heel. And in support of that they perpetrate this web of climate denial. This is actually a graphic of the web that was done by one of the academic researchers who specializes in this area. Why did they do this? Well, to do their best to fool the public about the risk of climate change, to provide talking points to right-wing talk radio, to take advantage of a lazy media's impulse to offer both sides of the story even when one is false, and of course to hide the hands of the fossil fuel protagonists who are behind the scenes.

    So it's long past time that we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America's political history because of their work. I'm grateful to my colleagues who are joining in this effort today, and in the days to come, to help spotlight the lengths to which the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel fronts go to advance their economic self-interest by sabotaging America's response to the climate crisis.

    [….]

    Constantine Boussalis of Trinity College and Dr. Travis Coan of the University of Exeter examined more than 16,000 documents published between 1998 and 2013 by these 19 conservative think tanks. Their study demonstrated that in spite of the broken global heat records over the last decade, rising sea levels, and the accelerated melting of our polar ice sheets, these 19 conservative think tanks actually increased their attacks on climate science in recent years. These 19 think tanks, the authors tell us -- and I quote them here -- "Provide a multitude of services -- services -- to the cause of climate change skepticism." End quote. These include offering material support and lending credibility to contrarian scientists; sponsoring pseudo-scientific climate change conferences; directly communicating contrarian viewpoints to politicians, which is how we get infected with that nonsense here; and disseminating skeptic viewpoints out through a lackadaisical media that can be tricked into believing them – all, of course, while keeping the industry’s hands hidden.

    […]

    Now there are also groups at work exposing the web of denial. One group is American Bridge 21st Century, founded by David Brock, which has launched realkochfacts.com to highlight the truth about the Koch agenda and what it means for working families and states around the country. American Bridge last month reported on the 48 groups that signed a letter attacking the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general for serving a subpoena on the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. According to Real Koch Facts, 43 of the groups that signed on the letter defending climate change denial are Koch-linked, and 28 of the organizations are either Koch front groups or the beneficiaries of regular Koch funding -- groups like the James Madison Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, who we will talk of tomorrow. The Kochs blow their dog whistle, and the hounds appear. American Bridge exposed it.

    Then there is ProPublica, a group founded by Paul Steiger, an independent nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Their nonpartisan reporting helped shed light on some of the ways that the dark money flows through the Koch brothers networks and into politics, providing the elections backstop to this web of denial.

    Climate Nexus is an organization dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy in the United States. They recently released an opinion -- an analysis, I should say -- of 20 years of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial opinion on climate change. They found , quote, "A consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat."

    Related:

    DeSmogBlog: Senators Launch Resolution, Speech Blitz Calling Out #WebOfDenial Blocking Climate Action

    Previously:

    Sen. Whitehouse: WSJ's "Exxon Knew" Falsehoods Are Part Of Its "Long Tradition" Of Protecting Polluters

    Wall Street Journal Continues To Falsely Attack Sen. Whitehouse's Call For "Exxon Knew" Investigation

    Media Disclosure Guide: Here Are The Industry-Funded Groups Attacking The EPA's Climate Plan
     

  • Myths And Facts About Net Metering For Solar Energy

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Net metering policies, which allow utilities' customers to send energy from solar panels on their homes into the electric grid in exchange for a credit, are being threatened by efforts in several states to roll back or dismantle the policies -- most of which are bolstered by anti-solar myths from utilities and fossil fuel interests that are being parroted in the media. Here are the facts about net metering.

  • Five Times Local Media Exposed ALEC's Secretive Agenda

    As Republicans Address The ALEC Convention, A Look At The Group's Agenda And Ways For The Media To Expose The Truth

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    On July 22, the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual meeting will once again see corporations and state lawmakers gather to discuss and vote on model legislation meant for introduction in state legislatures across the country.  On the eve of the three-day conference in San Diego, Media Matters looks back at five examples of great reporting by local news teams who pulled back the curtain and held ALEC accountable for hosting lobbyists and legislators in secret meetings -- where they wrote corporate-supported bills blocking minimum wage hikes, attacking unions, and eliminating environmental regulations -- and previews this year's agenda.

  • Erick Erickson Defends ALEC, Attacks 11Alive For Investigating Secretive Group

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Erick Erickson

    Following an investigation by Atlanta's 11Alive into the inner workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- the secretive organization that brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to draft model legislation businesses want to see passed - RedState editor-and-chief, Fox News contributor, and Atlanta-based radio host Erick Erickson gave an ALEC spokesman a platform to deflect questions raised by the report and used his own microphone to question the investigative reporter's character.

    On May 21, Atlanta's 11Alive News Tonight aired a report by Brendan Keefe that exposed what went on at an ALEC conference at a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Keefe's reporting laid bare the cozy relationships between lobbyists and legislators that ALEC facilitates and revealed ALEC's hostile attitude towards the press. Keefe and his crew were denied access to meetings between Georgia legislators and corporate representatives, even though they displayed official press credentials. ALEC's vice president of public affairs, Bill Meierling, even tried to get Keefe thrown out of the hotel, where Keefe was a registered guest, with the help of uniformed police officers hired by ALEC as private security.

    ALEC responded to 11Alive's investigation by saying Keefe's questions had "caught [Meierling] off guard," but had no comment on the story's revelations.

    But Meierling had plenty to say on the June 4 broadcast of The Erick Erickson Show. During the interview, Meierling attacked Keefe's reporting by claiming he "snuck into a conference room" under a fake name "not for the purpose of interviewing anyone or having a frank discussion but to shove three cameras in people's faces and have a 'gotcha' moment." Meierling said if Keefe applied for media credentials from ALEC, the group could "try to shape the things that he was interested in." Erickson also defended the group and attacked 11Alive's report by claiming that Keefe had attempted to portray ALEC as a "vast right wing conspiracy group fueled by money" and "wining and dining legislators and shaping evil policies," all of which Erickson posited is untrue.

    Keefe responded to Erickson's interview in a June 11 article on 11Alive's website that contained screenshots of ALEC's website showing that the group had changed its media policy since 11Alive's investigation aired. He also noted that 11Alive had repeatedly requested an interview with someone from ALEC but received no response.

    The sudden change in policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council was made after the 11Alive Investigators were kicked out of an ALEC legislative committee meeting inside a Savannah resort hotel. Chatham County Sheriff's deputies, directly hired and paid by ALEC, were used to remove us from the entire hotel even though we had paid for a room.

    The ALEC media policy remains nearly identical to the one in place when we launched our investigation, but after our report the line barring media was quietly removed and replaced with, "plenary sessions and workshops are open to members of the media."

    A screen grab obtained by The Investigators in May and a capture of the same web page from earlier this year on archive.org both show the original line prohibiting reporters and their cameras: "business meetings and networking events are not open to members of the media."

    That media prohibition was quietly removed, and the new line was inserted at the same time ALEC complained to a political commentator that we had never contacted the organization before the event. It turns out we did reach out to ALEC media relations twice in the months leading up to the closed-door Savannah meeting, but we never received any response to our requests.

    Keefe also addressed the charge that he had used a fake name, or tried to conceal his motives for seeking an interview, and corrected Meierling and Erickson's claim that it was a Georgia Democrat who criticized ALEC in 11Alive's report; it was, in fact, a Georgia Republican and former ALEC member who said the group was full of "angry white men...controlled by industry."

    While Meierling still won't talk with us, he did speak to conservative talk show host Erick Erickson, insisting that we would have been welcome inside the meeting had we simply pre-registered for ALEC credentials. Erickson and Meierling insisted we had booked the hotel "under an assumed name." My whole family stayed at the hotel that week, and my wife and I booked the room under the name "Keefe" which I assumed 46 years ago at birth.

    The radio interview also attributed a quote that ALEC was a group of "angry white men" to the wrong Georgia senator. Meierling and Erickson told listeners the quote came from Senator Nan Orrock, a democrat who was a member of a "left wing competitor of ALEC."

    But Senator Orrock didn't say that. Republican senator and former ALEC member Renee Unterman told us ALEC was a group of "angry white men...controlled by industry."

    Despite Meierling and Erickson claims that media have an easy time gaining access to ALEC meetings, attempts by journalists to investigate what really goes on inside ALEC meetings between legislators and lobbyists are often shut down by the group. And while Meierling tried to downplay the monetary influence these lobbyists have on legislators, saying "there's absolutely nothing nefarious about discussing limited government," lawmakers pay a very small proportion of ALEC's membership fees, while corporations pay up to $10,000 a year for access to legislators -- payments that add up to 98 percent of ALEC's revenues.

    11Alive's investigation isn't the first to prove Erickson's claim that ALEC isn't "wining and dining" legislators wrong. In fact, ALEC's generosity towards lawmakers goes far beyond dinner, and includes "scholarship" programs that often involve paying legislators' way on trips to meet lobbyists at resorts and other vacation destinations, like the hotel in Savannah where Keefe tried to find out more about the group's activities. The same legislators who go on these junkets have supported such ALEC-promoted laws as "Stand Your Ground," which has been used to defend the reckless use of firearms; dangerous climate initiatives that promote corporate profits over public interests; and legislation to block increases in the minimum wage.

  • ALEC Responds To Atlanta's 11Alive, Still Blocks Video Footage Of What They Actually Do

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has responded to an investigation by Atlanta's 11Alive News Tonight, which exposed millions of viewers to the influence of ALEC's corporate members over the Georgia Legislature.

    ALEC, which has a history of blocking press access to its functions, refused to let a news reporter from the station cover a meeting between state legislators, corporate representatives, and lobbyists in late May at a Savannah resort. However, the reporter, 11Alive's Brendan Keefe, talked to former ALEC members to find out more and recorded a conversation with a legislator and lobbyist at a hotel bar who offered details of how the group gives state lawmakers free hotel stays and provides them with corporate-backed legislation suggestions.

    ALEC responded to 11Alive's investigation by saying its reporter's questions "caught [the spokesperson] off-guard." The group said it has "welcomed journalists from prominent outlets" to its events in the past, but through its lawyers, denied permission to the station to broadcast video it took of the legislators meeting with members of ALEC representing corporations and lobbying interests.

    In fact, ALEC has often hired private security or off-duty police officers to remove unwanted reporters, like Keefe in this instance, from its meetings with legislators. Security guards working at the 2011 ALEC annual meeting in New Orleans physically removed ThinkProgress reporters Lee Fang and Scott Keyes from the hotel in which the conference was being held. In 2013, uniformed Washington D.C. police turned away Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.

    Reporters critical of ALEC are denied even the limited access granted to the handpicked journalists ALEC allows to attend portions of their conferences. As Toronto Star reporter Olivia Ward discovered in 2011, some journalists, along with protestors, are threatened with arrest while trying to cover ALEC conferences:

    I'm talking to a fellow hotel guest, Beau Hodai, a journalist from the left-wing magazine, In These Times, who has written probing articles on ALEC. Unlike me, he hasn't enjoyed its co-operation and credentials. His calls have gone unanswered, and he has been turned back by the police and guards who firewall the meeting.

    The noise level in the bar rises and so do I. As I say goodnight, Beau is summoned by hotel security and herded away toward the elevator by uniformed police. Why? In Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, I was evicted from my hotel by machine-gun-toting militias as the Kosovo war began. But in America. . . ?

    ALEC and their corporate sponsors have a vested interest in keeping their conferences confidential. In secrecy, lobbyists and lawyers construct model right-wing legislation to be introduced in state houses across the country. These model laws include the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which has been used in high-profile cases to defend an individual's use of deadly force. In its investigation, 11Alive reported on legislation that "severely limits who can file asbestos claims against corporations," showing a side-by-side comparison of ALEC's template for the bill, and the nearly identical bill passed by the Georgia legislature in 2007. Minnesota passed a similar ALEC-authored asbestos bill in 2012.

    As ALEC's profile has become more public and the unethical implications of its corporate-written legislation have become more obvious, some major companies have quit the group. Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft have all left the organization in the last two years. However, the departure of Google may be the most notable as its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, cited ALEC's climate change denial as Google's reason for leaving (emphasis added):

    "The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts -- what a shock," said Schmidt. "And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people -- they're just, they're just literally lying."

    As the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer has reported, ALEC's 2015 agenda is no less controversial despite the loss of a few powerful members. According to Fischer, ALEC's focus this year will be on efforts to stifle the growing minimum wage movement among localities as well as supporting union busting right-to-work legislation.

    Beyond continuing to create model legislation for state governments, ALEC has also launched a subsidiary to focus on more city and county legislation. Bloomberg noted that the newly formed American City County Exchange will work to increase privatization of municipal functions by "push[ing] policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies."

  • Associated Press Hides Dirty Energy Interests Behind Anti-Renewables Campaign

    Identifies Industry-Funded Heartland Institute And ALEC Only As "Small Government Groups"

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Polluters

    The Associated Press reported that national groups including the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are heralding the repeal of West Virginia's alternative energy mandate as a lynchpin to repeal stronger renewable energy standards in other states. But the AP identified the Heartland Institute and ALEC only as "national small government groups," ignoring their significant ties to the fossil fuel industry.

    West Virginia will likely soon become the first state to repeal an alternative energy standard, following a multi-year campaign by fossil fuel interests to target more environmentally-friendly renewable energy standards in statehouses across the country. In recent days, both chambers of the West Virginia state legislature easily passed a bill repealing the state's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires 25 percent of the state's energy to come from alternative power sources (including non-renewable sources) by 2025.

    The AP reported on January 31 that groups including the Heartland Institute and ALEC "argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs," but did not reveal that these groups are tied to fossil fuel interests that would benefit from repealing clean energy standards:

    After West Virginia legislators voted to delete a law that counts burning tires and some coal as alternative fuels, national small government groups are turning the uncontroversial repeal into a rally cry to remove more stringent energy standards in other states.

    [...]

    National small government lobbies, including The Heartland Institute, still heralded the repeal's passage in West Virginia in early January as a win and a call to action.

    "One can only hope other states follow West Virginia's sensible lead," H. Sterling Burnett, Research Fellow, Environment & Energy Policy for The Heartland Institute, said in a news release after the state House passed the bill Jan. 22.

    The groups argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs. But for years, the American Legislative Exchange Council and others have failed to get any states to delete their standards.

    As The Washington Post has noted, "In many cases, the groups involved [in efforts to undermine renewable energy standards and other environmental initiatives] accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." The anti-renewables campaign by Heartland and ALEC is a case in point.

  • The ALEC Problem Is Even Worse Than John Oliver Thinks

    HBO's Oliver Exposes ALEC, Credits Group As "Associate Producer Of Creating Horrifying Things For Us To Talk About"

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    HBO's John Oliver did what many others in the media have not by shining a spotlight on the shadowy influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But ALEC's latest initiative, which has its sights set on molding county and municipal governments, has deeper aspirations than even Oliver's show explored -- and has been almost entirely ignored by the media.

    ALEC is an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC drafts model legislation designed to push conservative corporate agendas at the state level and does not shy away from boasting about its outsized influence on local lawmakers.

    The rash of discriminatory voter ID laws popping up across the country in the past couple of election cycles was largely fueled by ALEC. This year, the group has seen success dismantling clean energy standards.

    On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver described ALEC succinctly as "a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges":

    OLIVER: It's basically a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges, all of which we've talked about on this very show. In fact, I'm going to list ALEC in the credits for our show as associate producer of creating horrifying things for us to talk about. Great work, ALEC! See you at the end-of-season wrap party, you pieces of shit.

    The thing is, ALEC is everywhere. Roughly 1 in 4 state legislators are members, and it's not hard to see why. ALEC makes their jobs troublingly easy. Here's their model electricity freedom bill, which at one point says, "be it therefore enacted that the state of, insert state, repeals the renewable energy mandate." So, as long as you can remember and spell the name of your state, you can introduce legislation.

    One reason the group has been able to remain relatively free from public scrutiny is that the media has traditionally failed to cover the connections between ALEC members serving in state legislatures and the ALEC model legislation influencing the bills they introduce -- an issue so blatant that, as Oliver points out, occasionally text is lifted word-for-word from ALEC model bills.

    The good news is that over the past couple of years, ALEC's operation has been more frequently exposed to the light of day, and the group has seen sponsors scamper away as a result.

    The bad news is that ALEC is expanding its influence to a hyper-local level, which even Last Week Tonight overlooked.

    In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, "will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies." The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group's membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.

    According to a search of the Nexis database, only a tiny number of print news outlets have reported on the new initiative. And as local media outlets face extinction or the possibility of being gobbled up by billionaire media moguls, it falls to the larger outlets that remain to lead the way.

  • WSJ's Misleading Defense Of ALEC Doesn't Disclose Its Parent Company's Membership

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Dropping ALEC

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board defended the corporate bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in an editorial whitewashing the organization's climate change denial and vindicating their one-sided attacks on renewable energy.

    This week, several large technology companies have left ALEC, which connects corporations, including many fossil fuel giants, to legislators. Just weeks after Microsoft ended its ties to the corporate bill mill for its attacks on renewable energy policies, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced in an interview with NPR's Diane Rehm that his company would not renew its membership with ALEC, stating that ALEC is "literally lying" about climate change and that its policies are "really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place." Facebook, Yelp, and Yahoo quickly followed

    In response to the fallout, The Wall Street Journal defended ALEC and demonized Google in a September 26 editorial, claiming that "ALEC takes no position on the substance of climate change." This echoes ALEC's recent statement refuting the claims of climate change denial and defending their position on climate and renewable energy policies.

    But throughout the years, ALEC has made their denial of the scientific consensus on climate change clear. Their climate change model bill -- one of many bills that the legislative members later push through state legislatures -- declares that "human activity" may lead to "possibly beneficial climatic changes," going on to say that climate change influences "may be beneficial or deleterious." Yet consensus reports have found that the negative impacts of global warming will far outweigh any potential benefits. This falls in line with ALEC's stance on the consensus itself -- at its most recent conference, the organization featured the Heartland Institute's Joseph Bast who claimed that "there is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change." The organization also featured a document called "Top 10 myths about global warming" on its website for years, including as a myth that "human activity is causing the earth to warm," according to Forecast the Facts and the Center for Media Democracy. And in their most recent statement on climate change, ALEC continued to undermine the consensus, writing: "Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions." 

    None of this was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal editorial.

    The Wall Street Journal went on to defend ALEC's nationwide attacks on renewable energy, another driving force behind Google and others dropping their membership. The Journal derided Google's many investments in wind and solar projects for "kill[ing] birds," an argument that falls flat. Statistics show that renewable energy's impact on bird deaths is miniscule compared to that from buildings, urban light, cell phone towers, and even cats -- and is far outstripped by bird deaths from other energy sources, as seen in this chart by U.S. News and World Report

  • Unnoticed Fossil Fuel Influence Could Soon Dismantle Ohio's Clean Energy Policies

    STUDY: Local Papers Continue To Miss ALEC Influence In Clean Energy Debate

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.

  • Local Media Fooled By Discredited Economic Competitiveness Report

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    Local media outlets across the country published uncritical reports highlighting a conservative influence group's so-called economic competitiveness report, despite criticism of previous editions of the report over its methodology and findings.

    On April 15, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) published the 2014 edition of its annual "Rich States, Poor States" economic competitiveness ranking, which claims to be "a forward-looking measure of how each state can expect to perform economically." For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was given the top spot for future economic outlook in 2014; New York was ranked last, and has never risen past 49th place.

    Local media outlets quickly picked up the report and mainly discussed their own state's rankings and the rankings of neighboring states. Conservative radio station WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, published a blog detailing the report; including a quote from co-author and Heritage Foundation economist Steven Moore whom WOAI referred to as an "ALEC analyst":

    A conservative group says Texas is tops in the country in economic activity today, but the American Legislative Exchange Council warns that the state's economic performance in the future will be rocky, largely because state government is spending too much money.

     "That wasn't the good budget," ALEC analyst Steven Moore told 1200 WOAI news about the budget approved by the Legislature in 2012.  "Not withstanding [sic] all of the very good things that are happening in Texas, and with the very big increase in the size of the economy."

     ALEC ranks Texas no better than 13th nationally in terms of future economic performance.

    Despite the uncritical, often glowing, pick-up by local media outlets, ALEC's competitiveness report has received scrutiny in the past, mostly due to evidence showing that economic data does not comport with the results of their study.