Monday, August 01, 2011

ALEC's Lackeys: Snuff Edition

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes legislation that benefit the corporations that fund it, and there are no shortage of lackeys in Minnesota to help them carry out their goals.

If you're not familiar with ALEC yet, you should be (here's a very comprehensive primer.) ALEC is primarily funded by corporations that want to push their agenda. They draft legislation that benefit those interests, and "educate" state legislators who share their mission of advancing "Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty."

The corporate interests that bankroll the operation read like a who's who of big Republican donors; the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, the Coors family, the Scaife-backed Alleghany Foundation. ALEC's corporate members join (overwhelmingly conservative Republican) legislators on task forces, craft and vote for legislation that they want to see enacted. Then ALEC's lackeys take them home to introduce them in their state legislatures. ALEC brags that over 1,000 bills are introduced by members every year. More than a couple came home to Minnesota this legislative session. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll introduce you to a few of these lackeys and what they are pushing.

The assortment of bills that ALEC has approved and is pushing is breathtaking; covering everything from taxes to torts to telecommunications. ProPublica and ALEC Exposed have put together a handy assortment of tools that you can use like I did to find bills that are being carried on behalf of the corporate interests that fund ALEC. Let's start with a little tiny bill that demonstrates how this operation works.
Bill: HF 1079
Subject: Taxation of Moist Snuff Tobacco
Lackeys: Reps. Mary Liz Holberg, Jenifer Loon, and Speaker Kurt Zellers (and a special BONUS lackey - see below)
Corporation: Altria / Philip Morris
HF 1079 didn't go anywhere this session, it didn't even attract a companion in the Senate. But it's part of a wave of moist snuff legislation sweeping the nation, including our neighbor Wisconsin. Why is that?

Well, it seems that Altria (parent company of Philip Morris and member of ALEC) sells higher priced snuff than its competitors. If the tax on moist snuff is based on price, lower priced snuff is "tax preferenced." If states shift to taxing snuff by weight, then more expensive snuff would be taxed at the same rate. ALEC approved a resolution supporting taxing moist snuff based on weight in 2006. In 2011, Minnesota Republicans were more than happy to help Big Tobacco. The sudden revival of interest in the esoteric issue of ad valorem taxation of snuff couldn't have anything to do with Altria's presence on ALEC's corporate board, could it?

The Center for Media and Democracy focused on the connection between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and ALEC and noted the moist tobacco legislation as an example. Walker did veto this provision, despite an appeal from an ALEC staffer, Courtney O'Brien. (O'Brien herself is an instructive example of how ALEC works - according to a cached LinkedIn profile, O'Brien moved directly from the Koch Foundation to ALEC.) I promised you a bonus lackey, so here she is: the provision was co-sponsored by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, facing a recall election on August 9th.

Holberg, Zellers, Loon, and Harsdorf are carrying water for Big Tobacco, through a bill drafted and shared by ALEC. This is how the corporate governance model works when Republicans are in charge.

That's not even close to the end of the story. Minnesota's Republicans have more ALEC bills introduced and ready to move when the Legislature comes back into session.

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