On the front page of Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the newspaper reports one reason so many Georgians feel that our state and our lawmakers are going in the wrong direction.
Corporate cash, in the form of industry-specific political action committees, fund the election campaigns of nearly all of our elected officials. (The full story is behind a paywall: Special-interest cash quickly eclipses hometown support)
Many leaders of the General Assembly collect 95 percent and more of their campaign contributions from special interests, bringing in more money from outside the state than from within their own districts.
As a result, Georgia ranks No. 50 among the states when it comes to the number of competitive elections to legislative seats, according to the National Institute for Money on State Politics.
The AJC's thorough and well-reported article is a must-read for anyone who cares about effective, efficient government.
But the article leaves a couple of big questions unanswered: How do these lawmakers vote once they are in office? Does the corporate cash influence our laws?
Better Georgia has spent much of the past year researching corporate influence over Georgia’s laws.
Specifically, we looked at a national group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, as its known, operates with a heavy reliance on corporate cash to entertain and influence conservative lawmakers for the benefit of the world’s largest corporations.
Today we release the results of our nearly year-long investigation.
Read our investigative report: ALEC’s Corporate Stranglehold on Georgia Laws
Unlike other legislative councils or groups of lawmakers, ALEC doesn’t publicize its meetings or invite the public to any of its events. And ALEC doesn’t hold meetings for lawmakers to exchange ideas with each other.
No, the real exchange here is between corporate lawyers and our elected officials.
The group operated in complete secrecy for most of its life but over the past two years the veil of secrecy has been pierced. What we’ve discovered has led companies like Coca-Cola to leave ALEC.
In fact, Coca-Cola was the first company to publicly abandon ALEC. Since Coca-Cola recognized that ALEC is too toxic and not in the public interest, more than 50 corporations and 75 state legislators have publically cut ties with ALEC. And more than a hundred ALEC lawmakers were not re-elected in the 2012 elections. ALEC’s 2012 Annual Meeting was its smallest in more than a decade.
Despite this national exodus, Georgia continues to have the most ALEC legislators of any state in the country.
Here in Georgia, 71 members of the legislature, all Republicans, are known to be associated with ALEC -- by far the most of any state.
One of the biggest problems with ALEC is that the group’s “model bills” are written by corporate lawyers and then put in the pocket of our elected representatives. In fact, corporate lobbyists sit at the same table as lawmakers and share equal votes on model bills.
ALEC’s bills rarely survive when they are exposed to public scrutiny.
With this in mind, Better Georgia went to work uncovering precisely what influence these corporate interests have had in Georgia.
The results are alarming.
Here are just a few of the findings from our work:
- Georgia legislators have received more than $140,000 in lobbyist gifts while attending ALEC conventions. But these gifts are not disclosed. ALEC has a special fund set up to avoid disclosure.
- Georgia doesn’t have many ALEC bills; Georgia has ALEC laws. ALEC has been incredibly successful in Georgia and its influence has been largely unnoticed.
- ALEC’s education policies enacted in Georgia are a catastrophe. From charter schools to vouchers, ALEC’s laws allow corporate schools to avoid the same accountability as Georgia’s public schools.
- ALEC’s healthcare policies enacted in Georgia are nothing more than a series of ineffective giveaways to the insurance industry.
- ALEC’s brand of crony capitalism has produced bills to rig the legal system for corporations, prevent capitalist competition, and even outsourced the design of tax plans to ALEC and its corporate allies.
Our full report is 138 pages long. The points above are just a few of our findings.
And even though Better Georgia has worked for hundreds of hours to compile this report, it is still an incomplete picture of how Georgia’s laws, lawmakers and the legislative process have been choked by corporate interests.
We encourage every voter in Georgia to pay more attention to our General Assembly and its work.
One good question to ask of every new bill is, “Did this bill come from ALEC?”
Before Georgia lawmakers pass any more ALEC-drafted legislation, it’s important to know which corporate interests influenced the bill before it comes law.
Transparency. It’s more than just a buzzword. It’s a public trust.