Category Archives: Politics

Our Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding ALEC’s Influence on Your State Laws

Source: Lois Beckett, ProPublica, August 1, 2011

For decades, a discreet nonprofit has brought together state legislators and corporate representatives to produce business-friendly “model” legislation. These “model” bills form the basis of hundreds of pieces of legislation each year, and they often end up as laws. As media scrutiny of the nonprofit–the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC–has grown, we’ve built both a guide and a searchable database so you can see for yourself how ALEC’s model bills make their way to statehouses.

Hiding Behind the Tax Code, the Dark Election of 2010 and Why Tax-Exempt Entities Should Be Subject to Robust Federal Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

Source: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Nexus Chapman’s Journal of Law and Public Policy, 2011

From the abstract:
If the past is prologue, we should anticipate a marked increase in the use of non-profits to mask for-profit money in politics. History shows that for-profit corporations spend through non-profits to enjoy their anonymity while spending without accountability from shareholders or customers. And Citizens United may only expand this corporate habit of spending through intermediaries. If for-profit corporations are purposefully using non-profits to hide the true source of their funds, then it is possible that the degree of disclosure required of non-profits in the future may have an impact on whether for-profits give money to ideological and politically active non-profits.

The Bias of Uninformed Voters

Source: Anthony Fowler, Michele Margolis, MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2011-12

From the abstract:
Survey researchers and political pundits bemoan the lack of political information within the American electorate. Not only do Americans fail to meet the democratic ideals of an informed electorate, but this lack of knowledge also has political consequences. An empirical analysis of survey data finds that informed voters are more likely to vote for Republican candidates; however, these correlational findings may be plagued by reverse causation and omitted variable bias. We present a model of an election with uninformed voters and experimentally test the effect of political information. Our results suggest that the lack of information in the American electorate typically biases election results toward the Republican Party. When uninformed citizens receive political information, they systematically shift away from the Republican Party.

U.S. Trade Unionism under Globalization: The Death of Voluntarism and the Turn to Politics?

Source: Victor G. Devinatz, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 62 no. 1, Spring 2011
(subscription required)

Because of this significant decrease in private sector union density, in “Competition in the Global Workplace: The Role of Law in Economic Markets: Trade Unions Under Globalization: The Demise of Voluntarism?” distinguished labor law scholar Samuel Estreicher argues that since unions have been unable to achieve their goals through collective bargaining over the last few decades, they have increasingly turned to politics to attain these desired objectives.

ALEC: American Legislative Exchange Council – The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures

Source: People For the American Way Foundation, 2011

When state legislators across the nation introduce similar or identical bills designed to boost corporate power and profits, reduce workers rights, limit corporate accountability for pollution, or restrict voting by minorities, odds are good that the legislation was not written by a state lawmaker but by corporate lobbyists working through the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced. It’s win-win for corporations, their lobbyists, and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder….

… ALEC’s major funders include Exxon Mobil, the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation). These organizations consistently finance right-wing think tanks and political groups.

Members of ALEC’s board represent major corporations such as Altria, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft, PhRMA, Wal-Mart, Peabody Energy, and State Farm. Such corporations represent just a fraction of ALEC’s approximately three hundred corporate partners. According to the American Association for Justice, over eighty percent of ALEC’s finances come from corporate contributions….

…The Issues ALEC Lobbies For:
– Undercutting Health Care Reform: Pulling out all the stops to weaken the health care reform law.

– Corporate Power and Workers’ Rights: Curbing protections for workers while eliminating checks and regulations on corporations.

– Voter ID and Election LawsBoosting corporate clout by making it harder for young and low-income Americans to exercise their right to vote.

– Tax Policy: Encouraging tax cuts for the rich that exacerbate state budget problems.

– Private School Vouchers: Taking aim at public education by bolstering risky, wasteful, and ineffective private school voucher programs.

– Obstructing Environmental Protection: Using energy industry dollars to fight climate change policies and regulations on polluters.

Promises, Promises: Assessing the Obama Administration’s Record on Labor Reform

Source: Anne Marie Lofaso, New Labor Forum, Vol. 20 no. 2, Spring 2011
(subscription required)

The 2008 election cemented a Democratic congressional majority. Having helped elect Obama, labor had high expectations for the administration and hoped the new president (and Congress) would protect working-class Americans’ interests. It seemed a perfect opportunity to advance a progressive agenda, including strengthening participatory workplace democracy and raising the floor of social and economic rights for workers. This essay provides an overview of what was accomplished, what was not, and where the hope still lies.

Wisconsin and Beyond

Source: Kim Moody, In Critical Solidarity, Vol. 10 no. 3, May 2011

Like the beginnings of upsurge in earlier times, the rebellion that began with Wisconsin’s public workers — against one of the most far-reaching attacks on worker rights in some time — came as a result of anger building after years of pressure on public employees all across the nation.

Among the many lessons of the Wisconsin events is that politicians develop backbone to the degree their base is in the streets and “out of control.” Should the Democrats take back various statehouses, perhaps even Congress, and the mass movement subsides, they will fall back into their pattern of compromise and retreat. Post- Wisconsin politics need to be a politics of mobilization and direct action if the debate on worker rights is to replace that of austerity and increasing impoverishment.

For the past two years, the right and their Tea Party shock troops dominated political discourse in the style of a semi-mass movement, sometimes attracting the angry and frustrated with their sharp rhetoric. This year in Wisconsin and across the Midwest, the Tea Party efforts to support these Republican governors were pathetic and that movement was reduced to its true proportion as a middle class minority. This year, the working class majority spoke in the loudest voice and clearest terms it has for decades, and attracted broad support in the process.

Political economy of public sector retirement plans

Source: Sylvester J. Schieber, Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Vol. 10 no. 2, April 2011
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Virtually all state and local government employers in the United States offer workers some sort of retirement benefits today but there is significant variation in the characteristics of those plans. There is also a great deal of public angst about the level and timing of commitments made in these plans. The literature on retirement plans suggests that they are important elements of compensation that plan sponsors use in meeting their human resource goals. But public retirement plans are created and operated in a public policy environment and forces other than local labor market considerations may be brought to bear in the organization and operation of these plans. This paper explores some of the possible explanations for the variation in state retirement plans. Public disclosure data is used to develop a model that explains relative generosity of benefits based on the characteristics of participants and the marketplaces in which the plans are offered. The final section of the paper places the issues explored in a forward looking context. The public disclosure environment recently put in place for public retirement plans is likely to have a more profound effect on state pension operations than any other development in recent history.

Convenient Scapegoat: Public Workers under Assault

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, Dissent, Vol. 58 no. 2, Spring 2011
(subscription required)

If partisan conservatives such as Morris and his friends were all that public sector unions had to worry about, the situation would be difficult enough. But a growing bipartisan consensus, which stretches from New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie to New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and includes mainstream publications such as the Economist and the Atlantic, seems to have concluded that states and municipalities have been too generous with their employees, and that union contracts are a prime cause of the recent surge in government budget deficits. There is increasing talk of trimming pensions, benefits, and salaries for public sector workers and enacting laws that curb union political influence. “At some point,” argues Christie, “there has to be parity between what is happening in the real world and what is happening in the public-sector world.” Such arguments clearly resonate with voters. Recent polls have found both a significant drop-off in public support for government-employee unions over the past year and a rising level of passion among union opponents.

Two widely shared misperceptions are helping to drive this shift of opinion. The first holds that public sector workers now earn more on average than their private sector counterparts, making them what Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, calls “a new privileged class in America.” The leading candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination have helped promote this view….The second perception is that collective bargaining contracts have been major contributors to the growing budget deficits of the states, a view promoted by Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute….

…Whether the United States can emerge from the Great Recession to confront this massive long-range failure of the private sector to generate good jobs, reliable benefits, and rising incomes for the many will depend greatly on how well public sector unions are able to weather this perilous moment. With less than 7 percent of nongovernmental workers unionized, private sector unions no longer have the leverage to improve wages and benefits for those beyond their ranks. Thus, by default, public sector unions have become the single most effective social force capable of speaking out for a just economy that lifts the standards of all workers, public and private. To preserve their credibility and their ability to fight effectively for both their members and a fairer economy for all, the unions would be wise at this moment to show that they are prepared to make sacrifices where necessary, appropriate, and fair. In turn, all who seek a fairer economy have a stake in coming together to resist the radical effort to roll back public sector unionism that is now gaining ground.