The Climate Denial Machine: Inside the ALEC Universe

August 19, 2013

Although the far right, in sheer numbers, represents only a small fraction of the American people, they punch well above their weight legislatively, due to fanatical organizations built up by true believers over decades, and limitless funding provided by deep pocketed foundations, corporations, and individuals.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one of the least known, but most pervasive and effective arms of the radical conservative, anti-science movement. Well known climate denial institutions like the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are but tiny suckers on the tentacles of ALEC. The primary way that ALEC projects power is by actually writing, and promoting, legislation that strikes at the heart of some of the most important, hard won environmental and social legislation of the last 100 years – including voting rights, environmental law, and public education.


Koch Industries Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitals from Oregon to New Mexico to New Hampshire — and that’s by design.

The energy companies helped write the legislation at a meeting organized by a group they finance, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based policy institute known as ALEC.

The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying a fee between $3,000 and $10,000, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News.

The opportunity for corporations to become co-authors of state laws legally through ALEC covers a wide range of issues from energy to taxes to agriculture. The price for participation is an ALEC membership fee of as much as $25,000 — and the few extra thousands to join one of the group’s legislative-writing task forces. Once the “model legislation” is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to shepherd it into law.


(The Center for Media and Democracy) identified 77 ALEC bills that advance a polluter agenda. 17 of these became law. Numerous ALEC “model” bills were introduced that promote a fossil fuel and fracking agenda and undermine environmental regulations. The “Electricity Freedom Act,” which would repeal state renewable portfolio standards, was introduced in six states this year.

Representative Chris Taylor is a Democrat elected to the Wisconsin legislature in 2011. Last week, she attended the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference in Chicago. Writing about her experience at The Progressive magazine’s website, she describes her experience inside the “ALEC universe” and writes: “ALEC members have been quietly working out of the public eye to develop their agenda so that when given the opportunity, they are ready to start creating an ALEC nation. That time has come. And they are ready.”

One guy I was talking to, who was from one of these right wing think tanks was saying we need to curb Obama’s reckless power with these administrative regulations, and he wanted a federal constitutional amendment saying Congress has to approve federal regulations. I said, I don’t think most people are going to want to amend the Constitution for that. I don’t think that ignites people. Maybe it does on the far right, but most people don’t really care about that. And he said, “Oh, well, you really don’t need people to do this. You just need control over the legislature and you need money, and we have both.”

That sentiment was underscored so many times to me, that they don’t want people involved in the political process, or in the policy process. And that seems to be the intent in a lot of ways: You have a think tank in every state and all they do is come up with these very, very regressive policies, you have corporations who are going to benefit so they fund it all, and then you have the legislators as your foot soldiers to carry out the tasks.

There were a couple of instances where legislators actually did challenge some of the policies, but they always lost. The legislators were admonished many times during this conference for not doing enough and for not standing up to the federal government more.

Riley: One of the think tanks that we’ve reported on, the Heartland Institute, sponsored a breakfast. They are a climate change denial think tank. Did you go to that?

Taylor: I did.

Riley: What was the presentation like?

Taylor: It was incomprehensible. I could not follow it. It was so zany and weird. He said CO2 was not that bad for us because crops grow bigger with a lot of CO2. My husband’s an environmental historian, so I asked him, “Is that true?” He said, “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean CO2’s good for you.” The whole premise was you need to challenge the left, that there’s many, many holes in global warming, and we don’t do enough to challenge them.

We also had a presentation on the Endangered Species Act at a lunch sponsored by the Texas Oil and Gas Association. The presenter said that the Endangered Species Act threatens the economy of every single state in the nation. It’s leading to high unemployment rates, threatens local economies, it doesn’t allow growth, etc. — that this is a matter of life and death, to get rid of the Endangered Species Act, because every state’s economy is going to topple if it remains in effect.

I wasn’t very impressed by the environmental presentations, frankly. I didn’t think they were very good.

But of course, being “good’, is not the point. Getting the power to impose the “zany and weird” is what counts here, and in that arena, ALEC is frighteningly effective.


15 Responses to “The Climate Denial Machine: Inside the ALEC Universe”

  1. omnologos Says:

    there’s the slightly insane American phenomenon of seeing conspiracy behind every corner (apart from behind one’s own support). So we end up with fantastical machinations whilst support for money in politics is only declared legitimate for the causes one supports.

    this ain’t a serious way to build up a discourse. I know life’s easier to understand in terms of Baddies, but I also know it’s a slippery slope towards conspiracy theorism.

  2. ALEC, and their work is not “a conspiracy theory”. Fear of being labeled “conspiracy theorists” could make a person a very poor citizen who neglects to hold the powerful accountable for their actions, which is our job as members of a democracy. It’s naivete to think that the rich and powerful won’t organize and leverage their influence to increase their own power and money. But we don’t need to debate it, because there’s nothing debatable about the existence of ALEC and their “conspiracy” to write laws and influence government.

    Here’s another piece of writing about ALEC, carefully written to include only irrefutable facts, including 12 links to articles at the bottom.

    This information may be uncomfortable to accept, but if you poo poo the work that’s being done to educate about these institutions, you are in, yes, denial.

    • omnologos Says:

      the issue isnt if Alec exists or what it does. The issue is if their structure / finances / power is anything remarkable among the jungle of lobby groups that infest DC (and other US legislative sites) .

      if money’s allowed in politics there’s going to be all sorts of money-rich groups trying whatever they can to sway politics their way. The wwf and Greenpeace aren’t poor either.

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        Perhaps, maurizio, the difference lies in donors to ALEC or the Heartland Institute desire to maintain anonymity for their contributions, while corporate and wealthy individual donors to WWF and Greenpeace seek recognition for theirs?

      • MorinMoss Says:

        Greenpeace runs on a worldwide budget of $20 – 30 MILLION.
        That’s chump change for corporations and billionaires.

        Karl Rove was able to raise $100 million from wealthy donors for the Romney campaign through SuperPACs.

        I can only verify a donation of $10 million from Sheldon Adelson but he told Forbes last June that he was willing to drop up to $100 million.

        The Gulf spill cost BP billions and a very bad Q2 2010 but they were profitable again by the end of the next quarter.

        • omnologos Says:

          What’s your point MorinMoss? There are many issues those corporate billions have to go for. And there isn’t just Greenpeace.

          Obama managed in 2008 with $745M, and in 2012 with $630M. Money is made of politics is made of money, in the USA and elsewhere.

          We’re back to square one. The issue isn’t if Alec exists or what it does. The issue is if their structure / finances / power is anything remarkable among the jungle of lobby groups that infest DC (and other US legislative sites). Plenty of stupid ready to mark that statement of mine down, but not a soul able to reply.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            If lobbying wasn’t successful, big money wouldn’t be wasted doing it.
            And the revolving door between congressional seats and plum industry jobs is nauseating.
            How this isn’t outright graft is mystifying to me and a particularly nauseating example among many, directly related to healthcare is mother-lovin’ Billy Tauzin.

            Corporations are well-served by the relative pittances they spend on lobbyists and funding politicians. In many cases, they even write the laws that get passed.

            The mistaken decision that is Citizens United has really cast a pall over transparency. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to find out if money from foreign sources are being poured into PACs.

            And, more than ever, it’s made the desire of a wealthy few superior to the will of untold millions.

            That’s not democracy.

          • omnologos Says:

            A miracle has happened…I agree to the whole of your comment!! 😉

          • MorinMoss Says:

            I think this miracle has happened once before already – and within the same calendar year to boot.

  3. ALEC works at the state level to produce boilerplate legislation for one location A which is then used to get the same legislation passed elsewhere. Florida’s “stand-your-ground law” is just one of many examples.

  4. omnologos Says:

    oops…agree WITH not TO…

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