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Industry-funded group drafted N.M. lawmakers’ bills on climate change, hospital liability, health insurance

26 July 2011 Written by:

State lawmakers regularly introduce legislation written by the influential but little-known American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a largely industry-funded group with ties to tobacco, health care and oil corporations, legislators acknowledged Tuesday.

New Mexico lawmakers introduced several bills drafted by ALEC during the regular 2011 legislative session, Veritas NM found. The bills included proposed laws to limit lawsuits against hospitals, reduce regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and increase penalties for shoplifting. (See below.)

Corporations pay ALEC up to $25,000 apiece in annual membership fees and up to another $10,000 for their representatives to serve on issue-specific task forces.

That buys them unfettered access to state legislators from across the U.S., according to critics like Center for Media and Democracy Director Lisa Graves.

Lawmakers frequently introduce ALEC’s draft bills “without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills,” Graves said. Hundreds of the group’s bills have been passed into law by state legislatures across the U.S., Graves said.

More than 800 of ALEC’s draft bills have been leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy, which has published them online.

But while panels of ALEC’s corporate members write and pre-approve draft legislation, final approval rests with a board of state lawmakers, emphasized ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber. Only then can ALEC-member legislators obtain the draft legislation.

New Mexico members say there is nothing wrong with introducing the bills at the Roundhouse.

ALEC simply promulgates proposed legislation that reflects conservative values on taxes, personal freedom, the economy and government transparency, ALEC’s New Mexico chairmen Sen. Kent Cravens (R – Albuquerque) and Rep. Paul Bandy (R – Aztec) both told Veritas NM.

“The idea there’s something sinister going on at these meetings is laughable,” Cravens said. “It gives a rookie legislator something to start with – a bill he can bring back and introduce. There are very few new ideas out there.”

ALEC is bipartisan, Cravens said.

“ALEC’s a good, conservative organization; it’s for government transparency and economic prosperity,” Bandy said. “One thing that was introduced and passed was Sen. (Sander) Rue’s Sunshine Portal. Rue got a national award from ALEC because he carried that bill.”

Asked for the names of ALEC bills introduced at the Roundhouse, Cravens said he does not have a list and would have to “do some research.”

Like Bandy, he pointed to the state’s Sunshine Portal law as one example.

ALEC has “a good crop of members” at the Roundhouse, Cravens said.

“It tends to be conservative but that’s not required,” he said. “Out of 112 N.M. legislators, probably 60 or 70 are on the roster.”

Veritas NM compared the language of leaked ALEC bills with that of a subset of bills introduced in New Mexico. (A list of bills that were very similar or identical to ALEC bills can be found below.)

None of the bills reviewed by Veritas NM mentioned ALEC.

Such disclosure “is not required, but generally it comes out in committee,” Cravens said. “Nobody runs from that.”

“It’s not like ALEC is excluding people; it’s a forum for business leaders and legislators, mostly on economic issues,” Bandy said. “When we have committee meetings in the N.M. Legislature, everybody has a chance to get up and say their piece.”

ALEC is not a lobbying organization, according to Weber.

But Cravens acknowledged there is “nothing to stop” corporate members of ALEC from making campaign contributions to the group’s state legislators.

Asked if ALEC corporate members have contributed to his campaigns, Cravens said he “probably” had, and said he may have received some contributions from Chevron.

“What’s the difference between me talking to lobbyists there and you talking to one in the Bull Ring (restaurant),” Cravens said.

Bandy serves on ALEC’s Natural Resources and Agriculture Task Force; Cravens has served on the group’s Criminal Justice and Elections task forces.

Both men say they have introduced few ALEC bills themselves.

“I’m kind of a realist,” Bandy said with a chuckle. “I try to introduce things that will pass.”

The only ALEC bill Bandy introduced this year, he said, was HB 45, the Eminent Domain Federal Property Condemnation Act. (Had it passed, that legislation would have allowed the state to attempt to seize federal lands.)

ALEC has not yet responded to a request for a roster of its New Mexico members.

The National Conference of State Legislatures also has corporate members and sometimes prepares model legislation, Rep. Jimmie Hall (R – Albuquerque) said Tuesday. Hall belongs to both organizations, but said he finds the Council of State Governments (West) the most useful because of their expertise in water, forestry and public lands policy issues.

Hall has not introduced ALEC or other model legislation, he said.

Veritas NM has identified the following bills from the 2011 regular legislative session, the language of which is very similar or identical to leaked ALEC bills:

Veritas NM is requesting comment from lawmakers who sponsored these bills or who belong to ALEC, and will follow up on this report.

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