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Policy & Politics

ALEC Sponsors Laws That Punish Corporations For Fossil Fuel Boycotts

Free speech is what the oil industry says it. Comply or face the consequences!

The American Legislative Exchange Council is an avid supporter of the fossil fuel industry and lobbies state legislatures to pass laws friendly to the industry. One of its primary supporters is Koch Industries. According to Source Watch, “ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wish lists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve ‘model’ bills.” For a (long) list of the corporations who support ALEC, please see the Source Watch website.

The majority of American voters have never heard of ALEC, but its tentacles are everywhere. It was one of the primary sponsors of the hateful Stand Your Ground laws that led to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

According to Wikipedia,

“ALEC was founded in 1973 in Chicago as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators, a project initiated by Mark Rhoads, an Illinois state house staffer, to counter the Environmental Protection Agency, wage, and price controls, and to respond to the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

“Conservative legislators felt the word ‘conservative’ was unpopular with the public at the time, however, so the organization was renamed as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC was co-founded by conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who also co-founded The Heritage Foundation — another organization closely allied with Koch Industries.”

The Infamous Powell Memorandum

Bill Moyers and Greenpeace have attributed the establishment of ALEC to the influential Powell Memorandum. If you have never read it, you owe it to yourself to do so. You cannot fully understand the political history of the United States since then without knowing about it. The Powell Memorandum is the blueprint for how American democracy became a hollowed out shell that hides the corporatocracy within.

According to Greenpeace, “Written in 1971 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Lewis Powell Memo was a blueprint for corporate domination of American Democracy.” Bill Moyers calls it “A Call-to-Arms for Corporations.” It led directly to the rise of a new business activist movement in the 1970s. It also placed its author on the Supreme Court of the United States a few months after it was published. You can hear echoes of it in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice blithely pronounced that corporations have the right of free speech as enshrined in the Constitution, even though the word “corporation” appears nowhere in that document.

Arguably, ALEC has done the more to alter American government and make it subservient to corporate policy demands than any other organization. Its activities are at the root of much of the Trump era playbook. The disgraced former president merely adopted the policies espoused by ALEC and made them his own.

Wikipedia adds that ALEC “provides a forum for state legislators and private sector members to collaborate on model bills — draft legislation that members may customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. ALEC has produced model bills on a broad range of issues, such as reducing regulation and individual and corporate taxation, combating illegal immigration, loosening environmental regulations, tightening voter identification rules, weakening labor unions, and opposing gun control.”

In other words, its agenda has become the agenda of the radicalized ultra-right wing reactionaries who dominate the so-called Republican party today and who characterize an armed insurrection as legitimate political discourse. One can only imagine what they would have called it if the rioters were Black instead of White. The hypocrisy of the right-wing lunatics is simply breathtaking.

Free Speech Is What We Say It Is!

There is a lot of heated rhetoric about free speech these days. Exxon argued to the Texas Supreme Court recently that if it lied about what it knew about fossil fuels, those misrepresentations are protected free speech. Seriously? Fortunately there are some attorneys with moral scruples who are pushing back against such assaults on common sense.

Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are livid with righteous indignation that any government would dare tell them what to do. It’s interesting to ponder how these weak-kneed pseudo-patriots might have handled the military draft back in the day when universal military service was not only expected, but required.

According to The Guardian, ALEC is pushing Republican-controlled states to follow the lead of Texas (where else?), which passed a law last year that attempts to shield big oil from divestment measures and other devices intended to protest the industry’s role in the climate crisis. Since the beginning of this year, state legislatures in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana have introduced a version of a law drafted by ALEC that it calls the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act. A dozen other states have publicly supported the intent of the legislation. Free speech? Forget about it. You will do what we say or we will make sure you suffer!

Take The ALEC Pledge — Or Else!

At a meeting in San Diego, members of the ALEC energy task force voted to promote legislation requiring banks and financial companies to sign a pledge to not boycott petroleum companies. Signing that pledge is required in order to be eligible for state contracts. People familiar with US history may hear a disturbing echo of the loyalty oaths that were so popular during the McCarthy Era anti-communist witch hunts.

The wording of the pledge closely resembles that of laws drafted by ALEC and adopted in more than 30 states to block support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Similar laws are also being promoted to protect the gun industry from boycotts because snowflake gun owners can’t stand it when someone says something they don’t like. Nothing says free speech like denying someone else from speaking freely.

The legislation written by ALEC, which has a history of extreme denial of the climate crisis, claims that “American and European fossil energy producers … are among the most socially and environmentally responsible companies in the world.” It laments that “corporations are boycotting fossil energy companies by refusing to provide them with products or services,” and says that share selloffs by financial funds hurt investors. “Banks are increasingly denying financing to creditworthy fossil energy companies solely for the purpose of decarbonizing their lending portfolios and marketing their environmental credentials,” the draft legislation says.

Forcing Banks To Fund Fossil Fuel Companies

The Guardian reports that the drive to pass the legislation follows the refusal of major financial firms to fund new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. Banks and other financial institutions are also under pressure from environmental groups and customers to divest from fossil fuel companies. JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs are among those firms to publicly commit to supporting the transition away from oil.

According to the law, any business with more than 10 employees would have to certify that it is not boycotting fossil fuel companies in order to do business with a state government. It requires state funds, such as pensions,  to sell investments in corporations that refuse loans to the oil industry.

Jason Isaac, a former Texas state legislator who now heads the TPPF initiative to defend the oil industry, sent a memo to participants at the ALEC meeting in San Diego which criticized “woke” banks and other financial institutions he accused of “colluding to deny lending and investment in fossil fuel companies.”

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by Alex Kotch of the Center for Media and Democracy, went on to say, “The following model policy is based on anti-BDS legislation supported by ALEC regarding Israel and was recently passed in Texas to include discrimination against fossil fuels. Voting for this model policy, and encouraging more state legislatures to adopt it, will send a strong message that the states will fight back against woke capitalism.”

In January, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said BlackRock’s pledge to work toward decarbonizing the energy sector “will destroy the oil and gas industry and destabilize the economy worldwide. BlackRock is boycotting energy companies by basing investment decisions on whether a company pledges to meet BlackRock’s ‘net zero’ goals,” Patrick wrote.

The Takeaway

In other words, ALEC would rather see us all dead from the toxic waste and gases attributable to the oil and gas industries than address the climate emergency in any meaningful way. Fine particulates, poisoned groundwater, and more powerful storms be damned! There’s money to be made and nobody is going to get in the way of us making it. Could it be any clearer what happens when corporations own the government?

Welcome to the Fascist States of America, proudly brought to you by the American Legislative Exchange Council and Charles Koch. Amurrica, where freedom means doing what you are told — or else. And don’t expect any help from the courts, which are well stocked with Stepford judges suckled by the Federalist Society — another group that enjoys massive support from the oil and gas industry in general and Koch Industries in particular.

If you want to  know how such asinine policies become the norm, pick up a copy of William Greider’s book Who Will Tell The People?, which describes in exquisite detail how corporations and special interest groups have hollowed out governments in America, leaving only a façade that hides the rot and corruption within. What is truly scary is the number of people who are perfectly OK with this state of affairs.

Those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and died to defend democracy in the Korea and Vietnam would be appalled that they gave their lives so ALEC and other groups which espouse similar corporatist ideology could turn America into a fascist nation subservient to corporations. The question is, why are so many Americans cheering for Big Business?

We have seen this movie before. We all know how it ends. We could stop the madness but instead we revel in it. By the time we wake up, it will be much too late to recapture the freedom we have so cheerfully traded away. It will be decades before America recovers what it has lost.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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