ALEC attacks shareholders

Documents reveal that the shady group is helping corporations block new efforts to limit their political spending

Topics: Campaign Finance,

ALEC attacks shareholdersPresident George W. Bush, left, is introduced by Rep. Kenny Marchant prior to speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2007. (Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Montsivais)

Should shareholders have a say in how much money corporations give to candidates, super PACs and dark money groups? The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, doesn’t think so.

ALEC is best known for giving moneyed special interests a hand in crafting “model legislation,” including the NRA-backed “stand your ground” laws that have touched off a furor in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. But a trove of internal documents obtained by the advocacy group Common Cause shows that the group’s activities are far more varied than was previously known; it does everything from issuing boilerplate press releases to flagging how lawmakers should vote on given pieces of legislation.

It also lobbies actively to scuttle shareholders’ rights – specifically to limit their ability to weigh in on political giving. Last year, for instance, New York state lawmakers introduced a pair of bills requiring corporations to get shareholder approval before making donations to politicians or outside groups, such as super PACs. Backers argue the measure would provide crucial safeguards for investors. “Giving shareholders a voice ensures that their money isn’t used for political purposes they don’t agree with or that are detrimental to the corporation,” explains Adam Skaggs, a senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school.

Nevertheless, ALEC’s Public  Safety and Elections Task Force — which has since been disbanded amid the outcry over stand your ground — sent out an “issue alert” to its New York members urging them to vote the measure down. Among other things, the document, which was dated Feb. 15, 2011, argued the bill imposed “oppressive and impractical requirements on corporations,” which restricted corporate free speech and thus could “deter and delay these entities from participating in political debate.”

“Not only do these burdensome requirements impede upon First Amendment rights, they are also unnecessary,” the memo continued. “Shareholders always have the option of voting out board members and removing management who engage in independent expenditures contrary to the interests of the company and its owners … Legislation punishing speech stifles uninhibited public debate and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.” The effort was apparently successful: The New York legislation is currently stalled.

ALEC’s advocacy on the issue apparently began shortly after the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizen’s United decision. In September 2010, the group issued a resolution in support of the ruling, which focused largely on limiting shareholders’ ability to weigh in on companies’ newly unencumbered political contributions. Among other things, it advocated barring shareholders from suing corporations based on their political activities on the ground that civil suits were merely “designed to silence corporate speech.” Some of ALEC’s critics find this argument puzzling. “The idea that the owners of a corporations — and, make no mistake, shareholders are the owners — shouldn’t have any influence over their political activities is absurd on its face,” says Lisa Graves, executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy.

You Might Also Like

But lawmakers have apparently taken ALEC’s recommendations to heart. Under pressure from the organization, last year at least nine states legislatures — including those in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin — jettisoned bills requiring companies to seek shareholder approval for their political giving, according to research by Common Cause. The group also found that ALEC’s top-spending corporate members have devoted nearly $16.5 million to shaping legislation in these states over the last decade. (ALEC did not respond to requests for comment.)

In the absence of legislation, many shareholders are taking matters into their own hands and launching campaigns to force corporations to be more transparent. Nearly a third of all shareholder resolution in 2012 call for more disclosure on political giving, according to a report by the investor advocacy group As You Sow, which also notes that “unruly” investors, outraged that their money is secretly being used to fund dark-money movers like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, plan to turn out en masse and “occupy” annual shareholders meeting. The implications of this trend are far reaching. “Besides giving shareholders what they need to hold corporate managers accountable about how assets are being used, shareholder disclosure would provide the general public with information about who is trying to influence how they vote in the general elections,” explains Skaggs of the Brennan Center. This kind of transparency could be a game changer, since the power of dark-money groups hinges at least partly on their ability to mask the agenda and funding behind their work.

CORRECTION: This piece originally identified the American Legislative Exchange Council as the “American Legislative Exchange Committee.” We regret the error.

Mariah Blake is a writer based in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, the Nation, the New Republic, Foreign Policy, the Washington Monthly and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>