Archive for January, 2017
Editor’s note: This is the most recent in what is now an ongoing series regarding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence of State – and now local – legislation and decision making. A list of web resources used to prepare this article, and two tables containing associated information, are presented at the end of the article.
by John Weckerle
Back in 2012, New Mexico Central ran several articles on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC):
- ALEC and Us
- ALEC and Us – IRS Complaint and Lobbying Issues
- East Mountain Representative Smith Reveals sordid ALEC Past
As the ALEC and Us article notes, ALEC was the involved in the drafting and passage of “Florida’s now-infamous ‘Stand Your Ground'” law. Further research into ALEC at the time revealed that the organization, which has often been described as a corporate-sponsored “bill mill,” is an association of industry associations, corporate entities, and State legislators that drafts industry-friendly legislation, then sending it to State legislatures via its legislative members and supporters for introduction, sponsorship, or other support. The Nonprofit Information Networking Association article describes ALEC’s activities as follows:
ALEC drafts “model” state legislation for conservative members of state legislatures. The model legislation sometimes becomes law, such as Arizona’s infamous immigration law. ALEC has also generated state resolutions against EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses, bills on privatizing public education, restricting public employee unions, and opposing state aspects of President Obama’s national health care reform. Many of the ALEC-generated model bills are seen as industry-friendly, in part because corporations pay well for participation at ALEC conferences giving them access to state legislators. However, despite its influence with many model bills, ALEC’s visibility with the public is limited and legislators often don’t disclose that the bills they are introducing come from ALEC.
In our 2012 article, we listed New Mexico State legislators in the House and Senate who were identified by Sourcewatch as members of ALEC’s various task forces. For some time after these articles were published (and certainly not as a result of those articles, as bigger fish were targeting ALEC), ALEC seemed to fall on hard times. The organization’s web site was static for some time, and it seems that corporations were abandoning it in droves (last year, Enterprise Rent-A-Car joined and rapidly left ALEC following an outcry from its customers). ALEC has been accused in many articles as essentially being a lobbying organization masquerading as a charity (the entity is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization), and its tax-exempt status has been challenged.
Since 2012, ALEC has reasserted itself as a force to be reckoned with, and seems as influential as ever. As always, the organization seems reticent to publish its list of members; however, some information can be gleaned from its website, and we can now at least begin to identify its supporters. One of the most likely suspects is…
If you enjoy wine by Chateau Ste. Michelle, or smoke tobacco produced by Phillip Morris (both owned by Altria), buy your insurance from State Farm Insurance Companies, acquire cell phone services from AT&T, send packages or otherwise pay for shipping via UPS, purchase electricity through any of the nation’s rural electric cooperatives, or spend money in any number of states and municipalities, some amount of your expenditures is probably headed for ALEC.
At the end of this article, we are providing two tables we have compiled from information on the ALEC web site regarding the membership in its committees. Note that this is not the entire membership; again, the organization does not publish a comprehensive membership list, and it is likely that the majority of its members cannot be easily identified.
We believe that citizens have a right to know where the bills being introduced in their legislatures originate. Accordingly, we have sent the following questions to our State Representative, Jim Smith, and our State Senator, James B. White:
- Are you a current or former member of ALEC?
- Have you attended any ALEC-sponsored meetings or events? If so, when, how many and what was the focus of the meeting (s) or event(s)?
- Have you participated in any of ALEC’s task force activities?
- Have you introduced, sponsored, co-sponsored, voted for, or otherwise supported legislation resulting from ALEC’s activities?
- Have you received campaign contributions or other support from ALEC, its members, or its supporters?
We’ve requested responses by January 28, 2017, and will share what we receive with our readers – as well as the results of other research we are conducting into the matter. We also encourage our readers to pose these questions to their State and local legislators (ALEC has created a subsidiary organization focusing on local government, the American City County Exchange (ACCE)).
Among the articles and resources we reviewed on this issue include (but are certainly not limited to):
- The American Legislative Exchange Council
- ALEC Corporations – Sourcewatch.org
- American Legislative Exchange Council – Guidestar.org
- List of membes of the American Legislative Exchange Council – Wikipedia.org
- ALEC Energy, Environment and Agricultural Task Force – Sourcewatch.org
- ALEC Exposed – Center for Media and Democracy
- Exxon Illegally Funded ALEC under Tillerson’s Tenure, CMD Tells Committee – Center for Media and Democracy
- ALEC Pay to Play on Display in Washington, DC – Steve Arnold, Mayor of Fitchburg, Wisconsin via Center for Media and Democracy
- American Legislative Exchange Council – Sourcewatch.org
- American Legislative Exchange Council – Wikipedia
- Fact Sheet on the IRS Whistleblower Complaint against ALEC – Common Cause via PRWatch.org
- Groups File IRS Complaint Alleging ALEC is a Lobbying Vehicle, Not A Charity – DESMOG
- Exxon and ALEC Running Illegal Lobbying Scheme, Watchdog Groups Charge In IRS Complaint – Center for Media and Democracy
- List of members of the American Legislative Exchange Council – Wikipedia
- The Hidden Influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council – Nonprofit Information Networking Association
- American Legislative Exchange Council – Guidestar.org
- ALEC Corporations – Sourcewatch.org
|ALEC Private Enterprise Advisory Council|
|American Bail Coalition||Bill Carmichael|
|Exxon Mobil Corporation||Cynthia Bergman|
|Peabody Energy||Michael Blank|
|VISTRA Energy||Sano Blocker|
|Pfizer, Inc.||Josh Brown|
|Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company||Marianne Eterno|
|K12 Inc.||Don Lee|
|Not specified (Americans For Prosperity)||Frayda Levin|
|Not specified (Heritage Foundation)||Stephen Moore|
|Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC||Michael Morgan|
|Asian American Hotel Owners Association||Chip Rogers|
|Altria Client Services||Daniel Smith|
|State Farm Insurance Companies||Roland Spies|
|National Federation of Independent Business||Steve Woods|
|State Budget Solutions (ALEC)||Bob Williams|
|Automotive Trade Association Executives||Jennifer Colman|
|ALEC Task Forces|
|American City Council Exchange (ACCE)|
|Mayor, Gulfport, Mississippi; Capitol Gain, LLC; Billy Hewes Real Estate; Former State Senator/Senate President Pro Tempore||Billy Hewes||Public Chair|
|Not Sepcified (formerly of American Bail Coalition||Nick Wachinski||Private Chair|
|Tennessee State Senate||Brian Kelsey||Public Chair|
|Shook, Hardy and Bacon LLP||Mark Behrens||Private Chair|
|ALEC||Amy Kjose Anderson||Director|
|Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development|
|Iowa House of Representatives||Dawn Pettengill||Public Chair|
|United Parcel Service||Frank Morris||Private Chair|
|Communications and Technology|
|South Carolina House of Representatives||Garry Smith||Public Chair|
|National Cable and Telecommunications||Rick Cimerman||Private Chair|
|Criminal Justice Reform|
|Oklahoma Legislature||Lisa Billy||Public Chair|
|Stop Child Predators||Stacie Rumenap||Private Chair|
|ALEC||Ronald J. Lampard||Director|
|Education and Workforce Development|
|Utah State Senate||Howard Stephenson||Public Chair|
|Goldwater Institute||Jonathan Butcher||Private Chair|
|Energy, Environment, and Agriculture|
|Illinois House of Representatives||David B. Reis||Public Chair|
|National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association||Jennifer Jura||Private Chair|
|Federalism and International Relations|
|Oregon House Public Chair||C. Gene Whisnant||Public Chair|
|Americans for Tax Reform||Lorenzo Montanari||Private Chair|
|Health and Human Services|
|Georgia Senate||Judson Hill||Public Chair|
|Takeda Pharmeceuticals, U.S.A.||John Schlatter||Private Chair|
|Tax and Fiscal Policy|
|New Hampshire House of Representatives||Ken Weyler||Public Chair|
|Altria Client Services||Amanda Klump||Private Chair|
|ALEC/Center for State Fiscal Reform||Jonathan Williams||Director|
by John Weckerle
Once in a while life provides an extraordinarily pleasant surprise, and we had such an experience last Friday while visiting friends in Santa Fe. Our friends had heard of an art exhibition called Meow Wolf, and we all decided to pay it a visit.
Meow Wolf is less an art exhibition than an immersive art environment. It is difficult to explain or describe. The experience is called the House of Eternal Return, and it consists of numerous environments (“rooms”) created by artists. There are places to walk, crawl, climb, sit and observe, lie down and contemplate, and throughout there seems little or no prohibition against touching and otherwise experiencing the art. The experience is surreal, exhilarating, relaxing, and stimulating all at once.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves caught without a camera because art exhibitions rarely allow photography, and the Meow Wolf website doesn’t come close to capturing the experience (in its defense, we’re not sure it would be possible to do so). As it turns out, this is not the case at Meow Wolf. Those wishing a sneak peak might consider taking a look at the photos on the Wikipedia page, but even these don’t truly communicate the experience. This is an awe-inspiring, wonderfully immersive art experience, and we see it as perhaps one of the best things to do in Santa Fe and a reason in and of itself to visit the City Different. Meow Wolf is closing from January 17 to February 2 for upgrades and “refreshing,” and we suspect we’ll be visiting soon after to immerse ourselves once again. We strongly recommend that our readers pay a visit, and make sure to give themselves at least a couple of hours to enjoy all that Meow Wolf has to offer.
by John Weckerle
It was with a certain degree of disappointment when, during a recent visit to Facebook, I saw that a friend had “liked” the photo above. Created by conservative blogger Bill Whittle, it was found in a repost from “Cold Dead Hands” on the Facebook page of John Jacobs, which appears to be dedicated to alt-right reposts. It is unusual for your editor to comment directly on such things, but this one was egregious enough that it begged for a response:
It’s disappointing to see a friend like a thing like this. It’s essentially inflammatory, lacking in any real factual basis, and has very little relevance with respect to what welfare really is and how it works. Painting people who are out of work as grifters, as this does, is entirely inappropriate and inexcusable. Welfare and other public assistance programs have helped a lot of people get back on their feet. There are cheats in any system, but stereotyping welfare recipients in this way is shameful and fundamentally false. People who post or “like” this sort of thing should perhaps consider how fortunate they are to make their way without welfare – and hope they don’t someday join the ranks they so enthusiastically criticize.
A couple of friends concurred, and then another user (Kathy Arnold, whose account also seems repost-heavy) weighed in:
HELLO JOHN…..only 5-10%of people getting government assistance are disabled or abandoned children and veterans..the other 90-95%are able bodied………drug users, frauds, or just plain lazy,,i worked with HRS. DSS. DHS…FROM 1977,,,UNTIL I RETIRED IN 2014…I KNOW,,,,
An inquiry as to the source of this particular statistic rather predictably went unanswered, and so we decided to help Ms. Arnold out and do some looking around to see if we could either confirm the statistic and the characterization of welfare recipients, which we didn’t expect, or perhaps find some information to the contrary, which is what we expected.
We reviewed information from the following sources:
- Government Benefits, Source: USA.gov.
- Welfare Statistics, Source: Statistic Brain.
- Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Participation in Government Programs, 2009–2012: Who Gets Assistance?, Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
- The High Public Cost of Low Wages, Source, University of California Berkeley Labor Center.
- Finally, The Truth About Welfare – How Many Blacks Vs. How Many Whites, Source: National Low Income Housing Authority.
- Who’s on Welfare? 9 Shocking Stats About Public Assistance, Source: The Cheatsheet. (Note: this article summarizes the UC Berkely report)
- MILITARY PERSONNEL: DOD Needs More Complete Data on Active-Duty Servicemembers’ Use of Food Assistance Programs, Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees.
- Hungry Heroes: 25 Percent of Military Families Seek Food Aid, Source: NBC News.
- Food stamp use among military rises again, Source: CNN Money.
- Military families turn to food stamps, Source: Marketplace.org
- Are there more welfare recipients in the U.S. than full-time workers? Source: Politifact
The references varied somewhat based on what specific programs they examined and the time frames in which the studies (or studies referenced in the article) were conducted.
The Berkely report examines participation and costs associated with major public assistance programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF, which many people typically refer to as “welfare”), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as the food stamp program). It discusses wage stagnation, noting that wages for the bottom 10 percent of the wage distribution were only 5% higher than they were in 1979, and that from 2003 from 2013 “Inflation-adjusted wage growth was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution.” The report goes on to note that 73 percent of the enrollees in major public support programs are members of working families. Consider this table from the Berkeley report:
Total Program Enrollment
|Enrollment from Working Families||Working Families’ Share of Enrollment|
The report concludes: “When jobs don’t pay enough, workers turn to public assistance in order to meet their basic needs. These programs provide vital support to millions of working families whose employers pay less than a liveable wage…. Overall, higher wages and employer-provided health care would lower both state and federal public assistance costs, and allow all levels of government to better target how their tax dollars are used.”
The Census Bureau report, analyzing date from 2009 to 2012, provides a wealth of information, Worthy of note is that 21.3 percent of the population participated in at least one assistance program in 2012, up from 18.6 percent in 2009, with Medicaid and SNAP being the apparent major factors considered in the study. Participation by people below the poverty rate was substantially higher than those above, and people below the poverty rate also tended to remain on assistance longer. A higher rate of participation is seen for people under 18 years of age than for other groups. Single-parent households participated more than households with married couples, and household with a single, female householder participated at a much higher rate than others. Participation was estimated at 37.3 percent, 21.6 percent, and 9.6 percent for people who did not graduate high school, graduated high school, and had one or more years of college, respectively. Program participation was highest for the unemployed and those not in the labor force, but substantial numbers of full-time and part-time workers also participated.
We could go through this one article or report at a time, but we’ll summarize some of the other information we found. Among the various articles and reports we found a great many other interesting trends. Several sources indicated that perhaps 23,000 active military personnel receive SNAP benefits; that about 7 percent of veterans used food stamps in 2012; that about 23 percent of of households with at least one working adult received some form of assistance; and that about “60 percent of food stamp recipients who were of working age and weren’t disabled were employed while receiving benefits” (Politifact article).
In short, we found nothing that supports Ms. Arnold’s statistic or her assessment of the welfare-receiving population. In fact, we find quite the contrary. Low wages and income/wealth inequality represent a substantial contributor to participation in public assistance programs, and age and education also appear to play a substantial role.
We’ll close this article by reiterating our earlier point – it is shameful and dishonest to portray “welfare” recipients – many of whom are working but not making enough, and many of whom may not be able to work for a variety of reasons, as wealth-stealing parasites. Public assistance provided to many of these people is for all intents and purposes going into the pockets of those who are not paying the legitimate cost of doing business in terms of wages and benefits – essentially socializing their costs while privatizing their profits. Perhaps we should focus on that problem rather than maligning those who are affected by it.
By John Weckerle
Today, we take a short break from our usual fare to give a “shout out” to Albuquerque, Fractal Capital of the World. The Duke City is home to the Fractal Foundation, an organization dedicated to spreading the word about fractals and their value in the areas of science, math and art. The Fractal Foundation presents two fractal-based planetarium shows at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science – First Friday Fractals and Fractals Rock – on the first Friday of each month. We’ve seen both shows, and in our opinion they are worth far more than the price of admission. Fantastic Fractals can be seen in the planetarium at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Fractal Foundation conducts a variety of education and outreach activities, and the website contains a number of interesting fractal videos.
Readers interested in fractals should also take a look at the Fractal Forums website, which provides a great deal of information on fractals, fractal art galleries, and the free Mandelbulb 3D software.
by John Weckerle
Throughout our history at New Mexico Central we have, at times, attempted to shine a light on what is now widely termed “fake news” when we see it (and when time permits) – and we will continue to do so as often as we can. In concert with this, we have long been fascinated by the factors that feed into what appears to be an insistence on the part of some people to believe things even when factual evidence is provided that disproves the concept in which belief is held. This phenomenon has never been more obviously present or widespread than it has in the year or so leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and in the months since.
In a Scientific American article titled How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail: Why worldview threats undermine evidence (originally published with the title “When Facts Backfire), Michael Shermer, author of the magazines Skeptic column (and also the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine and author of The Believing Brain) discusses cognitive dissonance, which he describes as “the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.” In the article, quotes a study by Brendan Nyhan (Dartmouth College) and Jason Reifler (University of Exeter) in which subjects were provided first with fake newspaper articles and then an article correcting the misinformation in the first. After reading the correction, the subjects believed the initial article even more strongly. The researchers termed this “the backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” The reason: “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.”
Dr. Shermer provides some fascinating information on this phenomenon in The Believing Brain, and many of the relevant concepts are discussed in his Ted Talk The pattern behind self-deception, which we highly recommend (along with his other Ted Talk, Why people believe weird things). In the former Ted Talk, as in the book, Dr Shermer explains “patternicity” – the “tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise” – and identifies two types of error – Type 1, seeing a pattern where there is none, and Type II, not perceiving a pattern that is real. These are false positives and false negatives. Later, in the talk, he introduces the concept of agenticity, “the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency, often invisible beings from the top down.” Agents may include a number of concepts; some examples provided include ghosts, gods, aliens, intelligent designers, and government conspirators. He then addresses conspiracy theories, observing that many are believed even though they are shown to be false – while noting, of course that some conspiracy theories are actually true.
In the Scientific American article, Dr. Shermer provides a strategy for potentially changing at least some minds caught up in believing falsehoods – a strategy very much like the one New Mexico Central has followed, albeit admittedly sometimes less than perfectly. We have focused specifically, in many cases, on re-posted/recycled falsehoods that again fall into the category of fake news. What we have found, at least in a couple of cases, that directly addressing the re-posts some times results in a reduced frequency in their appearance, and in one case may have lead to a cessation. Nobody likes to be shown as purveying falsehood, and stopping fake news anywhere in the chain can only help, even if just a little. With two years to mid-term elections, we have a lot of work to do in the hope that perhaps voters will have better information on which to base their decisions than they did last year.
To that end, we have expanded into the “Twitterverse” and will be moving into Facebook, so we can find, follow, and potentially correct misinformation and disinformation as it is forwarded/re-posted. We hope that our readers, when presented with the inevitable e-mail forwards, re-posted articles, and similar communications containing fake news or misleading information, will consider sending us a link or forward them to email@example.com and providing us with the source so we can follow up.