April 18, 2012

The Wall Street Journal Confuses ALEC’s Crony Capitalism With Free-Markets

The Wall Street Journal Confuses ALEC's Crony Capitalism With Free-Markets
The Wall Street Journal thinks ALEC critics, rather than crony capitalist corporations or K Street lobbyists, are the problem.

On the heels of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal has a new editorial bemoaning the pressure brought by activist groups on the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate law-writing front better known simply as ALEC. Thanks to efforts by a coalition of watchdog and civil rights activists, plus blogs like Republic Report, the public now knows that ALEC helped implement reckless “Shoot First” laws as well as other special interest priorities. In response, some of the most brand-conscious corporate members of ALEC have fled the organization in recent days, and ALEC now is claiming that it will retreat from criminal and social policy issues to focus on economic policy.

But that will not end the controversy over ALEC, because it is in the economic arena that ALEC does much of its harm, as a vehicle for special interests to dominate state legislatures, gaining special favors that actually hurt our economy and our citizens. Many businesses join ALEC, which operates in secrecy, to hide their own identity as they pursue radical tax loopholes and privatization schemes.

The Wall Street Journal, however, is mortified about efforts to hold ALEC accountable. The paper dismisses all criticism of ALEC and says that its lobbying is simply devoted to spreading “free-market policies”:

Is it suddenly disreputable to advocate free-market policies? That’s the question raised by a remarkable political assault on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes reform in the 50 states. […] If they do cut off ALEC, these companies will be abandoning one of the few voices in state capitals that supports free-market policies.

In reality, ALEC’s ideology is more crony capitalist than free-market. Take, for example, ALEC’s long-running effort to block free trade policies as they relate to pharmaceutical companies. Drug company lobbyists, using ALEC’s “Health and Human Services Task Force,” modeled legislation condemning efforts to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Drug companies have spent millions lobbying to keep prices high by blocking competition from abroad. Parroting the protectionist arguments of their PhRMA financiers, an ALEC policy briefing argues that importing prescription drugs would “negatively impact jobs.”

A free-market prescription drug policy solution could save taxpayers and consumers some $80 billion dollars. But, with corporate executives like John Del Giorno of GlaxoSmithKline, Sandra Oliver of Bayer Corp., Robert Jones of Pfizer, and Jeffrey Bond of PhRMA, on the group’s corporate advisory board, ALEC only peddles the interests of powerful drug companies.

ALEC’s appropriation of the term “free-market” should be an embarrassment to real free-market conservatives. Take a look at ALEC’s telecommunications page on the website. ALEC thinks the government shouldn’t allow cable companies to offer a la carte channel options. More competition in the cable market would provide consumers with better options and spur real competition. But ALEC doesn’t operate on those principles. Instead, ALEC reflects the lobbying goals of cable companies like TimeWarner, which help finance the group.

Corporate lobbyists dominate government by flooding our democracy with cash. ALEC is perhaps the best example of how private interests have stolen the policy-making process and placed it behind closed doors with a $25,000 or more entrance fee. The problem with ALEC isn’t it’s ideology — it’s the fact that ALEC has none. It’s a puppet for big business to manipulate government, and for narrow special interests, rather than the public interest, to set policy.