If you're looking for a poster child for the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, you'd have a hard time doing better than the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC is one of the nation's most powerful and most secretive lobbying entities, and it focuses exclusively on state legislatures. Disguised as a non-partisan professional association for legislators, it is actually a corporate-funded mechanism to allow business interests to write their own bills without leaving fingerprints for the public and their elected representatives to see. ALEC hands out model laws to willing or naïve legislators — including some in Maine — which are drafted by secret task forces and approved by ALEC's corporate donors, who provide virtually all of its funding. Major donors include the infamous Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, and big drug and tobacco companies. The laws seek to deregulate industry, protect the powerful from responsibility for their misdeeds, or dismantle and privatize government. Hundreds of ALEC-written laws are passed in state houses every year, usually without anyone realizing who really wrote them.
Guess who is the new corporate chair of ALEC for the state of Maine?
Confidential documents from ALEC's annual meeting last month in New Orleans obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy reveal it is none other than Ann Robinson, a trusted advisor to Governor Paul LePage who simultaneously maintains her day job as a corporate lobbyist at Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios. (Her legislative co-chair is Senator Richard Rosen, Republican of Bucksport.)
Robinson was the author of the governor's infamous "Phase I" regulatory reform agenda, which sought to roll all of Maine's environmental laws back to weaker federal standards, restore the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol-A to baby's bottles and sippy cups, gut product-recycling legislation, and rezone 30 percent of the Maine North Woods for development (see "LePage's Secret Puppeteers," February 11, by Colin Woodard). We later obtained documents showing she did so by cutting and pasting language provided by major North Woods landholders, the producers of many currently recycled products, the pulp and paper industry, and her colleagues at Preti (which represents PhRMA, Medco, Merck, the Toy Industry Association of America, and other interested parties; see "The LePage Files," July 22, by Colin Woodard). She's the governor's first choice to fill a vacancy on the board of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (which he tried to de-fund; see "Governor to Nominate Favored Lobbyist to MPBN Board," August 19, by Colin Woodard) and already sits on the committee that vets his potential judicial nominees.
Her prominent involvement in ALEC raises new questions about LePage's legislative agenda — both in the past and looking forward. While she became state co-chair sometime this summer, it is not clear how long she has been involved with the organization, as it keeps its membership secret. Progressive activists will be scrutinizing the governor's bills to see if they are modeled on ALEC's, which were secret until earlier this summer, when they were leaked to The Nation and subsequently posted online at ALECexposed.org. That website also identified a number of past and present Maine legislators who have been active in ALEC, including senators Chris Rector (R-Thomaston), Debra Plowman (R-Hampden), Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth), and Michael Thibodeau (R-Winterport). Former senator Carol Weston (R-Waldo) — who now heads the local branch of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity — is a former state chair.