Eleven constitutional amendments appear on Florida's ballot in the upcoming election, and many groups including Progress Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida, along with several newspapers, are urging voters to "just say no" to all of them, and for good reason.
Now there may be more reason for voter skepticism. Many of those amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature appear to have come directly from ALEC. (The American Legislative Exchange Council.)
From The Tampa Tribune:
Critics suggest several of the high-profile amendments Floridians will consider may have come directly from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or at least from its playbook.
May have come? One thing the Tribune article doesn't mention is a well publicized incident involving Florida Republican Rep. Rachel Burgin. Burgin introduced a bill in 2011 that would reduce taxes for corporations which she got from ALEC. Normally legislators will rewrite parts of the bills, but not Burgin. Nope. She cut and pasted her bill, written by the Tax Foundation, exactly as it was given to her by the ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy task force.
Burgin wasn't nearly as clever as she thought she was, because she pasted the boilerplate ALEC language right into the bill. You can see a copy of that brilliant piece of "editing" by Burgin here. Realizing her mistake the next day, she quickly withdrew the bill and re-introduced it a day later without the language. Sadly for Burgin, not quickly enough.
More from The Tribune:
The council, known as ALEC, bills itself as a nonpartisan membership association for state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty.
"I hate to be cynical, but when you start looking into these things, you start to see who's pulling the strings behind the scenes," said Susan Smith, head of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. "I don't think voters are going to like this."
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate funded group who work with lobbyists and conservative politicians to write "model legislation" that legislators then bring home to their states and pass into law, are partially funded by the Koch brothers.
The article goes on to quote Lisa Graves, executive director of Center for Media Democracy, the watchdog group which has followed ALEC for years. Graves says that Amendment 1 and Amendment 3 in particular "are spawn of the corporate bill mill known as ALEC." Amendment 1 would block parts of the Affordable Care Act, and 3 imposes a state spending cap on the Legislature. Smith agrees, and says additionally that Amendments 5, 6, and 8 also appear to have come from ALEC model legislation:
Amendment 5, which would give the Legislature more power over the courts; Amendment 6, which would prohibit public funding of abortions and erase privacy rights that courts have used to overturn abortion restrictions; and Amendment 8, which would repeal a ban on public funding of religious groups.
"We just don't think it's fair for outside corporate interests to come in and have so much power in our state government," Smith said.
The Tribune article quotes Kaitlyn Buss, a spokeswoman for ALEC, saying if the legislation resembles ALEC model bills, they merely provide "policy suggestions" and says if lawmakers introduced any of those bills, they have done so on their own initiative and they're in the best interest of their constituents.
Really? Not so fast. When the resolution for Amendment 1 was passed in 2011, ALEC boasted about it in a press release, claiming that it was a triumph over the Affordable Care Act's federal mandate.
In the Tribune article, some lawmakers claim they merely have "discussions" with ALEC, that this is just a conspiracy theory, and one claims he's never spoken to ALEC about this legislation. On that 2011 press release above:
That doesn't mean Florida's amendment is an ALEC product, said Mike Haridopolos, the outgoing state Senate president from Melbourne and a sponsor of Amendment 1.
"I've never spoken to anybody from ALEC about this," said Haridopolos, a Republican. "I don't know where people pull in stuff like this."
As to ALEC's boasts, he said, "I don't play he-said-she-said types of games. I'm just glad they support what we do. I don't think ALEC is a pariah, either," he said, adding that groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures and Southern Republican Leadership Conference provide valuable exposure to other states' issues and solutions.
Dig a little deeper and there's plenty of evidence out there that there's a great deal more ALEC influence on them than they let on.
Haridopolos says ALEC is no "pariah," and that he doesn't "know where people pull stuff like this?" Really?
How about here, for starters, when Haridopolos voiced his support of the Repeal Amendment at a press conference at the ALEC conference in Washington DC on Nov. 30 2010, when they announced the support of 10 States who were currently filing for the Repeal Amendment in their state legislatures? You can see the video of Haridopolos' ALEC press conference here, put out by the Repeal Amendment movement themselves.
The Repeal Amendment group's website lists Haridopolos as a supporter along with others like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, members of Tea Party like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), and FOX News contributors like Judge Andrew P. Napolitano. Also a sponsor, Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform. Americans For Tax Reform is the group that have been carpet-bombing the state of Florida the past few weeks with campaign fliers and ads targeting Obamacare, Medicare, and those containing misleading information on government spending in China, green jobs, high unemployment and outsourced jobs.
But Haridopolos has no idea where "people pull this stuff?"
As for Haridopolos' claim that ALEC is little more than a group that "supports what Florida legislators do," it's much more than that. The group Common Cause even asked Pam Bondi to investigate ALEC back in May of 2012. Still waiting on that investigation.
The Tribune article quotes another Florida lawmaker, Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored Amendment 6 on abortion. Baxley agrees with Haridopolos' views, saying:
"The conspiracy theory goes on," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican.....
......"This whole concept of some kind of clandestine entity spreading these things throughout state legislatures …" he said, his voice trailing off. "These are membership-driven organizations, and we do have discussions. It makes sense for people to come together and share ideas. That's a good thing. ALEC isn't some bogeyman monster entity. It's 2,000 legislators coming together to talk about issues."
Conspiracy theory, Rep. Baxley? Bogeyman? It's neither of those, but it's a great deal more than just "legislators coming together to talk about issues" as Baxley claims. In addition to the abortion amendment, Baxley was recently featured in a CNN report on the Florida voter suppression and Rick Scott's voter purge. ALEC has been tied to election law legislation, influencing purges in both Florida and Texas, and voter ID legislation in other states.
Of course, Baxley is most famous for his legislation of the Florida Stand Your Ground gun law. The Ocala funeral home owner not only wrote the Stand Your Ground legislation, but he was also appointed to Governor Rick Scott's task force to investigate that law in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting. ALEC, along with the National Rifle Association, were behind the push for SYG legislation all across the country. After coming under pressure from civil rights groups, watchdog groups and media coverage, ALEC announced in April of 2012 that they were disbanding their own task force on the gun laws as well as the voter ID laws, but that was too little too late. The damage was already done.
As I wrote in August of 2011, during the ALEC annual meeting in New Orleans that year, Baxley admitted that that was his fourth or fifth time attending an ALEC event to Wisconsin State Rep. Mark Pocan, who attended the meeting and wrote about it for The Progressive. At the time, ALEC was still operating largely in the shadows, but in talking to Pocan, Baxley bragged about his gun law and working together with ALEC:
"It's a great place to share model legislation and a great place to learn what's going on in other parts of the country," said Baxley, who sponsored a major rewrite of Florida's election laws that's under challenge in court.
Baxley said his so-called 2005 castle doctrine bill, which allows people in Florida to use deadly force to defend themselves in their homes or cars, became a model for other states.
"A lot of ideas get shared and aired there," Baxley said. "It's a very collaborative process."
This hardly suggests a "conspiracy theory" as Baxley claims in the Tribune article.
Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said she will use district office money and possibly ALEC scholarship money to pay her registration fee. She's paying for her travel and hotel personally.
Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, is covering conference expenses with campaign money, and will hold a campaign fundraiser today in New Orleans.
"Obviously there are going to be lobbyists there, and I figure it would be an easy place, if they have checks, to come by," Nunez said.
Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is at his first ALEC conference.
"I don't buy any legislation off the shelf," Brandes said. "We like to tweak it here and there and make it our own. But it's a good starting point to have legislation that's already been somewhat vetted."
Yet Haridopolos and Baxley would have you believe heavy influence from ALEC is nonsense?
The Amendments on the Florida ballot have ALEC footprints all over them, and voters need to take heed when they vote on them. With an unpopular governor who puts big corporations needs over those of Floridians at every turn, and a legislature that has been giving in to nearly everything he wants, it's no wonder they wrote the Amendments in a deceptive way.
The amendments include allowing religious organizations to use tax dollars to fund their own religious schools, allow politicians to interfere in women’s personal medical decisions, allow Tallahassee politicians to protect an unfair system that beneﬁts large corporations at the expense of public schools, small businesses and working families, and one that gives politicians more power over our courts and is opposed by the people who know what works and doesn’t in our justice system - judges and the people that work in courthouses all across Florida.
Also on the ballot: "merit retention" for three Florida Supreme Court justices, in an attempt to politicize the courts by Republicans for not making decisions favorable to their agenda, and could allow Florida Governor Rick Scott to hand pick their replacements.
With all the corporate influence Florida is under as it is, the last thing we need is a partisan Supreme Court beholden to the man who acts as if he's the CEO of Florida, Inc.
Voters who aren't paying close attention this election may well be giving up rights they won't get back anytime soon in a state already controlled by an extreme group of Republicans.