Trump sets up ALEC administration
An ultra-conservative group that writes laws for corporations finds itself in the heart of the White House.
Nearly half of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks, as well as Vice President-elect Mike Pence, have ties to an ultra-conservative group that writes laws to benefit its corporate paymasters.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) writes “model legislation” used as the basis for often-controversial state laws, including voter ID and “school choice” bills. It also has written a host of measures favorable to corporations, including deregulation, anti-minimum-wage and right-to-work legislation. Its corporate funders include billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, ExxonMobil, PhRMA, UPS, AT&T and Pfizer.
While the group focuses on state (and, recently, local) government, it has made inroads at the federal level as well. Some of its alumni in Congress have pushed a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, and one of them led efforts to “reform” the U.S. Postal Service.
Now, ALEC finds itself in the heart of the White House.
Seven of the 15 cabinet nominees and two of the five cabinet-level nominees so far have been members of ALEC or spoken at the group’s events. The cabinet-level post of chair of the Council of Economic Advisers remain to be filled.
“In view of the incoming presidential administration’s focus on rolling power back to the states and the sheer number of ALEC alumni in the new administration, ALEC is the organization best positioned to bring policy experts and business leaders together for open and substantive discussions,” ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said in a statement.
The nominations could as easily have come from some of Trump’s Republican primary opponents, such as former ALEC members Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Trump, though, was not at the top of ALEC’s wish list.
When Republican pollster Frank Luntz asked attendees at ALEC’s annual meeting in 2015 how many were supporting Trump, the crowd responded with — silence. One booth at the conference even included a Trump piñata.
This was, after all, the candidate who had vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington lobbyists, many of whom are fixtures at ALEC events.
Trump proclaimed himself the only Republican candidate to refuse to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. ALEC has proposed privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He labeled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which ALEC supports, a disaster. He lashed out at banks (notably Goldman Sachs) and multinational corporations on the campaign trail.
Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has worked his entire career at ExxonMobil, becoming CEO in 2006. The company gave more than $1.7 million to ALEC from 1998 to 2014, and has a representative on the organization’s corporate board.
ALEC argues that “global climate change is inevitable,” opposes government mandates that “limit or dictate energy choices,” and encourages the expansion of access to North American fossil fuel reserves. The organization also opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
Political advocacy group Common Cause released hundreds of documents this year illustrating how Exxon used ALEC to push the company’s legislative goals on issues including cap-and-trade, fracking, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the Clean Power Plan.
Exxon continued to fund ALEC for eight years after it pledged to stop funding climate denial, according to the Guardian.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick for administrator of the EPA, is a former state senator and ALEC member. Pruitt has sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. In his LinkedIn profile, Pruitt claims to be “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder is a board member of the International Franchise Association, which advocates for laws and policies favorable to the industry. It also is an ALEC member.
The IFA has pushed to delay the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act and repeal the provision requiring businesses to provide health insurance for employees working an average of 30 hours a week. The organization unsuccessfully sued Seattle in 2014 to try to block the city from treating franchises as large businesses under its new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law.
ALEC has adopted a policy backed by the IFA, stating that franchising is a contractual business relationship, not an employment relationship. The policy is an effort to ensure that large franchise corporations such as McDonald’s and Puzder’s own Carl’s Jr. are not held liable for the labor practices of their franchisees.
Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of health and human services, is an ALEC alumnus. He has introduced legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and supports privatizing Medicare, mirroring ALEC’s positions.
Price also is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a medical group whose statement of principles “declares that it is ‘evil’ and ‘immoral’ for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid.”
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Price had “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary nominee, is chair of the American Federation for Children, a dark-money group that supports school voucher programs and charter schools nationwide, funneling donations from undisclosed sources to candidates who support school privatization, mostly at the state level. AFC is an ALEC member, and has worked with the group to draft model legislation.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador nominee, is a former ALEC member. She has pushed ALEC-sponsored legislation including school voucher programs, voter ID laws, and a bill allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of any person who is arrested or stopped, modeled on an infamous Arizona law. She signed into law a measure to block a boycott movement against some Israeli companies. About a dozen other states have enacted similar laws — a policy backed by ALEC’s national chair.
Trump’s pick for energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was a keynote speaker at ALEC’s annual conference in July. A 2011 analysis by ThinkProgress found that 10 of then-governor Perry’s initiatives “mirror ALEC model legislation or policy recommendations from ALEC’s state affiliate.”
Pence, who wrote the introduction to ALEC’s annual “Report Card on American Education” in 2014, also spoke at the group’s July conference. His education policies as governor of Indiana matched those of ALEC and DeVos, including funding for charter schools and vouchers. He appointed a former ALEC director to his cabinet, and once sent an email urging legislators to join the group.
“I was for ALEC before it was cool,” Pence said at the July conference.
Transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao spoke at the ALEC annual meeting back in 2002, when she was secretary of labor. Chao was a distinguished fellow with the Heritage Foundation, another group funded by organizations connected to the Koch brothers, before and after her time as labor secretary. Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation, also co-founded ALEC.
Ben Carson, nominated for secretary of housing and urban development, spoke at an ALEC meeting last year, calling for deregulation, school choice, a balanced-budget amendment, and changing the mission of the EPA so it would work with businesses to exploit natural resources.
At least 12 others appointed to top positions in the administration also have connections to ALEC or the Koch brothers, and share many of ALEC’s goals.
Kellyanne Conway, who will serve as counselor to the president, spoke at the ALEC annual meeting in July. Conway, a former pollster and senior adviser for Pence, worked for a super PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign before switching to Trump. Cruz is a longtime ALEC supporter.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s nominee to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, served in the South Carolina Legislature from 2007 to 2011, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Koch Industries has donated $31,000 to Mulvaney’s campaigns. The Club for Growth, whose funders include the Koch network, has been his top donor, giving $85,580. Club for Growth was a sponsor of ALEC’s annual conference this year.
Mulvaney has called for a balanced-budget amendment. He has questioned climate science, referring to “baseless claims regarding global warming,” and wants to make it easier for companies to access domestic oil, natural gas and coal. He has called for eliminating the capital gains tax and lowering tax rates for businesses.
Marc Short, a longtime Pence adviser, has been tapped by Trump as director of legislative affairs for the White House. Short was the Koch brothers’ top political adviser as president of Freedom Partners, the Kochs’ political arm, from 2013 until he joined Rubio’s presidential campaign in February.
Trump’s White House Counsel, Donald McGahn II, was lawyer to scandal-plagued former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who was convicted of money laundering to bypass state campaign finance laws barring corporate contributions during the 2002 election. The conviction later was overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals.
Following the 2002 election, Republicans took control of the Texas Legislature for the first time in modern history, allowing them to gerrymander congressional districts and send more Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives.
DeLay is an ALEC alumnus.
Later, serving on the Federal Election Commission, McGahn refused to enforce campaign finance laws. In private practice, McGahn has represented Freedom Partners, testifying on behalf of the group at an FEC hearing last year.
Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, served as chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, leading the party to success in the 2010 elections. Priebus’ longtime friend Scott Walker was elected governor, and Republicans took control of the state Assembly and Senate.
Walker, a former ALEC member, was heavily funded by the Koch brothers, ALEC corporate members and other conservative groups. He went on to propose a budget bill that eliminated public employee collective-bargaining rights except for wages, reflecting ALEC’s anti-union policies.
In all, the Republican-controlled Legislature introduced 32 bills in 2011–12 that reflected ALEC model legislation, 19 of which became law.
Mike Pompeo, nominee for CIA director, is a member of the tea party movement who was elected to represent Kansas’ 4th Congressional District with the financial backing and endorsement of the Koch brothers.
Pompeo has argued that climate science “needs to continue to develop” and opposed the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations and Clean Power Plan. A lifetime National Rifle Association member, he opposes gun-control legislation. The NRA is a member of ALEC, which has written model legislation opposing gun-control efforts.
Zinke, who has received more than $345,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, has flip-flopped on climate science, supported the Keystone XL Pipeline, limited the president’s ability to protect public lands by declaring them national monuments, and weakened protections from endangered species. The League of Conservation Voters has given him a lifetime score of 3 percent. Zinke supports a balanced-budget amendment.
Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary. As governor, Perdue signed into law measures based on ALEC model legislation, including the nation’s second voter ID law and what ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich described as “the most expansive school-choice program in the nation.”
ALEC praised Perdue for appointing special counsel to join other states in challenging the Affordable Care Act.
Billionaire Wilbur Ross, nominee for commerce secretary, is a friend of David Koch’s. Another billionaire, Todd Ricketts, is Trump’s pick for deputy commerce secretary. Ricketts, the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, and his wife Sylvie Lègére have served on the National Council of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the oldest conservative think tanks.
AEI has received financial backing from charities related to the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil and the DeVos family. The Guardian newspaper listed AEI among the top recipients of donations from conservatives “to groups spreading disinformation about climate science.”
Two other Trump nominees, Puzder and Linda McMahon, have served on AEI’s National Council. Education secretary nominee DeVos serves on AEI’s board of trustees, along with former vice president Dick Cheney. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was an AEI senior fellow.
ALEC also has ideological soul mates in the Republican congressional leadership, which will control the legislative agenda for at least the next two years.
He has taken numerous positions that match those of ALEC, including opposing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms; voting against the Affordable Care Act and calling for its repeal; opposing increasing the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits; introducing a balanced-budget amendment; opposing collective-bargaining rights for public employees; and supporting a national right-to-work law.
McConnell is married to Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee for transportation secretary.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a friend of fellow Wisconsinite Priebus, has long pushed a budget in lockstep with ALEC’s goals, including tax cuts for the rich and Medicare privatization.
Koch Industries is one of Ryan’s top five donors. Ryan spoke at ALEC’s States and Nation Policy Summit in 2013. He is a devotee of far-right author Ayn Rand, requiring staffers to read her best-selling novel “Atlas Shrugged.”
Ryan, McConnell and other Republican leaders are pushing an agenda that has been pursued for years by ALEC, one that benefits corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority of Americans. Judging by Trump’s cabinet selections, he will do little to stand in their way.
Note: This story was updated Jan. 19 to include agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue.
For more about Trump’s cabinet nominees, go to Lobby99.