We have seen in the last couple of articles how large corporations and wealthy individuals, can through SuperPACs, wield unimaginable influence in the choice of each party’s candidate and the eventual election itself.
But what happens then? Once the likes of the Koch brothers have eased their choice of candidate onto the legislature of a State, or into the United States Congress what then? Are we to imagine that the plutocrat’s choice is simply to be left to get on with it, for if so it would be a poor management of a resource? And these individuals know how to wring out every ounce of value from any investment far less one costing many millions of dollars.
It may be amusing to see the plutocrat sitting beside his new congressman or State legislator, and guiding his hand over the jotter like some pushy parent at the kitchen table writing their child’s English homework, but that very much is what happens.
The American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC as it has become better known is a not for profit organisation of what they politely refer to “private sector representatives” and conservative state legislators. A non-partisan organisation you understand that only deals with fundamental principles or free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism at the State level.
The private sector representatives include such as Exxon Mobil, Altria formerly better known as Phillip Morris the tobacco giant, the National Rifle Association and of course the founders the Koch brothers. We can add any number of large firms to the list but these may be a few known on both sides of the Atlantic; American Bail Coalition; AT & T; Diageo; Peabody Energy (the biggest coal producer in US); PhRMA (the trade group for the pharmaceutical industry); UPS. Others have bowed to the deluge of controversy and removed their connections Coca Cola; Amazon; Wal-Mart; Kraft Food; and Facebook as of 2015.
They very helpfully chip in to provide a vast administrative back operation filled with legal and economic advisers who draw up draft legislation on a select range of topics which can be handed to a new legislator to assist him in the process of moving a bill. Anyone with any knowledge of just how complex the business of drafting laws is actually like will appreciate the mountain of effort that this would take off the shoulders.
In essence though, all this boils down to a concern with the usual tropes of the right in America; Illegal immigrants; a loosening of environmental regulations at State Level; tighter voter ID rules (which double as a closet anti black, anti left wing voting measure); a desire to de-rail all aspects of Obama Care, driving down or holding down wages whilst encouraging tax breaks for the wealthy, and a fervently anti union stance. All interests designed to give the business corporations mentioned above greater influence. A giant Bill Factory churning out right wing legislation pre-cooked, pre-digested in easy to swallow packages.
The figures show that ALEC is proving very successful in its aims. In 2011, ALEC had 2,000 members introducing 1,000 independent bills in United States Legislatures which amounted to fully one quarter of all legislation put forward. Many bills arriving virtually unchanged from the ALEC drafts. Twenty per cent of these bills were successful. This is a respectable and useful return on one’s investments.
Now we could just sit back in our British smugness and pontificate that this is all well and good but it simply could not happen here. If so we would be wrong. In the last few years we have seen attempts by ALEC to make contacts with similar minded politicians in Britain.
In 1997 a Charity called “Atlantic Bridge” was formed with Maggie Thatcher as its President to encourage UK/USA cooperation. Its main concerns were to develop links at political, economic and defence levels to promote “the Special Relationship”. At first it was just that, a small Tory led charity given to dishing out “Freedom” medals to local worthies and holding dinners.
But in 2007 it moved up a league to became part of a partnership program to ALEC. On the UK side various Conservatives who were Shadow Ministers at the time and later became Cabinet Ministers in the Government after 2010 are to be found. If we look at the advisory council we find some old friends.
Dr Liam Fox MP – Conservative. UK Chairman and later Defence Secretary
Lord Astor of Hever DL – Trustee and relative of Samantha Cameron
Michael Gove MP, Conservative. Secretary of State for Education
Chris Grayling MP Conservative. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
The Rt Hon. William Hague MP Conservative. Leader of the House of Commons
Eleanor Laing MP Conservative
George Osborne MP Conservative. Chancellor of the Exchequer.
John Whittingdale OBE MP Conservative. Chairman of the 1922 committee.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) – Honorary US Chairman (Senate Minority Whip)
Congressman John Campbell (R-California)
Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) Tea Party
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)
Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-Connecticut)
Senator Mel Martinez (R-Florida)
Congressman Adam Putnam (R-Florida)
The Americans also involved Karl Rove close right hand man to G W Bush and that old Cold War stalwart Henry Kissinger. From the start money became available to Atlantic Bridge from the States. ALEC kindly supplied staff to Atlantic Bridge and British figures like Dr Fox and Adam Werritty his great friend, best man and business associate (who ended up exposed as having received public monies on Dr Fox’s expenses) spoke at ALEC events. Werritty also operated Atlantic Bridge from Liam Fox’s offices at public expense.
Werritty, who had no public position, and was not connected in any official capacity to the UK government also attending official defence meetings with Fox. Whilst Pakistan drew particular attention at the time, these trips had been more than twenty in number. A large number involved the middle east. ALEC was getting full value here.
Werritty was found to be using his running of Atlantic Bridge to form ties with powerful Tory figures, supporters, and lobbyists for his own business interests. The whole distinction of differences between the government, think-tanks, charities, and private business and corporate interests had been raised.
When all this came to light Atlantic Bridge’s charitable status was investigated and in 2011 at the instigation of the Trustees was closed.
So we might breathe a sigh of relief that these attachments are no more?
Not at all. The Trustees, despite the findings, were never asked to repay a penny. Many of the leading figures involved are still sitting at the heart of British politics with many years still in the game. It is utterly inconceivable that even at a private level they have not continued to maintain their contacts and develop those networks from old Atlantic Bridge days.
Copyright David Macadam 2015