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REPORT: Legislating Under the Influence - How Corporations Write State Laws in Minnesota

REPORT: Legislating Under the Influence - How Corporations Write State Laws in Minnesota

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Published by Mike Dean

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Mike Dean on Jan 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Next week, the Minnesota legislature will return to work for the beginning of the legislativesession. What many people do not know, however, is that the real work of the legislative session began months ago, when corporate lobbyists and legislators gathered in San Diego, NewOrleans, and Saint Paul for meetings hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC).Led by some of the largest corporations in America, ALEC has quietly brought together legislators and corporate lobbyists to draft legislation behind closed doors. Much of thislegislation is designed to benefit directly the bottom lines of corporations that are members of ALEC—corporations like Coca-Cola, Koch Industries, United States Smokeless TobaccoCompany and Comcast.ALEC exists specifically so that lobbyists and corporations can influence state legislative policies away from public view. At its meetings, held in some of the most exclusive resorts andhotels to ensure secrecy, corporate lobbyists share their wish lists of legislative proposals to beintroduced at state capitols around the country. Legislators take this cookie-cutter legislation,make some changes to it, then introduce it in their own states, often without understanding thefull impact of what they are proposing. With help from corporate political contributions,lobbyists then help move the legislation forward.We all like to think that our state laws are created when a constituent raises an issue with alegislator, who then drafts legislation to fix that problem. Increasingly however, that’s not thecase and corporate lobbyists, not our legislators, are drafting Minnesota’s laws.In Minnesota, at least 19 legislators are members of ALEC’s legislative task forces. In these task forces, corporate lobbyists propose draft legislation and join in voting with legislators to choosewhich drafts will become ALEC “model legislation,” to be cut and pasted into bills by legislatorsacross the country. Corporations pay up to $25,000 each year to join these task forces, whereALEC boasts that they have “a voice and a vote.”ALEC paints itself as a think tank, but it is really a front group for corporate lobbyists. In fact,ALEC receives 98% of its funding from corporations and foundations. (The other two percentcomes from membership dues paid by legislators and miscellaneous income.) For corporations,this is a good investment; for citizens, it’s more evidence of the erosion of our democracy.Common Cause has identified more than 60 bills written by ALEC corporate lobbyists that have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature over the past two years. This report will expose theinterests and the impact that the legislation will have on Minnesotans.www.commoncause.org/mn2
Protecting Corporate Tax Breaks in the Minnesota Constitution
Minnesota spent over $24.3 billion
 on tax breaks in the 2011-2012 state budget, which is morethan 40% of the state budget. In recent years, a bipartisan group of advocates has urgedlegislators to review these tax breaks to ensure that they are true tax benefits and not “special breaks for special interests.”Corporations have spent decades securing these special tax breaks; now, with increased publicscrutiny, corporations are trying to win passage of a constitutional amendment making it moredifficult for the state to get rid of them (HF 1598/SF 1384). This constitutional amendmentwould require a super-majority (60%) of votes in the legislature to end special tax breaks or passtax increases when needed.The corporations behind this ALEC-inspired legislation are attempting to protect the currentcorporate tax structure, prevent corporate taxes from increasing, and shield highly paid corporateexecutives from paying higher income taxes by making it more difficult to raise taxes. Theamendment would allow a legislative minority to preserve tax breaks or block proposals toincrease revenue, even if the majority of Minnesotans, the legislature, and the governor favoredchanges to make the tax structure more equitable or increase tax revenue.Given Minnesota’s recent, history-making state government shutdown, additional barriers toincreased state revenue not only preserve the status quo, but also make gridlock and futureshutdowns much more likely. By raising the bar for compromise, this amendment would lower the likelihood that state legislators will be able to solve future state deficits honestly andtransparently, if at all.California adopted a similar supermajority requirement for tax rate increases in 1978, withunfortunate results. The super-majority requirement damaged California’s school system because they were not able to get the resources they needed to properly fund education. NowCalifornia faces some of the most overcrowded classrooms, inadequate materials, and decliningstudent achievement in the nation. It essentially has allowed a minority to rule the state, not permitting California to address major problems.
Stopping Whistleblowers at Agriculture Operations
Over the last several years, investigative journalists and whistleblowers have exposed unsanitaryconditions at agriculture facilities across the country. Instead of addressing the problems, theindustry is fighting back with legislation that would make it a crime to observe, keep records, or report anything about an "agricultural operation" without the consent of the owner. Essentiallythe bill would block investigative reporters, food safety advocates, animal rights advocates, andothers from investigating or reporting on cruelty to animals or diseased animals entering the foodchain.This legislation has been introduced in both the Minnesota House and the Senate (HF 1369/SF1118). The chief House author is Rod Hamilton (R-22B), the former president of Minnesota Pork Producers, a group that has a huge self-interest in advancing this legislation.

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