Mommy, where do bills come from?
According to "Schoolhouse Rock," it's a whole bunch of boring bureaucratic nonsense set to music, which, well, half of that's right, anyway.
But even with the tedious waiting process, the song still presents a highly idealistic version of the lawmaking process, one where well-informed citizens reach out directly to their state representatives, who act in the best interests of their tax-paying constituents and aim to enact laws that work on their behalf.
Sadly, the groovy melodies aren't the most misleading part of that musical masterpiece.
In reality, lawmaking is more like a corporate Mad Libs game, thanks to ALEC.
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization that advocates in the interest of limited government, free markets, and the "Jeffersonian ideal" of Federalism.
That's the 501(c)3 application way of saying "impossibly wealthy lobbying cabal disguised as a tax-exempt write-off through which corporations can control politicians with pre-written bills."
I would clarify that ALEC is not actually a person, but that whole Citizens United thing (in which they had a hand) made that point moot.
ALEC's main function is to write business-friendly (read: corporate-profit-positive) "model" bills with a few blanks left for legislators to fill-in themselves.
It sounds too absurd to be true, right? And yet, here's the actual closing passage from ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act" model bill:
That's a fancified legalese way of saying that the government needs to protect consumers from ... not ... paying ... electric companies? Something? Who cares when all ya gotta do is fill the state in and sign your name?
(Also, that whole "limited governments and free market" agenda kinda falls apart when you're trying to pass anti-green-energy laws but the market has clearly spoken in favor of clean energy over the services offered by antiquated corporate powerhouses.)
Actual real-life congressmen have used actual real-life ALEC bills passed off as actual real-life legislation.
To be clear, Winters is an elected official, and he basically just admitted to cheating on a public policy test.
But he's not just peering over the shoulder over the nerdy kid at the front of the class (honestly, that'd be preferable because then he'd at least be getting information from actual scientists). He's going straight to the Koch Brothers and countless powerful and/or climate-change-denying corporations and asking them to tell him what to think.
And then there's this fun exchange between Reps. Joe Atkins (D-Minnesota) and Steve Gottwalt (R-Minnesota):
They've also got their hands in the prison-industrial complex, voter disenfranchisement, privatizing education, undermining consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, "stand your ground" laws, pollution and anti-environmental initiatives, and the so-called "Death Star" bill that wasn't actually like this but basically did this to minority, LGBTQ, and overall workers' rights:
And ALEC's next trick? Taking legal action against the sun (and destroying the environment along the way).
At their annual meeting in July 2015, ALEC members gathered to discuss their most recent working draft of the deceptively-titled Environmental Impact Litigation Act, which is intended for state legislators to help crush Obama's new Clean Power Plan.
Coincidentally, the top sponsors of that conference included ExxonMobil, American Electric Power, Balanced Energy for Texas, and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, none of whom could possibly have had any ulterior motives in crafting laws relating to energy.
In addition to the classic fill-in-the-blank parts, the Environmental Impact Litigation Act included a number of other incredible passages, like that whole part about the unfair political and economic overreach of ... the sun.
Yes. According to ALEC, the sun has an unfair and illegal monopoly on solar power.
But remember, this is about consumer rights ... right?! ALEC is standing up for the people, who deserve the freedom to spend more of their own hard-earned money to constantly upgrade equipment and pay additional fees to mediating companies even when they generate their own power from natural resources. This is America, dammit!
ALEC's tendrils might reach far and wide — but there's still a chance to stop them.
Recently, several big energy companies including BP and Shell have publicly parted ways with ALEC. That's right — the people responsible for that disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the company that still insists on forging ahead with Arctic Drilling both think ALEC is too evil for them. Let that settle in for a second.
Yes, ALEC is big, rich, and influential to an almost-cartoonish-but-actually-frighteningly-real degree. But you and I have still have the power to vote with both our wallets and our polls.
We can tell pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer to stop supporting ALEC and urge our own state legislators to take action against ALEC and cut all ties with corporations that still affiliate them — and we can stop supporting those corporations ourselves.