The mayor of a Greater Minnesota city forwarded us an email the elected official received yesterday from Deer Park Ohio City Councilman Charles Tassell, offering a free year's membership to the American City County Exchange, as well as an invitation to attend the group's convention in San Diego this summer (screengrab below).
The mayor, who wishes to remain anonymous, added:
I got this email in my city inbox and found it curious because it talked about free market solutions to local issues, so I looked a bit closer. Lo and behold it is hosted by the Republican's old friend ALEC.
What is the American City County Exchange? The Guardian's Ed Pilkington reported in Conservative group Alec devises offshoot ACCE to lobby at local levels:
The corporate lobbying network American Legislative Exchange Council, commonly known as Alec, is seeking to extend its brand of aggressive privatization and tax cuts to the local level, with the launch on Wednesday of a new offshoot focused on America’s cities and counties.
The new network, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), will hold its first public meeting in Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday. It is timed to sit alongside Alec’s annual meeting at which the parent body will debate its usual menu of conservative priorities – pushing back government regulation, fighting moves to curb climate change, reducing trade union powers and cutting taxes.
A similar emphasis is evident in the first agenda set for the new offshoot, with the distinction that ACCE hopes to influence elected officials in city and county councils while Alec has its sights largely set on state legislatures. An early draft of the agenda for today’s meeting revealingly listed ACCE’s very first workshop under the simple title: “Privatization” – though in the final version the wording had been sanitized into: “Effective Tools for Promoting Limited Government”.
A later workshop scheduled for Thursday is called: “Releasing Local Governments from the Grip of Collective Bargaining”.
Alec has been described variously as a “corporate bill mill” and as a “corporate dating service”. It brings together lobbyists for big businesses and elected politicians into the same room, and encourages them to frame business-friendly legislation that is then made concrete in the form of model pieces of legislation that are disseminated in state assemblies throughout the country.
The new network, ACCE, will follow the same basic structure, with corporate lobbyists introduced through the organization to elected city and county council members with the aim of promoting policies advantageous to those companies. Big businesses are asked to pay up to $25,000 a year for the privilege of having such direct and intimate input into the legislative process.
While Pilkington calls ALEC a lobbying group, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has ruled that the group doesn't have to register as a lobbying entity under Minnesota's laws because its one-size-fits-all (to use the political cliche of the session) model laws aren't specifically drawn up for Minnesota.
However, many citizens may pause at the group's suggestion that their city or county government pay for the out-of-state travel, lodging, registration and expenses for the ACCE convention. Here's the form "request letter" from the conference registration page:
PRWatch's Jessica Mason has more in ACCE Wants Your Town to Subsidize ALEC-Style Corporate Lobbying:
Despite calls for "better stewardship" of local government funds, [ACCE director Jon] Russell now wants local governments to foot the bill for public officials to attend ACCE conferences. ACCE apparently wants government just small enough to fit into its own pocket.
ACCE's website includes a helpful form letter prepared for "<Your Name Here>," which local elected officials use to ask for public funds to cover airfare, a hotel stay, meals, and conference fees at the ACCE conference.
The alleged benefit to the municipality? "Tangible takeaways" that will "make me a stronger advocate."
"With such a rich offering of educational content and innovative ideas <Your city name here> will benefit from my attendance at ACCE Annual Meeting," reads the helpful cookie cutter letter.
The letter associates ACCE with ALEC, "a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities." There is no mention that ALEC is considered by critics to be a corporate bill mill, whose closed-door activities have generated ethics and IRS complaints. Over 100 companies have stopped funding ALEC due to ongoing controversies, most recently including ALEC's role in promoting climate change denial.
For public officials, ACCE offers an early bird special of $150, which jumps to $700 if you fail to register early. For private sector lobbyists, the tab for this meeting is $890, jumping to $1,149 if you fail to register early.
Stay tuned. It is not yet known how many local officials will take advantage of this special offer to hobnob with corporate America, or how much the conference might cost local taxpayers, but we are anxious to find out.
Workday Minnesota posted about ACCE in November in Anti-labor, Right to Work efforts shifting to city, county levels. The group's model ordinances (so far) are found here on the ALEC website. The agenda for ACCE's July 22-23 national conference in San Diego is posted here.
Bluestem recommends that citizen watchdogs keep an eye out for requests for funding for this conference, by checking meeting agendas and minutes, along with video archives. That "free" membership may end up costing local government if your elected officials take up Councilman Tassell's invitation to the annual meeting in San Diego.
UPDATE: EdVotes reports in What ALEC has in store for children, educators, and American workers that ACCE may be recruiting your school board member as well:
Meanwhile, ALEC has spawned a new group to attack children, American workers, and public education. It’s called the American City County Exchange or (ACCE). ACCE will zero-in on those politicians connected to city and county governments as well as local school boards who are willing to accept ALEC’s lavish gifts in exchange for helping to move the group’s conservative, right-wing agenda.
According to newspaper reports, ACCE is already making plans to block employees from having a voice in the workplace and prevent workers from taking advantage of minimum wage increases voters overwhelmingly approved in several states including Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Lovely. [end update]
Photos: The banner for the July 22-23, 2015 annual meeting (above); the email to a Greater Minnesota mayor (below).
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