Revelations from the Toronto Star today that the Saskatchewan government has paid $3 million to U.S. lobbying firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to influence American policymakers should not really come as a surprise. As the Star notes, both B.C. and Alberta also maintain extensive lobbying capacity to pursue their respective provincial business interests in the United States. Whether or not this is a wise use of taxpayer money is up to the Saskatchewan public to decide. However, what does come as a surprise is the lobbying firm itself. Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough is both a member and State corporate co-chair the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You might know ALEC as the United States’ premier “corporate bill mill.” ALEC has also been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
It’s primary purpose is to produce “model bills” – legislation written and designed by corporate lobbyists which are then introduced in state legislatures by participating legislators, usually without disclosing that the legislation was written by business itself. As the Center for Media and Democracy notes, “ALEC makes old-fashioned lobbying obsolete. Once legislators return to their state with corporate-sponsored ALEC legislation in hand, the legislators themselves become “super-lobbyists” for ALEC’s corporate agenda, cutting out the middleman.” While the organization usually prefers to stay behind the scenes, it was recently thrust into the media spotlight due to its advocacy for model “stand-your ground” legislation in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing. ALEC witnessed a mass exodus of corporate donors when it was revealed that it was ALEC, “working to advance the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda, which expertly guided passage of the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law.” Despite the undue publicity and losing corporate heavyweight donors such as Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, ALEC still maintains a stable of high-profile corporate funders, including the Koch Brothers, Phillip-Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Some of ALEC’s more infamous model legislation includes anti-union “right-to-work” laws, anti-immigrant ID laws, protecting the secrecy of “fracking” chemicals from public disclosure, blocking sustainable energy initiatives, and enhanced corporate protection from liability and class action lawsuits.
This is not the first time that the current government has been associated with ALEC. In December of 2011 Premier Wall gave a keynote address to the ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit in Arizona warning of the dangers of U.S. environmental regulation hindering the export of Saskatchewan petroleum though pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Indeed, ALEC is currently one of the major lobbying organizations pushing for the Keystone Pipeline project, the very issue the Saskatchewan government hired Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to lobby U.S. legislators on its behalf. Given this history, the Premier must surely be aware of what ALEC is and what it does. So does Premier Wall agree with ALEC’s tactics? Does he believe that democracy can be well-served by such deceptive techniques? Furthermore, does he agree with the content of its model legislation? If not, the Saskatchewan government should seriously re-consider using public money to retain ALEC member and supporter Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as Saskatchewan’s lobbying voice in Washington D.C.
Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He holds a PhD in Communication & Culture from Ryerson University.