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Ag Gag

ED GLAZAR ¥ TIMES-NEWS Cows feed in a barn in February at a Magic Valley dairy.

An ag-gag in Kentucky, guns on campus in Georgia, protection for businesses that want to deny service to gays in Kansas; sound familiar? You can thank the American Legislative Exchange Council’s one-size-fits-all bills that are gutting local control.

ALEC is the clearinghouse for conservative ideas, a highly secretive non-profit that puts big business and state lawmakers together to draft model legislation in an effort to undermine regulation, cut taxes and advance other often far-right agendas, all while avoiding the very disclosure of its members. It’s the spoke in the wheel of dozens of conservative organizations that’s weakening the very purpose of the states, especially in Republican-dominated regions. Grassroots state governance and local control has been replaced with confidential meetings with big-money backers. America’s red states are becoming little more than chimeric twins, absorbed by their more powerful plutocratic siblings.

State. Sen. Jim Patrick told us this week that ALEC had nothing to do with the controversial ag-gag legislation he pushed through this year. But Patrick is the ALEC’s state chairman, says internal documents acquired by Sourcewatch.org. The Kentucky state Senate’s Agriculture Committee quietly slid an ag-gag of its own into legislation passed by the lower House designed to protect animals from abuse. Four members of that committee are also ALEC members, according to documents leaked to various news outlets. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

Initiatives are certainly being pushed by individual farms or more public lobbying organizations, such as the U.S. Farm Bureau. But it’s at these meetings where the draft laws are written by corporate attorneys. Big oil, for instance, holds a co-chairmanship on ALEC’s energy committee, along with a slew of state lawmakers from around the country.

ALEC is a legislative dating service. Want to have drinks with the National Rifle Association? Come on in.

State Sen. Lee Heider, angry at our criticisms of his payday loan bill, said last week the industry’s lobby was intimately involved with the drafting of his legislation. Heider is also a card-carrying member of ALEC, according to expenses he reported with the state Elections Division. The payday lending lobby, after all, is pushing for toothless state-level bills, such as Heider’s, in the hopes that the federal Consumer Protection Bureau won’t crackdown on predatory lending. Heider, Patrick and more than a dozen of their peers — including House Speaker Scott Bedke — are members of a group that sponsors backroom deal-making sessions with moneyed interests.

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Idaho’s lawmakers love to champion the value of state government. But a secret organization, such as ALEC, guts real local control and replaces it with cookie-cutter law written by millionaires, who quietly control the strings.

Idaho deserves better than elected marionettes.

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