-By Beth Hawkins
May 18, 2012- A year ago, even a divining rod would have been tempting to a reporter trying to tease out details about the workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The group’s corporate, ideological and lawmaker members wouldn’t admit to an association, much less describe the model bills cooked up at its cushy confabs.
Today, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. One need only pick up one of the 4,000 documents recently obtained by Common Cause, which has filed complaints against the group here and at the national level, and out tumble nuggets of political chicanery.
Exhibit A: The agenda from last week’s ALEC meeting in Charlotte, N.C., where its task forces polished proposed bills that are likely to pop up in the next legislative session here and around the country.
At the meeting, ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force considered a proposal entitled the ALEC Attorney General Authority Act. The boilerplate is pretty impenetrable — one more reason lawmakers don’t write these themselves — but the summary attached for members’ advance consideration lays out the gist pretty neatly:
“Just as a private attorney cannot bring a suit on behalf of a client without the client agreeing and authorizing such action, and then only within the guidelines allowed by the client, so it should be with the attorney general. Rather than an attorney general deciding on his or her own what authority the office may have to bring a lawsuit, the authority should be defined by the state as reflected by the specific decisions of the legislature via statute. The legislature, not the attorney general, is best positioned to balance the competing concerns that go into the decision of whether to allow a cause of action and under what circumstances.”
Now in English
In even plainer English: AGs, who are typically the consumer’s lone public advocate these days, may not file suit against, say, a tobacco company, a mortgage fraudster or a national company flaunting state law, unless the legislature passes a bill saying he — or in our case, she — can.
"This legislation would have prevented [an attorney general] from suing tobacco manufacturers in the ‘90s for tobacco-related health costs associated with the Medicaid program,” said Mike Dean, head of Common Cause of Minnesota. “It is easy to see why corporations would want to stop these types of lawsuits because tobacco manufacturer were forced to pay $6.1 billion in a settlement to the state of Minnesota."