When CityBeat profiled the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in May, just after the conservative organization held a private meeting in Cincinnati, some of its members downplayed conspiracy theories about the group and its love of secrecy.
Fueled by corporate donations, ALEC is credited with working quietly behind the scenes to draft legislation that can then be introduced by elected state lawmakers. Among its efforts, ALEC spearheaded the push in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to introduce bills that limited or abolished collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions.
The membership list that contains the names of the roughly 2,000 state legislators and about 300 private-sector supporters who belong to ALEC is kept confidential.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who sits on ALEC's board of directors, noted in the CityBeat article that the identity of its sponsors aren't kept secret. They include the American Petroleum Institute, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Coors and the National Rifle Association.
Now with the help of Aliya Rahman, an activist based at Miami University in Oxford who organized the Cincinnati protest, The Nation magazine has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of ALEC's model legislation. The treasure trove of materials is featured in The Nation's Aug. 1-8 issue, which currently is on sale.
[UPDATE: Read more about Rahman's path to unearthing the documents here.]
In conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.
As The Nation's John Nichols writes, “Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies (and) keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.”
A full archive of the exposed ALEC legislation is available here.
Just a day before the approval of Ohio’s new district maps, Tom Whatman, a Boehner staffer, sent an email to Adam Kincaid, a staffer for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and others in charge of redistricting. In the back-and-forth, Whatman asks for a “small carve out” to include a manufacturing business in the congressional district for Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican who has received support from the business in the past. Before 13 minutes had passed, Kincaid replied to Whatman, securing the change with no questions asked.
“Thanks guys,” Whatman replied. “Very important to someone important to us all.”
The Voters First graph, which mocks the 13-minute exchange with the title “Jim Renacci: The 13 Minute Man,” can be found here. The full emails, which were released by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting in a Dec. 2011 report, can be seen online here.Jim Slagle, who served as manager for the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, says the emails are indicative of a redistricting process that is controlled entirely by “political insiders.” Slagle says the interests of the people come second to politics under the current system.
If Issue 2 is approved by voters this November, the redistricting process will be placed in the hands of an independent citizens commission. Under the current system, the state government is tasked with redrawing district boundaries every 10 years. Republicans have controlled the process four out of six times since 1967, which is when the process was first enacted into law. The political party in charge typically redraws districts in a politically favorable manner in a process known as “gerrymandering.”
On Saturday, Rep. Steve Chabot, who represents Cincinnati in the U.S. House of Representatives, told supporters to vote against Issue 2. Chabot is enormously benefiting off the current redistricting process. Cincinnati’s district was redrawn to include Warren County, which has more rural voters that typically vote Republican, and less of Cincinnati, which has more urban voters that typically vote Democrat. The shift to less urban voters is emphasized in this graph by MapGrapher:
It seems Ohio may soon get a controversial voter ID law. While speaking at a Tea Party event in Cincinnati on Monday, Secretary of State Jon Husted said the General Assembly is likely to take up a voter ID law after the November election.
“I was listening to a show one night where they talked about these onerous rules, these onerous photo ID rules and the onerous rules in Ohio on photo ID,” he said. “Well, the photo ID law in Ohio is not onerous. As a matter of fact, I suspect the General Assembly will take up a more strict version of what we have after what we’ve been through with this election process.”
Later on, an audience member commented on the issue by pointing out Ohioans can currently identify themselves with 12 different types of ID. In response, Husted clarified his position: “We need to streamline that because it’s really hard for a poll worker to know exactly what they’re supposed to be checking. And I’m quite confident the legislature is going to take that issue up.”
Under current Ohio law, voters can go to the polls with state ID cards, driver’s licenses, military IDs, utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and other forms of ID. Republicans have sometimes criticized the many options, particularly for not being state-issued and not requiring a photo.
Other states have taken up voter ID laws. Pennsylvania’s controversial law requires voters to have state-issued photo ID. A Pennsylvania court recently upheld the law, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the decision today and asked the lower court to reconsider. The ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gives lower courts room to strike down the law.
Democrats criticize ID laws for suppressing voters. A study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis found nearly 700,000 young, minority voters will be unable to cast a ballot due to voter ID laws. Both young and minority voters tend to side with Democrats.
Republicans say the laws are necessary to protect elections from voter fraud. However, studies suggest in-person voter fraud is not a serious, widespread issue. A News21 report, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project that looked at national public records, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud since 2000. That’s less than one case a year nationwide.
Husted’s office could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
UPDATE (4:25 P.M.): Matt McClellan, spokesperson for Husted, called CityBeat after this story was published.
"The Tea Party has generally been critical of the secretary's position on voter ID," he said, referring to Husted's past opposition of strict voter ID laws. "The comments he made at the event last night were environmental in general about what the secretary thought had been happening at the statehouse. His position, in general, is unchanged."
When pressed about what Husted meant when he advocated for "streamlining" laws, McClellan said Husted supported "simplification" of the current system. McClellan could not offer more details on what that means, and he said specifics would be up to the legislature to decide.
Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, responded to Husted’s suggestions in a statement: “As if Secretary of State Husted has not done enough to undermine access to Ohio’s polls, now he’s planning a secret post-Election Day assault on what forms of identification voters can present to cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that after slashing voting access across the state, using his office for partisan advantage, and lying about Issue 2, now Husted is making plans to create obstacles for African Americans and seniors to vote.”
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, born and raised in Cincinnati, appears to be the frontrunner for Secretary of Health and Human Services. She supported Barack Obama's presidential run early on and campaigned for him, including in Cincinnati.
This position was originally to be filled by former Sen. Tom Daschle, who dropped out when it was revealed he hadn't paid all of his taxes. Stupid taxes! There's no word yet on how good Sebelius' CPA is.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced today he will direct Ohio’s county boards of election to adopt standardized early voting hours.
In-person early voting begins on Oct. 2. In a directive, Husted said he wants the first three weeks to be kept to standard voting hours, or 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. An exception is made for Oct. 9, which will have voting hours of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., to make up for polls being closed on Oct. 8 in observance of a state holiday.
For the final two weeks of early voting, Husted said he wants hours extended to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Another exception is made for the final day of early voting — Nov. 2 — that has voting hours last from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. because state law requires all early voting ends at 6 p.m. on Nov. 2.
The polls will still not be open on weekends throughout the entire process, however.
The news comes amid a state issue that has gained national attention in recent weeks. Democrats have been accusing state Republicans of suppressing Democratic votes by extending in-person early voting hours in predominantly Republican counties and keeping shorter hours in predominantly Democratic counties.
Ohio Democrats are not pleased with the call to uniform rules. Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, told CityBeat yesterday that the call for uniform rules is “pure silliness.” He said counties have differences, so they need different voting rules. He called on Husted to stop worrying about uniformity and county budgets and instead worry about managing elections and “empowering people to vote.”
Today, Democrats released another statement lashing out at the uniform rules. In a statement released shortly after Husted's press conference, Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the new directive was limiting voting access by eliminating weekend voting and slashing hours.
However, the directive will actually extend early voting
hours in the predominantly Democratic counties of Lucas, Cuyahoga,
Summit and Franklin that were bound to the old hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the entire early voting process.
After WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange voluntarily turned himself into British authorities today, he was denied bail and remains in custody until at least Dec. 14, according to The Guardian newspaper in London.
Assange, 39, was told by London Metropolitan police about new charges he faces in connection with two sexual encounters he had in Sweden. "He is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010," the newspaper reported.
U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, about two months into his new job representing Ohio's 1st District, is one of 18 Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee to send a letter to the CEO of Northern Trust in Chicago warning him to stop spending federal TARP bank bailout money on golf tournaments, parties and posh hotels. Committee Chairman Barney Frank initiated the letter to "insist" that the CEO "immediately return to the federal government the equivalent of what Northern Trust frittered away on these lavish events."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”