ALEC: A Secretive Group for Tort Reform

ALEC Tort ReformALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, is corporate-funded organization that consists of corporations and state politicians that often meet behind closed door to rewrite many state laws. They create “model bills” hoping to affect multiple legal areas. ALEC describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, but its influence and the way it handles itself doesn’t appear as aligning as non-partisan.

Recently, ALEC launched a new website about its model legalization to “immunize” corporations. The website, statelawsuitreform.com, covers tort reform, or as ALEC puts it “legislative policy that reigns in excessive lawsuits.” But tort reform almost always puts caps on those who have been seriously injured, and often these injuries are due to a big corporation’s negligence (those who fund ALEC).

ALEC’s Tort Reform

ALEC has multiple categories it is looking to reform, including:

  • Damages
  • Liability sharing
  • Product liability lawsuits
  • Consumer protection litigation
  • Representative juries
  • Government contracts with private lawyers
  • Interest paid on judgements
  • Class action lawsuits

However, ALEC’s “suggestions” aren’t necessarily good for the consumer. There’s an interesting law review article on how ALEC is trying to introduce law to destroy consumer protection, mostly regarding the private enforcement of state unfair and deceptive practices acts. The model bill contains this troubling provision:

No action may be brought more than one (1) year after the person bringing the action discovers or reasonably should have discovered a loss resulting from an act or practice declared unlawful by [SECTION], but in no event may any action be brought under this chapter more than [four (4)] years from the first instance of the act or practice giving rise to the cause of action.

This would prevent actions from proceeding after a maximum of four years. And let’s not forget ALEC’s model bill limiting punitive damages, which prevents wrongdoers from properly being punished.

There is also the Class Actions Improvements Act that ALEC has proposed. This model bill contains some of these requirements for class actions:

  • Limits the scope of class actions to residents of the state in which the class action is filed.
  • Adds language stressing that each class member should have the burden to prove each element of his/her claim.

The Big Corporations

Many well-known corporations have been a part of ALEC. However, interestingly over the years these corporations have ended their ties with the group. According to SourceWatch.org, the following corporations are no longer a part of ALEC:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Kraft
  • McDonald’s
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • com
  • Wal-Mart
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Best Buy
  • General Motors
  • Sallie Mae
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Shell

This is pretty telling, especially given that corporate “members” pay between $7,000 and $25,000 or more to be members. This doesn’t include the fees they must pay to have a vote on a task force.

However, the most troubling thing about ALEC is that everything they do is often secretive, and behind closed doors. A recent news investigation from an Atlanta TV station shows just how secretive these meetings can be, and that reporters aren’t welcomed. For an organization that claims it provides “a unique forum for diverse groups to exchange ideas and develop real, state-based solutions that encourage growth, preserve economic security and protect hardworking taxpayers,” it seems to not want members of the public participating it what affects them.

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