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Bill Moyers Exposes the Stranglehold the Corporate & Right-Wing Alliance Has on Our Democracy

A special report from the legendary veteran journalist on the American Legislative Exchange Council.

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JERRY WATSON: Now, if you don’t like the precise language of these suggested documents, can they be tweaked by your legislative council? Well, absolutely. And will we work with them on that and work with you and your staff on that? Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: All the lawmakers have to do is ring him up.

JERRY WATSON: There is a phone number there for our executive offices in Washington, D.C. We’re prepared to help you and your staff and support this legislation in any way that we can.

BILL MOYERS: And guess what? There’s gold at the end of the rainbow.

JERRY WATSON: But I’m not so crazy as not to know that you’ve already figured out that if I can talk you into doing this bill, my clients are going to make a—some money on the bond premiums.

BILL MOYERS: And corporate interest conflated with the public interest.

JERRY WATSON: But if we can help you save crime victims in your legislative district and generate positive revenue for your state and help solve your prison overcrowding problem, you don’t mind me making a dollar.

BILL MOYERS: ALEC members are seldom as upfront as the American Bail Coalition. In fact, ordinarily, ALEC’s hand is very hard to see at all. But if you know where to look, you’ll often find  ALEC hiding in plain sight.

LISA GRAVES: ALEC has, in addition to its regular vacation resort trips, it also has special, what it calls "boot camps" on particular substantive issues.

BILL MOYERS: In March 2011,  ALEC held one of those boot camps for legislators at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh. The subject was so-called tort reform, how to keep the average Joe from successfully suing a corporation for damages. The day after the boot camp, two state representatives presented the draft version of a House bill chock-full of  ALEC priorities. It would, among other things, limit corporate product liability in North Carolina. One of the representatives, Johnathan Rhyne, was quoted in the  Raleigh News [&] Observer saying of  ALEC, "I really don’t know much about them." That’s odd, because Rhyne had been listed as a featured speaker at the  ALEC tort reform boot camp. The paper also reported that Rhyne said the bill wasn’t copied from  ALEC model legislation. That, too, is odd, given how the sections covering product liability could have passed as twins.

The bill was controversial. It passed, but only after the product liability sections were taken out of it. But the tort reformers didn’t give up. They were back a year later, this time with a draft bill aimed specifically to limit the liability of drug manufacturers. When the public was allowed to comment before a legislative panel, people who had lost loved ones came to testify against the bill. A son who had lost a father.

SURVIVING SON: You know, my dad’s gone. All I can do is sit here and be a voice for him. He can’t speak anymore.

BILL MOYERS: A grandfather mourning his granddaughter.

SURVIVING GRANDFATHER: If this bill passes, an innocent victim in North Carolina like Brittany could not hold a manufacturer accountable. Everyone needs to be accountable for their actions.

BILL MOYERS: Unmentioned to those in the room,  ALEC was present, too, in the form of a lobbyist with drug manufacturing giant GlaxoSmithKline. His name is John Del Giorno.

 
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