4. The Undermining of Public Employees in Oregon

The fourth piece focuses on how ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force drafted model bills that attacked public employees, their pensions and their right to unionize as well as threatened to privatize many public services. Seven of those bills were introduced by ALEC supporters in the Oregon legislature between 2011 and 2014, often with very few changes by the law office for the Oregon legislature, the Legislative Council.  It also showed how the KBOO news team used plagiarism software to find similarities between ALEC model bills and Oregon legislation as a way to highlight the connection between them.


  1. 4. The Undermining of Public Employees in Oregon 15:14


DM – Since February, the investigative team at KBOO has been working on a series of reports about the American Legislative Exchange Council and their penetration into the Oregon legislature. So far, we’ve given an overview of the organization, and looked at their influence on GMO legislation and their work to privatize education in the state. Later reports will look at ALEC’s effect on immigration reform, ballot initiatives and the flow of money. But this story focuses on how ALEC is affecting public employees. And for that, I’ve enlisted the help of Samantha …

Samantha – Hello Don

DM – and Serena:

Serena – Hi

DM – They’re not real people, but they’re essential to this story. Ready ladies?

Serena – Ready

Samantha – Let’s go

[musical interlude]

DM – Lawmaking has always been intricate. Tradition is bound up with procedure. Throw in the way technology can obscure as well as reveal, and it can be almost impossible for an average citizen to find connections between laws, lawmakers and the influences that can affect them both. We used plagiarism software to compare language in Oregon legislation to language in ALEC model bills and see where they were similar. That lead us to house and senate members who sponsored and supported that legislation. And that lead us to campaign contributions and ultimately, the money. But even though there may be a connection between the industry enabled ALEC and our citizen enabled legislature, it may not always be a direct connection. And so it’s not always easy to see it. That’s where Samantha and Serena come in. As near as we could tell, seven ALEC inspired pieces of legislation from ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development or CIED Task Force were introduced in the Oregon legislature between 2011 and 2013. That’s the task force that creates model legislation as it related to public employees. Ladies, if you don’t mind

Samantha – The High Risk Insurance Pool Model Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2011 as House Bill 2373 and reintroduced in 2012 as House Bill 4045

Samantha – The Workplace Drug Testing Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2011 as Senate Bill 645

Samantha – The Ignition Interlock Device Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2012 as House Bill 4017

Samantha – The Discount Medical Plan Organization Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2013 as House Bill 2241

Samantha – The Public Employee Freedom Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2011 as House Bill 3231

Samantha – And the Council on Efficient Government Act

Serena – Which was introduced in 2011 as House Bill 3484

DM – Those last two, the Public Employee Freedom Act and the Council for Efficient Government Act are the focus of this report. ALEC says it’s CIED Task Force focuses on transportation and infrastructure, financial services, what it calls good governance practices and labor and employment reform. And it describes it’s labor and employment reform work as preserving freedom of association for employees while protecting worker choice and taxpayer dollars. CIED promotes what it calls collective bargaining transparency, and employee choice regarding union involvement. But getting back to public employees, the two pieces of legislation that could have had the largest effect on workers were, … what were they again Samantha?

Samantha – The Public Employee Freedom Act and the Council on Efficient Government Act

DM – Right. Let’s look at the Council for Efficient Government Act first. It has the same title as the Oregon legislation. We’ll get back to that in a minute. The model bill was originally introduced by ALEC in 2009 by its Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force but on the ALEC site, it is also associated with the CEID Task Force. House Bill 3484 was a mirror image of the ALEC bill.

Samantha and Serena begin reading bills together in the background

DM – What you’re hearing is Samantha, with the American accent is reading from the model legislation drafted by ALEC. Meanwhile Serena with the British accent is reading the language from the Oregon legislation. And when I say it was a mirror image, I’m not kidding …

[musical interlude]

Samantha – Two members who are engaged in private enterprise and who are appointed by the president of the senate

Serena – The speaker of the house of representatives shall appoint two members who represent the private sector

Samantha – Two members who are engaged in private enterprise and who are appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives

Serena – The governor shall appoint one member who is the chief executive officer or chief administrative officer of a state agency and two members who represent the private sector

Samantha – The chief executive or administrative officer of a state agency who is appointed by the governor. Two members who are engaged in private enterprise and who are appointed by the governor

Samantha and Serena read together

Serena – The appointing authority shall make an appointment to become immediately effective for the unexpired term

Samantha – The governor shall appoint a replacement member for the remainder of the unexpired term

DM – There’s a back story to why titles and wording tend to mirror each other. Here in Oregon, the state capitol has an office which is responsible for drafting the wording of legislation that eventually shows up on the floor of the house and the senate. It’s called the Legislative Council. The legislative council is an agency in the state capitol that, according to director Dexter Johnson, tries to achieve the intent of the legislator who requested the bill, meaning they try to stay as close to the original language and goal as possible. Back in March, I talked to an employee no longer with the office who told me that although only a legislator can introduce legislation, anyone can suggest that legislation to a legislator and then it’s up to them to draft it. But it’s really up to the legislative council to draft it. Mr. Johnson said when they get a model act, which he said does not happen infrequently, they try to understand what the legislator wants. And with its 25 attorneys, Mr. Johnson said the Legislative Council is the law firm for the Legislative Assembly and its sole job is to write laws that are legal.

Many legislators, not just those affiliated with ALEC, have told me groups pitch model legislation at them all the time. If they introduce it, for whatever reason, its because they believe it’s their job to introduce it. And since, according to Mr. Johnson, it’s the job of the legislative council to use as much of the language that legislator gives them as possible, he and his lawyers build the law around as much of it as possible without letting it sound the same. But what you get is outside groups, indirectly, deciding what the law is. Besides, as we’ve already shown, moving words around doesn’t mask the source and in some cases, it leads to snafus. In some legislatures, those snafu’s have proven embarrassing. In February 2012, Common Blog reported that Florida Representative Rachel Bergen made such a snafu. The online news program, The Young Turks, and host Senk Ygur picks it up from there.


Senk Ygur – “Florida State Republican Rachel Bergen who put in a bill and forgot to take out the part that was actually in the memo about ALEC itself, Okay? Get a load of what she submitted into the legislature. “House Memorial. A memorial to the Congress of the United States urging Congress to cut federal corporate tax rate. Whereas it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, individual liberty and … ” When she realized her mistake 24 hours later, she pulled it in a panic … and then she resubmitted the same exact thing just with that sentence about ALEC taken out”.

DM – Ms Bergin was later asked about the mistake and her relationship to ALEC by YouTube contributor Susannah Lindberg Randolph.


SLR – Yeah I was just wondering if you wanted to clear the air on …

RB – You know I have no issue actually whatsoever with the legislation which I filed. I believe in it. Um, I am happy that I did so and that’s it.

SLR – Right. And so I mean I know that ALEC kind of has this negative connotation. I was just wondering how, you know, how does it help you as a legislator?

RB – I don’t think they do have a negative connotation. There is a process in which we are members of them. We have to pay to be members of them. They don’t give campaign donations. It’s not like, it’s not like, um, they came to me asking me to file legislation that was going to benefit them or anything like that. It is very specifically a House Memorial that, that uh, gives a resolution to Congress to allow them to bring back the corporate tax rate and that’s as simple as that.

SLR – You know, like do they go over like strategy on how to help you get bills passed in session, like how much assistance do they provide being a member

RB – I serve very specifically on the tax and fiscal policy task force. And really, they don’t provide any assistance in passing legislation here in Florida. OK?

SLR – Thank you so much for your time.”

DM – So what does this have to do with House Bill 3484? It was introduced in the 2011 regular session and it failed but not because it didn’t have strong republican support. Then Republican lawmakers Katie Brewer, Jason Conger, Sal Esquivel, Vic Gilliam, Mike McLane, Kim Thatcher, Chris Telfer, Jim Thompson, Jim Weidner, Gene Whisnant and Matt Wingard all supported the bill. What it would’ve done, according to Oregon ALECWatch, is open the door to the privatization of many services currently provided by state government. It would’ve created a council of private businesspeople, appointed by the governor whose job it would’ve been to decide which government services should be privatized.

ALEC’s CIED task force worked with the ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy task force to come up with the language for House Bill 3484. And Altria, formerly Phillip Morris, is the CIED Task Force corporate chair.

[musical interlude]

DM – So, is there any connection between ALEC’s Council for Efficient Government Act and Oregon House Bill 3484? Well, that 2011 bill was supported by eleven, or all of current and past legislators mentioned earlier including the representative for Oregon House District 23, Republican Jim Thompson. The Secretary of State’s website shows that between 2008 and 2010, ten of those eleven got between 1-thousand and 45-hundred dollars from Altria. Representative Jim Thompson got the most. I asked Representative Thompson about his views on ALEC model legislation back in April


Jim Thompson

“I am a member of ALEC, but I’m there I’m a member of a lot of things. But I am there because they do some good fundamental work on the conservative side. And I think their voice is worth listening to in balance. If you know where they’re coming from, then of course you can evaluate what they produce. I’ve never, I’ve never run an ALEC bill, I know they do model bills. Many times, the ones I’ve written, er uh read don’t relate to Oregon very well.”

DM – Jim Thompson was defeated by challenger Mike Nearman in Oregon’s May primary. The other piece of 2011 ALEC Model Legislation that would’ve directly affected public employees, the so called Pubic Employee Freedom Act, which was introduced as House Bill 3231 basically denied state agencies or public employers the authority to recognize a union as a bargaining agent, to collectively bargain with a union, or even meet with a public employee union to discuss a bargaining agreement. ALEC’s Right to Work Act allows “free riders” who don’t pay union dues, but can continue to receive union benefits. It is a frequent companion to ALEC’s Public Employee Freedom Act. But that piece of ALEC model legislation wasn’t introduced by any members of the Oregon legislature between 2011 and 2013. In late June however, the US Supreme Court ruled on an Illinois version of ALEC’s Right to Work Act ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois can’t be required to pay fees that help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining. It is a victory for ALEC and a devastating financial blow to unions nationwide. Here in Oregon, House Bill 3231 was supported by a different cohort, including then legislators Cliff Bentz, Tim Freeman, Bill Garrard, Wally Hicks, Mark Johnson, Wayne Krieger, Andy Olson, Patrick Sheehan and Sherrie Sprenger, as well as consistent ALEC supporters Sal Esquivel, Kim Thatcher, Jim Weidner, Gene Whisnant and Matt Wingard. A check of the Secretary of State’s campaign finance website show that these legislators together received more than 80-thousand dollars in contributions from Oregon PACS and ALEC companies in the CIED Task Force, including Koch Industries since 2007. Anheiser-Bush, an ALEC company and a member of the task force that sponsored House Bill 3231 contributed nearly 40 of that 80-thousand dollars by itself. As far as the largest recipient of money from this group, it was former Clackamas Republican Patrick Sheehan. Mr. Sheehan got more than 15-thousand dollars from a number of ALEC heavy hitters including Bank of America. Finally, although ALEC’s right to work act wasn’t introduced as legislation, it was one of a number of union targeting initiatives for which supporters planned for the 2014 Ballot.

[musical interlude]

DM – To prevent a series of costly political fights, Governor Kitzhaber intervened and got opponents the withdraw thirteen pro and anti union measures including clones of ALECs Rebalance Government Act, ALEC’s Right to Work Act and ALEC’s Public Employee Choice Act. Scott Moore a spokesperson for the group, Our Oregon said last March that, “While the Koch Brothers and ALEC are moving these anti-worker laws around the country, we won’t have to face that threat this year.” Despite their hopeful titles, the Council on Efficient Government Act, the Public Employee Freedom Act, by all indications of their effect on the middle class, these model bills have the of goal reducing the advocacy of government, elevating the autonomy of business and erecting barriers that prevent citizens from challenging those laws. And ALEC opponents aren’t the only ones who know those bills will be back. As Mr. Johnson of the legislative council told me, many of the 4000 bills he sees in a regular two year session are redrafts from previous years. This report was made possible by KBOO reporters Yana Maximova, Sam Bouman and Mike Klepfer. The KBOO news director is Jenka Sodeberg. I’m Don Merrill.

Last update on October 23, 2014 reflects most recent changes.

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