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Ohio Caught Between ALEC And Tech Companies

Oct 9, 2014

Many large tech companies are breaking away from a national organization geared towards writing business-friendly legislation for state-level lawmakers, most of whom are conservative Republicans.

Some believe Ohio is now caught in the middle of the dispute. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Google—Facebook—Microsoft—and other major tech companies are beginning to sever ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a collection of state lawmakers, corporations and lobbyists that creates model legislation focusing on a free-market approach.

While ALEC calls itself nonpartisan and says its 2,000 members are both Republicans and Democrats, ALEC has financial backing from the conservative Koch brothers, and nearly all lawmakers who identify themselves as members of ALEC are Republicans.

The tech companies are saying their departure from ALEC is due to the group’s alleged denial of climate change and its impact. Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt may have sent the harshest message to ALEC a few weeks ago. During an interview on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show—Schmidt explains why Google decided to drop ALEC.

Schmidt: “The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on fact—what a shock—and the facts of climate change are not in question anymore everyone understands that climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place and so we should not be aligned with such people. They’re just literally lying.”

Seitz: “It’s simply false.”

Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati is an ALEC board member. He adamantly refutes accusations that ALEC doesn’t take climate change seriously. Seitz says it’s ALEC that’s been the target of several left-wing groups, and the claim that ALEC denies climate change is part of that attack.

Seitz: “And the CEO of these big companies sits in his ivory tower and decides—well—without even checking most of the time—well I guess the easy path of least resistance I guess is to resign from any group that they target.”

The National Defense Resource Council—or NRDC—is one of those groups sounding off against ALEC. Spokesperson Josh Mogerman insists that ALEC is denying climate change behind closed doors. He adds Ohio’s connection with ALEC will not bode well when it comes to attracting jobs.

Mogerman: “It certainly doesn’t imply that Ohio is open for business for tech companies if they’re signaling that they want to go in a clean energy direction—sending a letter that says that’s not what we’re going to do in Ohio isn’t a really good way to woe tech jobs to a state that I think is very interested in them.”

ALEC sent a letter to Google criticizing Schmidt’s comments on the radio and the company’s departure. The note was signed by more than 200 ALEC members, including six Ohio legislators.

Earlier this year the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill to freeze the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards – an effort spearheaded by Seitz. The NRDC’s Mogerman says that’s another reflection on ALEC’s position.

Mogerman: “ALEC is one of the chief architects of the effort in Ohio to roll back what have been very successful energy efficiency and renewable energy standard that have been saving Ohioans lots of money on their bill and had been diversifying the energy system for the state of Ohio.

Seitz counters that 21 states have never had renewable energy mandates—and 25 states don’t have any energy efficiency mandates. So does Seitz think Ohio’s standards freeze or its connection with ALEC will detract tech companies?

Seitz: “If they’re saying that they’re only going to invest in states that such mandates it is they—i.e. Google etcetera—who are writing off roughly half of the United States and I don’t think they really want to do that.”

Seitz also disputes Mogerman’s assessment that the green energy standards were “very successful.” The two-year freeze allows a panel of legislators to perform a cost-benefit analysis on the benchmarks—to find out if ratepayers are saving money or not with the standards.