ALEC: The Best Connected Toll Road Lobbyist in North Carolina
If last week’s post on lobbyists surrounding the I77 HOT lanes project with links to Governor Pat McCrory gave you an upset stomach. This one is likely to make your blood boil.
Many readers who follow the HOT lanes issue or politics generally are familiar with ALEC. For those who are not, the American Legislative Exchange Council is a policy generating body made up of corporations across all types of industries and state legislators from across the country. The organization generates model legislation to help corporate interests and then pushes that legislation through its membership at the state level.
The body gained some notoriety locally over the past few years because Senator Thom Tillis was honored as one of its “legislators of the year” while he was the Speaker of the House in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Before, during, and after that time, ALEC has had a seat at the table at the highest levels of our state government. The story about how that has driven the implementation of HOT lanes on I77 provides a clear window into how this organization gets things done. Read all the links if you have time. The entire picture is a real eye-opener.
Our small part of the story starts at the August 2011 ALEC meeting in New Orleans.
At this meeting In 2011, NC Speaker Thom Tillis received the ALEC Legislator of the Year award. On this boondoggle trip to New Orleans he was accompanied by several members of the NC General Assembly.
That meeting also happened to feature presentations and sample legislation around Public Private Partnerships – presentations delivered by Cintra and Macquarie. Cintra of course is the I77 contractor and Macquarie was mentioned in last week’s post as having connections to a former NCGOP Executive Director’s lobbying firm.
Almost immediately after returning from the August ALEC meeting, Speaker Tillis established the House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships. See this document issued September 15, 2011. Notice who is on this committee. It is Co-Chaired by Matthews Rep Bill Brawley. It also contains a name less familiar in the Mecklenburg County area – one Fred Steen.
Who is Fred Steen?
At the time, Rep Steen from Rowan County was the State Chair of ALEC in North Carolina. His current job is serving as Governor Pat McCrory’s liaison to the General Assembly – making him effectively the governor’s chief internal government lobbyist.
The House Select Committee on Public Private Partnerships soon had a visitor from the firm McGuireWoods Consulting for a discussion on the benefits of P3s. In January 2012, this presentation was given to the committee. Similar presentations to the one at the previous link have been delivered around the country to various state bodies. If you google “McGuireWoods Consulting American Legislative Exchange Council” it is clear these two organizations cross paths very regularly.
Then in may of 2012 comes House Bill 1077. The short title of the bill is “Increase DOT Public Private Partnerships”. However, this would soon change to be I77 specific.
On June 26th, in the House Finance Committee a Proposed Committee Substitute or PCS was passed. PCS30660 had the title “An Act to Establish a Pilot Project for Tolling the I-77 High Occupancy Toll Project.” According to the NC Legislative Library, the motion to submit this PCS was made by Harry Warren of Rowan (just like Mr Steen)
Who is Harry Warren?
In 2011, he was a freshman legislator. He had come to Raleigh after the 2010 wave election where the Republicans gained control. Warren won by a razor thin margin, defeating a Democrat incumbent by only 166 votes. He was then put on the influential finance committee. Warren also attended the 2011 ALEC meeting in New Orleans where then Speaker Tillis received his legislator of the year award.
Now, if you know how the legislature works, a junior member like Warren certainly did not propose tolling a highway in another district without being told to do so. There are not typically any recorded votes in committees and PCSs do not have “sponsors” like the original bills, so more detail is not easily available. However, one can say this committee is where the sausage of tolling I77 was made.
Incidentally, there was another freshman member of that same committee – Rep Jason Saine of Lincoln County. Saine has risen rapidly in the ranks at ALEC. He now serves on its national Board of Directors.
Once H1077 passed by mid-July 2012, the project’s fate was sealed so to speak.
So, in less than a year, all of the following happens. Cintra makes a presentation at an ALEC meeting in New Orleans where Speaker Thom Tillis receives an award with several NC legislative members in tow. A House Select Committee is then setup for Public Private Partnerships. A consultant with numerous connections to ALEC gives a presentation to that committee giving the appearance of actually doing some research. A bill is submitted. A freshman member who owes the Speaker his seat in a very tight election proposes a change to the bill targeting I77. The bill passes.
Cintra ultimately gets the contract for I77 as the single bidder.
Add to that these facts.
Another member of the same committee which specifically targeted I77 is now on the ALEC national board (Rep Jason Saine). Also, a former ALEC state chair served on the PPP Select Committed and also serves as the Governor ‘s legislative liaison (Rep Fred Steen). He is in a position to help ram this all through.
And there you have it – an unparalleled list of connections, leading to unparalleled power!
String all of that together and the I77 HOT Lanes project leads right to ALEC’s doorstep.
Again, all this took was a little googling, and someone with more time on their hands should really look into these things. North Carolina will be a center of gravity during the 2016 elections. The NC Governor’s race is regularly ranked as one of the top five in the country. North Carolina will be a swing state in the presidential race. These kinds of stories matter.
Major hat tips to the following sites for pulling some of this information together. Strongly recommend checking them out if you want to learn more.
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