Today, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive group run and funded by big corporations that subsidize the involvement of conservative state lawmakers, officially launched a new website about its model legislation to immunize corporate lawbreakers. Coincidently, we just received a copy of this “confidential memo” from the Volkswagen diesel cheating crisis management team. I know. What are the odds?
To: Volkswagen Board of Directors
From: Dieselgate Crisis Management Team
Re: Our Three Point Plan - Update
Date: September 24, 2015
Here’s where we are on the three-point plan:
1. CEO Martin Winterkorn steps down so he can spend more time with his lawyers. DONE.
2. We show that we’re no different – in fact, probably better - than the rest of the bottom feeders that make up the auto industry. (Hey, how’s this worse than Henry Ford II calling airbags “a lot of baloney.”) DONE.
3. We get with that U.S. group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I know, ALEC is so tainted that 120 companies have already quit. But let’s face it. Only a truly scorned organization can relate to what we’re going through right now. So I just buried ALEC’s enormous corporate membership fee in the $7 billion budget we think we need “to win back the trust of our customers.” Now let me show you why this is an excellent investment that will save us billions in the long run.
But before I do, let’s admit there are a few things we can’t do much about. We got caught by U.S. environmental regulators (and researchers from West Virginia, of all places.) This is terribly ironic since we don’t do much diesel car business in the U.S. Our European friends barely regulate us, making it a whole lot easier to cheat. Had we just stayed out of the U.S., we’d be golden. Although I have to say, U.S. auto safety enforcement is generally laughable and the U.S. Justice Department doesn’t care much either. To be honest, we weren’t terribly worried. But the EPA? Now that was a surprise. I just found out that ALEC basically wants to repeal all U.S. pollution laws. (Hope the Pope doesn't find out.) If we only knew about ALEC sooner!
But now that we do, the timing couldn't be better. This week, ALEC officially launched a web site about what state lawmakers can do to immunize corporate lawbreakers like us. Can you feel a smile coming on?
Although the U.S. Department of Justice will probably just slap our wrists, we’re deathly afraid of private actions brought by state Attorneys General and class actions by angry customers. These have already begun. Turn’s out that ALEC’s top civil justice priorities are bills to ensure these very cases never get anywhere. It’s as if ALEC was reading our minds!
For example, ALEC wants to gut all the state consumer protection laws that provide the basis for many of these lawsuits:
ALEC’s model bill “would effectively eliminate the critical private enforcement provisions that give these laws their power.… [It] is actually a wrecking ball to destroy one of the building blocks of consumer protection, namely the private enforcement of state unfair and deceptive practices acts. It does this by systematically weakening each and every provision of these laws, such as lower burdens of proof, special damages, and attorney’s fees, that were designed to provide consumers with access to justice for small economic wrongs.
One of my absolutely fav’s is this provision: “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.” We started cheating six years ago! How'd they know? That’s just spooky.
And there’s more. This bill contains a complete ban on punitive damages. And here’s what I love about ALEC. They propose not only limiting punitive damages in consumer protection cases. They have an entire bill aimed at limiting punitive damages in any kind of case brought by people we harm. This kind of law is incredibly important to corporate lawbreakers like us. It means civil damages will never threaten our bottom line, and we’ll be just fine even if we keep harming people.
Then, ALEC wants to make class actions impossible to bring, so hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of victims, can’t join together in a lawsuit against us – even though we stuck the exact same cheating software in every single one of their cars. Just look at the hurdles and burdens their bill would place on our (likely ex-) customers. They'll all have to hire their own attorney and go through the time and expense of proving their cases one by one by one (which we expect they'll never do.) Any one of these provisions alone could immunize us, but several dozen? This bill is a true embarrassment of riches.
And those lawsuits by State AG’s? ALEC’s bill would make it nearly impossible for states to hire outside counsel to help, which could prevent many cases from going forward at all. You can read more about that bill here. And should any of our cars have product defects that lead to car crashes and injuries (or deaths), ALEC has a variety of options to immunize us there, as well.
And here’s what else I love about ALEC. Everything they do is entirely behind closed doors. They kick reporters out of meetings. They tell members of the public “NO” when they ask to participate in ALEC activities.
So you see why we must join ALEC today. We’ve broken the law. We’ve harmed a lot of people. This is an organization just for victims like us!