By Jueseppi B.
Wake UP America. A.L.E.C. is very dangerous.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a politically conservative 501(c)(3) nonprofit policy organization, consisting of both state legislators and members of the private sector, mostly representing corporations. ALEC’s mission statement describes the organization’s purpose as the advancement of free-market principles, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty. Among other activities, the group provides a venue for private individuals and corporations to assist politicians in developing what it considers model laws serving the economic and political aims of its members. ALEC also serves as a networking tool among state legislators, allowing them to research the handling and “best practices” of policy in other states.
ALEC currently has more than 2,000 legislative members representing all 50 states, as well as more than 85 members of congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered “alumni”. ALEC also claims approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector members. A list of ALEC leaders in the states includes 73 Republican lawmakers and 7 Democrats.
The chairmanship of ALEC is a rotating position, with a new legislator appointed to the position each year. The current chair of ALEC is Dave Frizzell, a member of the Indiana House of Representative. Day-to-day operations are run from ALEC’s Washington, D.C. office by an executive director and a staff of approximately 30.
According to its website, ALEC was founded in September 1973, when a small group of conservative state legislators and policy advocates met in Chicago with the stated purpose of founding “A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.”
At that meeting, state legislators, including then Illinois State Representative Henry Hyde, activist Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett, a veteran of then Governor Ronald Reagan‘s 1968 presidential campaign, together with a handful of others, launched the American Legislative Exchange Council. Among those who were involved with ALEC in its formative years were: Bob Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio, all of whom moved on to become Republican governors or members of congress.
Congressional members who were active during this same period included Republican senators James Buckley of New York andJesse Helms of North Carolina, as well as Republican congressmen Phil Crane of Illinois and Jack Kemp of New York.According to its website, ALEC was founded in September 1973, when a small group of conservative state legislators and policy advocates met in Chicago with the stated purpose of founding “A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.”
- ALEC publishes a monthly magazine for its members entitled, Inside ALEC.
- In the field of education policy, ALEC authors the Report Card on American Education now in its fifteenth edition.
- On state economic competitiveness, ALEC has published, Rich States, Poor States, now in its fourth edition.
Whistleblower and ALEC Exposed
On July 13, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation published a file leak which made available more than 800 pieces of ALEC’s model legislation, brought to them by an organizer of the Cincinnati ALEC protest. The files were leaked to the organizer, Aliya Rahman, via a two-point connection to a source inside ALEC. For ALEC Exposed, the Center for Media and Democracy made a new website to house over 800 ALEC “model” bills which were previously unavailable to the public. It developed dozens of tools to enable citizens to track ALEC politicians, ALEC corporations and ALEC bills moving in their states.
Simultaneously, The Nation devoted a special edition of its magazine to breaking the story on ALEC Exposed, featuring expert analysis by John Nichols, Joel Rogers, Laura Dresser, Wendell Potter, Lisa Graves, Julie Underwood, Mike Elk, and Bob Sloan. On July 14, 2011, the Los Angeles Times announced that government watchdog Common Cause would issue a challenge to ALEC’s nonprofit status, on the grounds that ALEC “spends most of its resources lobbying, in violation of the rules governing nonprofit organizations.”
On July 21, 2011, Terry Gross interviewed Louisiana Representative Noble Ellington, the current national chairman of ALEC, about the group’s corporate members’ role in drafting legislation. Gross, commenting on the fact that it is impossible for non-members to know whether pieces of legislation introduced in statehouses are based on ALEC models, asked if Ellington thought the process was transparent. Ellington responded saying, “[w]hile we may be discussing it, it may not be transparent, but before it’s passed, legislators have to say, ‘We approve this model legislation.’
Not the corporations. They don’t have a vote. Legislators say [what is introduced]. … And then the legislators can introduce that legislation in [their] state. It goes through a committee, the public has input, they have an opportunity to talk to their legislators about the legislation — so I don’t see how you can get more transparent than that.” When asked if the public had a voice in the process Ellington responded that the “taxpaying public is represented there at the table because I’m there.”
In November 2011, Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin (R), introduced legislation to call on the federal government to reduce corporate taxes. The text still included the boilerplate “WHEREAS: it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance . . .” While the bill was quickly withdrawn and the phrase removed, returning as HM717, Common Cause blogger Nick Surgey explained the greater significance:
- “With some justification, you might ask why this really matters: even if this bill passed it wouldn’t force Congress to act. However, I think it matters because the states play a very significant role in setting the national agenda. Corporations know this, which is why they frequently use ALEC to secretly introduce their model bills, creating the impression of widespread popular uproar in the state houses. In recent years they have used this mechanism for both attacks on the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases (ALEC bill introduced in 22 states) and in pushing back against the Affordable Care Act (ALEC bill introduced in 44 states).”
Surgey went on to comment:
- “It matters who writes our laws and it matters who stands to benefit from them. When these are the very same entity, then we as citizens should have the right to know this.”
Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law
According to weblog Talking Points Memo, the Florida Stand Your Ground law was identical to a bill proposed by ALEC. The law has so far shielded George Zimmerman from arrest in the Shooting of Trayvon Martin. However, the legislator who wrote the law, Dennis Baxley, wrote that the Stand Your Ground law does not seem to apply in this case and that authorities are still investigating the matter.
An influential group known for pushing conservative laws at the state level — including voter ID laws and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law — is under fire for its views, and at least one of its major backers has dropped its membership in the organization.
Coke said Wednesday it was withdrawing from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a non-partisan organization working to promote free markets and limited government through state legislators after a liberal leaning group started a petition to urge ALEC’s member companies to drop their financial support of the group.
Add PepsiCo and Kraft Foods to the ever growing list of corporations deciding that an association with A.L.E.C. is detrimental to their bottom line.
Hundreds of ALEC’s model bills and resolutions bear traces of Koch DNA: raw ideas that were once at the fringes but that have been carved into “mainstream” policy through the wealth and will of Charles and David Koch. Of all the Kochs’ investments in right-wing organizations, ALEC provides some of the best returns: it gives the Kochs a way to make their brand of free-market fundamentalism legally binding.
No one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group was floundering. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman. As a result, the Kochs have shaped legislation touching every state in the country. Like ideological venture capitalists, the Kochs have used ALEC as a way to invest in radical ideas and fertilize them with tons of cash.
Take environmental protections. The Kochs have a penchant for paying their way out of serious violations and coming out ahead. Helped by Koch Industries’ lobbying efforts, one of the first measures George W. Bush signed into law as governor of Texas was an ALEC model bill giving corporations immunity from penalties if they tell regulators about their own violation of environmental rules. Dozens of other ALEC bills would limit environmental regulations or litigation in ways that would benefit Koch.
ALEC’s model legislation reflects parts of the Kochs’ agenda that have little to do with oil profits. Long before ALEC started pushing taxpayer-subsidized school vouchers, for example, the Koch fortune was already underwriting attacks on public education. David Koch helped inject the idea of privatizing public schools into the national debate as a candidate for vice president in 1980. A cornerstone of the Libertarian Party platform, which he bankrolled, was the call for “educational tax credits to encourage alternatives to public education,” a plan to the right of Ronald Reagan. Several pieces of ALEC’s model legislation echo this plan.
The Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with “communist propaganda,” paranoia that extended to all unions, President Eisenhower and the “pro-communist” Supreme Court. Such redbaiting might be ancient history if fifty years later David were not calling President Obama a “hard-core socialist” who is “scary.”
The Kochs have not just multiplied the wealth of their dad; they’ve repackaged and amplified his worldview. David’s latest venture, Americans for Prosperity, subsidizes the Tea Party movement, which repeats this “socialist” smear. Charles is a member of the exclusive Mount Pelerin Society, inspired by Frederic von Hayek’s antisocialist polemic The Road to Serfdom. Through the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Institute for Humane Studies administers the Hayek Fund for Scholars and sister programs to fund academics and staffers for like-minded groups across the country. “Charles G. Koch Fellows” and interns stock ALEC, and have gone on to direct ALEC task forces.
Another David Koch project, Citizens for a Sound Economy—which launched the effort to repeal Glass-Steagall protections keeping banks from gambling in securities—helped fuel the fight for “free trade,” an unpopular policy in the 1980s. The North American Free Trade Agreement passed with help from CSE and its corporate allies.
ALEC resolutions for state legislators have long supported such trade agreements in the face of local concerns about job losses, and today the Koch free-market fantasy is reflected in ALEC’s support for free trade pacts with Korea, Georgia, Colombia and other countries. On just about every issue taken on by Koch’s CSE, ALEC has provided legislative tools to carry them through to state legislatures, from privatizing “federal and state services and assets,” as CSE put it, to blocking common-sense caps on unlimited credit card interest rates.
ALEC and the Kochs often pursue parallel tracks. Just as ALEC “educates” legislators, Koch funding has helped “tutor” hundreds of judges with all-expenses-paid junkets at fancy resorts, where they learn about the “free market” impact of their rulings. But ALEC also operates like an arm of the Koch agenda, circulating bills that make their vision of the world concrete. For a mere $25,000 a year, Koch Industries sits as an “equal” board member with state legislators, influencing bills that serve as a wish list for its financial or ideological interests.
It’s a pittance for the Kochs but far out of the reach of working Americans. Ordinary citizens rely on our elected representatives’ efforts to restore what’s left of the American Dream. But through ALEC, billionaire industrialists are purchasing a version that seems like a real nightmare for most Americans.
Progressive groups have criticized ALEC for pushing state laws that require voters to present government identification before voting. Such laws have traditionally been used to suppress voter turnout among certain demographics. Conservatives discount those claims and say voters should be required to prove who they are before voting. There is little evidence of voters pretending to be someone else when they head to the ballot box.
The Stand Your Ground law, which allows the use of deadly force by those who feel threatened, has come under fire in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed Florida teen, Trayvon Martin.
See the connection here people? Boycott all companies that support Koch Brothers and A.L.E.C.
The leading organization behind the boycott, Color of Change, said it first contacted Coke about the issue last year and it would continue to put pressure on ALEC’s other members to drop their ties to the organization.
“We welcome Coca-Cola’s decision to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which has worked to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor,” said Color of Change, an organization that aims to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans.
Other members of ALEC include AT&T, Bayer, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, State Farm Insurance, UPS and Wal-Mart Stores.
Wal-Mart Stores have the highest gun and ammunition sales of any store in America. BOYCOTT.
- Pepsi And Coke Pull Out Of ALEC (lezgetreal.com)
- Coca-Cola Pulls Support From ALEC (theroot.com)
- ALEC Gets Dumped (misbehavedwoman.wordpress.com)
- ALEC and AUL: Buying our democracy at wholesale (thegrio.com)
- Exposed: The Corporations Behind the Law That May Let Trayvon Martin’s Killer Go Free (worldwright.wordpress.com)
- PepsiCo Ends Partnership With Right-Wing Front Group ALEC (thinkprogress.org)
- Coca Cola joins PepsiCo in ending ALEC support over voter suppression (dailykos.com)
- Is This Democracy – ALEC? (planetpov.com)