photo source: Alternet
Warning: You may want to pour yourself a tall one or play some soothing music while reading this. If you haven’t heard about ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), it’s time you’re introduced!
What it is: ALEC is a non-profit organization made up of private sector individuals and conservative state-level legislators who collaborate on and draft model bills to be sent to state legislatures. Approximately 200 of its model bills become law each year. ALEC describes itself as the “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism”.
ALEC’s History: ALEC was initially founded in Chicago in 1973 as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators in an attempt to fight the EPA and wage and price controls. Its co-founder, Paul Weyrich, also co-founded the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The organization was renamed ALEC because the word “conservative” was thought to be unpopular at the time. (Imagine that!) Early members included Scott Walker, John Boehner, John Kasich, Jesse Helms, Henry Hyde, Eric Cantor, Tommy Thompson, and Jack Kemp. By 2011 ALEC had 2,000 legislative members nationwide, a number which included 25% of all legislators. At the time, approximately 1,000 bills based on ALEC language were being introduced in state legislatures every year, with about 20% of those bills being enacted. The majority of ALEC members are Republican, and in 2013 100% of legislators in Iowa and SD were ALEC members. (I urge you to scroll through the Leadership section on ALEC’s website. It’s a sea of white.) Included in its alumni list are our own PA Representatives Charlie Dent and Lloyd Smucker. In 2003, Donald Ray Kennard, then a Louisiana state representative and ALEC national chairman, was quoted as saying, "We are a very, very conservative organization... We're just espousing what we really believe in."
ALEC in the news: ALEC has been cited as giving corporations outsized influence on legislation. It’s well known for its strong ties to the Koch Brothers. In July 2011, The Nation magazine published a series of articles in collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that showcased some of ALEC’s model bills and described ties to the Koch family. The CMD launched a website, ALEC Exposed, that documented more than 800 of ALEC model bills, the legislators and corporations that had helped to draft them, and the states that enacted them. (You can view a list of affiliated PA legislators here.) These articles and in particular their coverage of ALEC's push for tough voter ID laws, prompted the advocacy group Color of Change to launch a public campaign to pressure corporations to withdraw their ALEC memberships.
In 2012 ALEC was the subject of an Occupy movement protest, an IRS complaint by Common Cause, and calls for attorney general investigations in several states. Also in 2012, the shooting of Trayvon Martin led to an increased focus on “Stand-Your-Ground gun laws that ALEC supported. In April of that year, Color of Change launched a new campaign to pressure ALEC corporate members to withdraw. More than sixty corporations and foundations, including Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Kraft Foods, McDonald's, Amazon.com, General Electric, Apple, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield dropped support of ALEC along with 34 legislative members. In 2014, several technology-oriented companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Ebay,Uber, Lyft, and Yahoo! ended their ties to ALEC. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt remarked that ALEC was "just literally lying" about global climate change. Occidental Petroleum and Northrop Grumman also cut ties with ALEC, along with T-Mobile and BP in 2015.
Although ALEC originally focused on social issues such as opposing abortion, in recent years the group has focused more on business and regulatory matters. According to John Nichols of The Nation, ALEC's agenda "seems to be dictated at almost every turn by multinational corporations. It's to clear the way for lower taxes, less regulation, a lot of protection against lawsuits, [and] ALEC is very, very active in [the] opening up of areas via privatization for corporations to make more money, particularly in places you might not usually expect like public education."
How ALEC works: ALEC now has 10 task forces that generate the model bills that its legislative members may customize. Private sector members have veto power over the bills. Bills must be approved by ALEC’s board of directors, which is composed entirely of legislators, before they can become model bills. There is also a Private Enterprise Advisory Council-its members include AT&T, Exxon Mobile, Pfizer, Koch Industries, and State Farm Insurance.
Some of ALEC’s Notable Actions
Apartheid: In the 1980s ALEC opposed divestment in South Africa, which was aimed at putting pressure on the government to end apartheid.
Homosexuality: In 1985 ALEC published a memo saying homosexuality was a conscious choice and that pedophilia was “a dominant practice within the homosexual world”
Gun Laws: Stand-Your -Ground gun laws expanded to 30 states due to the influence of ALEC.
Voter ID Laws: Voter identification bills introduced in 34 states would have made voting more difficult for students, the elderly, and the poor.
Immigration: The "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act", an Arizona law known as "SB 1070", is an ALEC model bill. Enacted in 2010, SB 1070 was described as the toughest illegal immigration law in the U.S. Bills similar to SB 1070 were passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah, and have been introduced in 17 other states.
The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act: classifies certain acts of civil disobedience by environmental and animal rights activists as terrorism. Since it was drafted in 2003, this model bill has appeared across the U.S. in various forms. The federal "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" has many similarities and language almost verbatim to ALEC's model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act". The Senate version of the "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" was sponsored by Senator James Inhofe, a long-time member of ALEC. In the same vein, ALEC's model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" would make it against the law to film, videotape, or take photographs on livestock farms in order to "defame the facility or its owner". People found to be in violation would be put in a "terrorist registry"
Privatizing prisons and longer, tougher sentences: Two of the largest for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut Corrections have been contributors to ALEC. ALEC has a history of supporting "tough on crime" laws and "3 strikes" laws.
Energy and Environment: Since the 1990s ALEC has made a major push for deregulation of the energy industry. ALEC has called plans by the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a "train wreck" that would harm the economy and has supported efforts by various states to withdraw from regional climate change compacts. One of ALEC’s model bills called on the government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project. In 2013, ALEC planned legislation that would weaken state clean energy regulations and penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels and redistribute the electricity back into the grid. ALEC described such homeowners as "free riders" because "they do not pay for the infrastructure costs of recirculating their generated power." ALEC has also challenged that global warming is due to human influence.
Telecommunications and information technology: Here’s one particular example of ALEC's influence in this sphere. In February 2014, Kansas introduced SB 304, "prohibiting cities and counties from building public broadband networks and providing internet service to businesses and citizens". There was an "underserved area" exemption for public wi-fi in the bill, but the exemption criterion was not met anywhere in Kansas. (The bill failed.)
Healthcare: ALEC opposes the individual mandate under the ACA. In 2011 ALEC published the "State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare", which has served as a road map for repeal efforts. ALEC also drafted a variety of model bills designed to block implementation of the law.
Education: ALEC has worked to privatize education. In fact, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed ALEC’s 44th Annual Meeting in July, where she discussed “educational choice”.
ALEC’s MO: Lack of transparency, meetings held in private, and blocking press access are all part of ALEC’s way of doing business. ALEC does not disclose its membership list or the origins of its model bills. ALEC-drafted bills are often proposed by lawmakers in their states without disclosing ALEC authorship. For example, The Star-Ledger analyzed more than 100 bills and regulations previously proposed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and found a pattern of similarities with ALEC model bills that was "too strong to be accidental". The connections were based "not on similarity of broad ideas, but on specific numbers, time frames, benchmarks and language."
The Guardian has described ALEC as "a dating agency for Republican state legislators and big corporations, bringing them together to frame right-wing legislative agendas in the form of 'model bills.” Chris Taylor, a Democratic Wisconsin state assemblywoman who attended an ALEC conference in 2013, described it as a "well-oiled machine" and said, "In my observation, it was the corporations and the right-wing think tanks driving the agendas. Corporations have as big a say as the legislators in the model legislation that is adopted.”
In April 2012, Common Cause filed a complaint with the IRS objecting to ALEC's status as a nonprofit organization, alleging that lobbying accounted for more than 60% of its expenditures. ALEC has formally denied lobbying. Colorado, South Carolina, and Indiana have laws exempting ALEC, specifically by name, from having to register as a lobbyist and report lobbying expenditures. In 2013 ALEC created a 501(c)(4) organization called the "Jeffersonian Project" that, according to The Guardian, "would allow ALEC to be far more overt in its lobbying activities than its current charitable status as a 501(c)(3)."
As of 2011, corporations, think tanks, and trade group members accounted for almost 99% of ALEC's $7 million budget. Legislators pay $100 for a two-year membership, while non-legislators pay $7,000 to $25,000 to join, and more to participate in the task forces. In 2010, NPR reported that tax records showed that corporations had collectively paid as much as $6 million a year to ALEC. The council's total revenue in 2011 was $9 million.
ALEC claims on its website, “All Americans deserve an efficient, effective and accountable government that puts the people in control.” But if you don’t know that it’s corporations, conservative think tanks, and right wing politicians that control policy in the U.S., then you don’t know ALEC!
And now ALEC has set its sights on our Constitution!
photo: BrainPOP Educators
There are two processes by which the U.S. Constitution can be amended: Congress can propose amendments OR two-thirds of state legislatures can call for a convention to propose amendments. Let’s do some math. There are 50 states. The two-thirds needed rounded up would be 34 out of the 50. Currently 32 out of 50 state legislatures are under Republican control. You’ve already read how ALEC operates. Pushing right-wing model legislation through to law doesn’t seem to have whetted its appetite. ALEC has long salivated at the idea of a second Constitutional Convention or a “Con Con” to rewrite the Constitution in order to align it with its conservative world view. The number 32 has led ALEC to believe that that dream is closer to being realized. But as with every happy family, there appears to be some discord within the group. Read about it in detail in, “Infighting, Legal Questions Slow ALEC Push for Second Constitutional Convention” by Mary Bottari.
posted by Amy Levengood