[Editor's Note: We will be posting an occasional series from contributor Jillian Barclay covering some of the shadowy individuals and organizations behind the conservative movement. Last week, we featured a post from Jillian on Grover Norquist, and today we are featuring a piece about the American Legislative Exchange Council ("ALEC"), which works to draft conservative legislation that is then introduced in state legislatures throughout the country.
The term Smart Alec is quite fitting for ALEC. The phrase derives from a mid-19th century con artist named Alec Hoag who worked with his wife to scam money and jewelry from hundreds of men in Manhattan. Alec's wife would pose as a prostitute, and Alec would steal her "customers'" belongings while they were distracted. The couple avoided arrest by bribing two local police officers. Given the impact that ALEC's legislative proposals have on every day Americans, the dishonest ways in which ALEC sells its policies, and the level of virtually bribery that occurs in our political system, the use of the phrase "Smart Alec" to describe ALEC seems especially appropriate.]
(By Jillian Barclay, cross-posted at HubPages)
When Wisconsin has a new law that destroys collective bargaining, how does that same law almost instantaneously show up in ten other statehouses? When Florida presents anti-abortion legislation, why are 25 other states doing the same thing at the same time? When Michigan decides that it is a good idea to privatize, well, everything, why do other state legislatures follow suit so quickly? For years, I thought this was just dumb luck or even some kind of political ESP, or maybe even some sort of wild conspiracy theory, but then thought I was being foolish! How could states be reading from the same playbook? Could it be possible that there was a conspiracy? No! More than likely, I concluded, it was dumb luck!
Not only is it not dumb luck, it is a well-orchestrated, well-financed, corporate conspiracy that has successfully infiltrated every state legislature in the United States. The legislation that you see repeated daily in states across the country is actually from a playbook brought to America by way of ALEC, a group that seeks to promote legislation that benefits corporations and robs consumers and the electorate.
ALEC is short for the American Legislative Exchange Council. It is a not-for-profit (aren’t they all?) organization designed to be a one-stop shopping experience for state legislators. The legislation offered by ALEC is usually always geared to the advancement of corporate interests and the laws are actually written by corporate lobbyists. Shocked? No? Nothing shocks me anymore, either. ALEC has its grubby hands in every single legislative body in this country. They are so blatantly outrageous that their website shows each legislator chairperson that handles and promotes “friendly” corporate laws. The legislative contact for each state is also the legislative sell-out.
ALEC was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who also helped found the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. It has been reported that the major funders are the Koch Foundation, Exxon Mobil, the Coors family and several other ultra right-wing corporate interests. Their list of board members are from AT&T, Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, State Farm, Bayer, Coca-Cola, etc.
Legislative and exchange are the key words for this non-profit, because that is precisely what they do. The lobbyists write the legislation that they would like to see passed and then, through the elected representatives in each state, personalize it for each state and pass it around. It really is an exchange. ALEC’s website will let you know the names of the legislators from your state that ‘work’ with them to promote ALEC’s product.
How Insidious Is ALEC? Here are Some Current Laws That Come From ALEC
ALEC says they do not lobby. That is how they get away with maintaining their non-profit status. They simply write the legislation and the mostly Republican legislators (only 3 are Democrats) from all of the different states then present the bills in their respective statehouses and pass them off as their own. It is similar to buying a term paper or hiring another student to write your term paper for you. In school, it is called cheating. In America, it is called a non-profit organization.
ALEC is not ashamed of their activities. ALEC is proud of the fact that their lobbyists and corporate members are the authors of most of the legislation pending or passed in every state. Their own website touts the fact that they are directly responsible for :
- Voter ID bills being passed that tighten registration requirements and disenfranchise up to 20 million voters. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, over 20 million will be disenfranchised by the new laws. They are mainly students, the elderly, the poor and the disabled.
- The bills that have assaulted and destroyed collective bargaining rights in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. ALEC stands behind laws that would roll-back employee protections, worker’s compensation and even do away with the minimum wage.
- The bills that eliminate pension plans and turn them into 401K’s.
- The bills designed to overturn the Affordable Care Act. ALEC offers each state a “Guide to Repealing Obamacare”.
- The bills that eliminate environmental protections. Not only are the bills already written(ALEC says they have 15 model bills), the state legislators can work with ALEC’s task force to launch an all out assault on EPA rules and regulations.
- The bills that lower corporate tax rates. In fact, to assist in this effort, ALEC has written the “State Budget Reform Tool Kit”. It is a must have for states that want to lower taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes for the middle class and poor.
- The bills that strip education of funding and decimate local control of schools.
This list could go on and on. It includes prison reform legislation, legislation designed to “protect innocent corporations from liability for asbestos poisoning”, how states can effectively market pharmaceuticals, as well as “how to privatize” almost every sector of government, along with instructions on how to frame the bills to make them sound as advantageous as possible.
ALEC itself, says that the organization is responsible for at least 1,000 bills a year that are introduced in every statehouse. As their website states:
ALEC’s far-reaching national network of state legislators that crosses geographic and political boundaries, and affects all levels of government, is without equal. No other organization in America today can claim as many valuable assets-both people and ideas-that have influence on as many key decision-making centers.
Far- reaching? If this organization is responsible for 1,000 bills a year, they are more far-reaching than I would like to think.
Who Are These “Lawmakers” That Create Our Laws?
ALEC boasts of over 2,000 members. Private sector membership can range in price from $7,000 per year to join the Washington Club all the way up to $25,000 per year for the Jefferson Club. Without giving the names of their board members, I will just list the corporations each member of the Private Enterprise Board represents:
[Editor's Note - 4/7/2012 - in the face of progressive pressure, Coca-Cola, Intuit, and Kraft Foods recently announced that they are withdrawing their support of ALEC]
* Johnson & Johnson
* Energy Future Holdings
* Kraft Foods
* American Bail Coalition
* Peabody Energy
* Intuit, Inc
* Koch Brothers
* Altria Client Services
* Exxon Mobil
*Salt River Project
* State Farm Insurance Company
* Centerpoint 360
Were these the people you elected to write your laws? I think I was better off when I thought the coordination was dumb luck. How about you?
Learn More About ALEC
* ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures – from People For the American Way