Exposing and Dismembering ALEC and its Kleptocracy AgendaPosted: April 16, 2012
I have a personal interest in seeing ALEC dismembered. My governor Bobby Jindal has adopted and enacted some of its worse cookie cutter laws. There are three progressive interests that are leading actions to defund and defang this supposedly “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions”. They are the Urban League, Common Cause, and ColorofChange. I would hope that many more groups will join in.
Many of ALEC’s corporate sponsors have quit funding the organization which seeks to remove oversight and regulation of all kinds of industry, privatize public services and goods, and deprive minority communities and women of basic voting rights and civil rights. They seek tort reform that would limit corporate exposure to liability from unsafe products and practices. They like to remove laws providing consumer protection and information. They are not nonpartisan and are responsible for some of the most heinous, radical legislation of the last few years. Woe to those of you whose governors or legislators belong to this organization for you will live in a world with very little protection from big money and big business and your tax dollars will be used to line their coffers.
The American Legislative Exchange Council describes itself as a nonpartisan champion of free markets. But if you spend some time at an ALEC conference (Bloomberg Businessweek did, for an article last year) you will be hard-pressed to find many Democrats. And when the entire conference meets for lunch, you will hear from the podium nothing that would seem out of place in a press release from Eric Cantor’s office. Last year in New Orleans, for example, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisana, told an ALEC annual meeting, “Defeating the president is crucial to defending our economy,” and “Obama has been a disaster.” I didn’t hear anyone boo. What I did hear was the sound of fevered applause when the conference played a videotaped greeting from Ronald Reagan.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to feverishly applaud Ronald Reagan. I am saying that only in the most thinly defensible, legalistic sense can ALEC call itself “nonpartisan.” And the council doesn’t really support free markets, either. It supports the companies that fund it. This is an important distinction, because the corporations that donate to ALEC aren’t doing so to protect markets. They’re protecting favored tax treatments and pushing regulations that lock in their market positions. As best as we were able to determine in reporting our piece last year, corporations propose bills at the state level and then push them up to ALEC, which has both corporate and legislative members. ALEC pushes the legislative members to the foreground, stamps the bills as “model legislation,” and then the corporations push them back out to other state legislatures. This may not be the case with all ALEC legislation, but it certainly was with the bill we followed.
So ALEC is not what it says it is. That’s not extraordinary: Few advocacy groups are what they say they are. In ALEC’s case, however, the fingers-crossed-behind-its-back description of itself is definitional. If the American Legislative Exchange Council operated with complete openness, it couldn’t operate at all. ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters precisely because it does its real work in a black box. Membership lists are secret. The origins of the model bills are secret. Deliberations and votes on model bills are secret. The model bills themselves are secret. The council has designed its entire structure to disguise industry-backed legislation as grassroots work from state legislators. If this becomes clear to everyone, there’s no reason for corporations to use it. And that is exactly what has been happening.
Minority advocacy groups have been most active in the fight against ALEC. ALEC is responsible for the legislation that requires specific picture ids to vote and they are responsible for the Stand Your Ground Laws. Both of these issues have been front and center in Civil Rights Groups. The Trayvon Martin case is important in two key ways. First, it is bringing to light the institutional racism implicit in the criminal system. Second, it has exposed the role of ALEC in sneaking through legislature in states that most voters do not support or like. The vigilante-empowering Stand Your Ground laws are now seeing daylight.
The tension in corporate boardrooms over the case is the latest example of the pitfalls companies can sometimes face when they donate to political and lobbying groups, even those that seem safely below the radar of public consciousness.
The ALEC controversy is now sparking a broader debate about corporate participation in politics and the polarized state of political discourse. At a minimum, it has strengthened calls for companies to develop clear policies explaining their spending.
“I would caution companies to be very aware of where their money is going,” says Nell Minow, director of GMI Ratings, which provides corporate governance information to investors, corporate auditors and regulatory agencies. “Companies are going to realize they can take a real reputational hit with this kind of affiliation.”
She and others recall the tempest that erupted in 2010 around Target after the company donated to a nonprofit group supporting a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who was known for opposing gay rights initiatives.
Like Louisiana, many Arizona politicians are in cahoots with ALEC. ALEC likes to use laws to funnel public money into corporate income statements. This isn’t free market promotion, this is more like being given the ability to loot public resources.
Legislators in Arizona continue to advance extremist legislation inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its out-of-state corporate backers, according to a new analysis by People For the American Way Foundation, Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now. This report shines a new light on the Arizona Legislature’s unprecedented ties to the secretive organization, which recently drew nationwide fire for its role in implementing radical policies across the country like “Shoot First” laws and voter suppression laws, and anti-worker measures. ALEC’s extreme agenda has recently led companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Wendy’s, KRAFT and Intuit to withdraw from the organization. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday also withdrew its support from ALEC.
The comprehensive report found that Arizona’s large concentration of ALEC-member legislators, working hand-in-hand with the corporate leaders who make up ALEC’s membership, are continuing to endorse special interest legislation that harms ordinary people by limiting consumers’ rights, privatizing education and dismantling unions.
The report, ALEC in Arizona: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona’s Legislature, updated for the Fiftieth Legislature, second regular session is available here.
“Recent polling shows that Arizonans are appalled by the out-of-touch and extremist agenda at their State Legislature. This report shows that agenda is no accident,” said John Loredo, a member of Arizona Working Families and a former Arizona House Minority Leader. “Unfortunately, Arizona has one of the highest concentrations of ALEC legislators in the country, and that makes us a petri dish for anti-worker legislation and a host of other bad ideas.”
“ALEC-member legislators are unabashedly continuing to push legislation straight from corporate headquarters to Arizona’s lawbooks,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way Foundation. “Well-heeled special interests are circumventing the democratic system and bypassing Arizona’s citizens, who can’t match the level of access that ALEC provides. As a result, Arizonans are facing an endless assault from laws that serve the interests of the rich and powerful instead of everyday people.”
You can find ALEC’s model bills and reports on its activities in many states at the site ALEC Exposed. ALEC is responsible for the horrible school voucher and privatization plan that Bobby Jindal has ramrodded through our state. It is also responsible for some of the worst climate change denial propaganda. The source of this funding is big oil, big coal, and the Koch Brothers.
$375,858 received from Koch foundations 2005-2010 [Total Koch foundation grants 1997-2010: $708,858]
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one-stop shopping for state elected officials interested in perusing the wares of an array of Koch-funded opposition organizations including IER, ACCF, Mercatus and other sources. ALEC has successfully peddled corporate-written legislation to numerous states attacking the Kyoto Protocol, undermining climate science education in schools and numerous other anti-environmental legislation. ALEC has close ties to Koch Industries, which helped bail the organization out of financial troubles with a half-million dollar grant.
ALEC publishes its own materials as well, including a “Climate Change Overview for State Legislators” which downplays the science and risks of global warming and exaggerates the costs of addressing it. The Overview was written by Daniel Simmons, who moved from ALEC to become AEA’s Director of State Affairs. Simmons was at the Mercatus Institute before ALEC and is a graduate of the George Mason University School of Law.
Here’s some of the background information on the laws that ALEC creates with the intended purpose of “starving Public Schools“.
ALEC’s most ambitious and strategic push toward privatizing education came in 2007, through a publication called School Choice and State Constitutions, which proposed a list of programs tailored to each state. That year Georgia passed a version of ALEC’s Special Needs Scholarship Program Act. Most disability organizations strongly oppose special education vouchers—and decades of evidence suggest that such students are better off receiving additional support in public schools. Nonetheless, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Indiana have passed versions of their own. Louisiana also passed a version of ALEC’s Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act (renaming it Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence), along with ALEC’s Family Education Tax Credit Program (renamed Tax Deductions for Tuition), which has also been passed by Arizona and Indiana. ALEC’s so-called Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act has been passed by Arizona, Indiana and Oklahoma.
ALEC’s 2010 Report Card on American Education called on members and allies to “Transform the system, don’t tweak it,” likening the group’s current legislative strategy to a game of whack-a-mole: introduce so many pieces of model legislation that there is “no way the person with the mallet [teachers’ unions] can get them all.” ALEC’s agenda includes:
§ Introducing market factors into teaching, through bills like the National Teacher Certification Fairness Act.
§ Privatizing education through vouchers, charters and tax incentives, especially through the Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act and Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, whose many spinoffs encourage the creation of private schools for specific populations: children with autism, children in military families, etc.
§ Increasing student testing and reporting, through more “accountability,” as seen in the Education Accountability Act, Longitudinal Student Growth Act, One-to-One Reading Improvement Act and the Resolution Supporting the Principles of No Child Left Behind.
§ Chipping away at local school districts and school boards, through its 2009 Innovation Schools and School Districts Act and more. Proposals like the Public School Financial Transparency Act and School Board Freedom to Contract Act would allow school districts to outsource auxiliary services.
ALEC is also invested in influencing the educational curriculum. Its 2010 Founding Principles Act would require high school students to take “a semester-long course on the philosophical understandings and the founders’ principles.”
Perhaps the Brookings Institute states the mission most clearly: “Taken seriously, choice is not a system-preserving reform. It is a revolutionary reform that introduces a new system of public education.”
The passage of radical public school defunding in Louisiana is leading to a recall Jindal effort. We’ve already had some of this type of reform in New Orleans and it’s clearly not working well at all unless you count teacher union busting and lowering teacher salaries progress. Here are some of the things we will now be suffering in Louisiana. I personally am opposed to the state funding religious indoctrination hiding under the guise of education. These laws funnel public money into any thing that deems itself a school, it seems.
A vast expansion of charter schools, an overhaul of teacher tenure and establishment of a statewide program to pay private school tuition with public dollars moved within one step of final passage Thursday, as the Louisiana Senate Education Committee endorsed the headliner components of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education agenda without changes or dissent.
I know this thread wanders around through many topics but the number of right wing bills pressured cooked into law by ALEC and their toadies is just as wandering and perverse. Check out the site and be aware of which politicians supposedly representing the people of your state that are ALEC cronies. The movement to get corporations to defund the organization should be paramount. Ordinary Americans have already lost a lot to their agenda. It’s time to stop them. Put pressure on organizations to join in the effort. Let’s defang this beast together.