ALEC: The Most Important Election Issue You Don’t Know About

On April 20, 2012, 11:22 AM by

The 2012 election season has already brought with it familiar cries of so-called class warfare, quadrennial culture wars, and most recently, several pieces of controversial legislation that many have dubbed key components of the “war on women.” But as Americans and mainstream media spear each other with the same old political barbs, a far more sinister—yet perfectly legal—series of political maneuvering is taking place in boardrooms throughout the country. If successful, the subsequent victims won’t be just women, a particular class or minority but rather democracy itself. But the absolute worst part? In a year supposedly rife with democracy in action, hardly anyone is talking about it.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): Not Your Average Baldwin

While the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision gave a pulse and personhood to monolithic corporations throughout the United States, the corporate Frankenstein has been in the making for decades; it is only now that the monster is nearing completion and ready for unleashing against an otherwise distracted and disengaged populace. Funded almost entirely by billion dollar corporations since 1973, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) fuses together the worst of corporate and legislative corruption into one seamless copy and paste model policy package.

Their goal is simple yet sweeping: reduce the size of government to that of a shrunken pea, get rid of regulations that impede upon what should be unrestricted growth of multinational corporations and by effect shift political power from the American people to the pinstriped pockets of the world’s most affluent denizens. It should come as no surprise that its members, alumni, and award recipients are all familiar faces within the American conservative canon: current Speaker of the House John Boehner served as one of ALEC’s earliest alumni, along with influential men like Senate Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles and David Koch, and Milton Friedman among a whole slew of others.

Much like antibiotic resistant bacteria, ALEC describes itself as a “unique…unparalleled…and unmatched” organization of over 2,000 legislative members and 300 corporate members whose thousand plus introduced bills boast a staggering one in five enactment rate. To achieve this, ALEC’s corporate and legislative boards meet at joint sessions to, a la Milton Friedman “develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available.”

Naturally, as over 98% of the 501(c)(3) organization’s tax-free revenue comes from sources other than the dues of its legislative members (ie companies like Exxon Mobil, the Koch Foundation, and Pfizer among others) these “alternatives” play to corporate profiteering, not the promotion of public well-being. And so behind closed doors, lawmakers and lobbyists meet to go over frozen ALEC “model” legislation for politicians to defrost and take back to their constituents as their own innovative policies. The best part is that given ALEC’s status, the organization isn’t subject to the same laws that require the disclosure of a lobbyist’s input into a bill, which means that these lawmakers don’t have to tell a soul with whom they’re working—or in this case, for whom they’re working.

For a couple reasons, it all works out pretty well for everyone involved. The first and most obvious is that ALEC pays its lawmaker members to swap their ethics and responsibility for exotic, expense-free trips to the organization’s meetings. The next being the likely downpour of out-of-state donations from fellow ALEC members come election season, so long as legislators push ALEC’s corporatist ideas onto the public in the form of a bill. That’s the most important part of it all. Says Rutgers University professor Alan Rosenthal, “the bottom line [for lawmakers] is ‘get me a bill. I want a bill…that can do what you’re talking about.”

ALEC Comes Bearing Gifts At The Expense Of Democracy

Just what are these corporate-created and politician-pasted bills disseminated to the American public? The first one of note is Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration SB 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which has in essence led to racial profiling, consistent violations of individuals’ 4th Amendment rights, and an overall police state that targets minorities. It should come as no surprise that the Corrections Corporation of America, an ALEC member and the largest private prison company in the United States, aided substantially in the drafting of that piece of model legislation. It should also cease to surprise you that, as John Whitehead reports, “two-thirds of the 36 immediate co-sponsors of the bill in the Arizona Senate were ALEC members or attendees at the legislation drafting meeting.”

Alec Protest

ALEC has also been a strong proponent of stringent voter ID laws that passed in several Republican-led legislatures. Many claim that these laws make it more difficult for the poor, elderly and minorities to participate in one of the most basic facets of democracy which thereby makes it that much easier for big businesses to trounce upon their rights—that is, at least until ALEC came under fire for pushing multiple states to pass the highly contentious Stand Your Ground legislation. Why? The highly vocal civil rights group and anti-ALEC crusader ColorofChange asserted that Florida’s version of SYG was the reason why police didn’t initially charge George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.

As a result, many former ALEC members including Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and McDonald’s dropped their membership from the organization in favor of a more positive public image. Not one to be outdone by its defectors, ALEC national chair David Frizzell announced that they would drop both voter ID and Stand Your Ground issues in favor of the organization’s purportedly Jeffersonian principles of “free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.” Meanwhile, ALEC plods on for corporate glut under the guise of the maxims of the Founding Fathers.

Though given the fact that it was also Thomas Jefferson who vocalized his fears that a corporate aristocracy would present a great challenge to government and democracy as a whole, it’s a bit ironic that he’s their poster boy. But hey, it’s 2012 now. What did Jefferson know, anyway?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Savannah is a summa cum laude graduate from Bellarmine University, where she earned two degrees in Foreign Languages and International Studies and Political Science. This fall, Savannah will work for the Spanish Ministry of Education in Madrid.

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