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Home » Clarion » 2012 » April 2012 » How ALEC Operates

How ALEC Operates

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“[The American Legislative Exchange Council] is one of the most influential, unknown bodies in America,” the former head of California’s Republican Party, Shawn Steel, told reporter Olga Khazan. “Now that Republicans are dominating most states, ALEC has become a fabulous idea factory.”

Through their membership in ALEC, corporations participate directly in writing the group’s model bills. Unsurprisingly, many of those bills reflect a standard corporate wish list: lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy; hostility to unions; weakening environmental regulations, etc. Others represent the hard-right social agenda of ALEC-affiliated legislators

CECI N’EST PAS LÉGISLATION

ALEC is officially a non-profit organization that, as Beau Hodai reported in In These Times, “is strictly prohibited by federal tax code from taking part in the formation of legislation.” ALEC insists that its conferences are “educational forums,” and that while it circulates model bills, it is the legislators, not ALEC, who turn those ideas into a law. “As such,” Hodai reports, “ALEC claims it is not engaged in the crafting of actual legislation, nor is it engaged in lobbying.”

ALEC circulates those legislative templates to its members, not the public. The vast majority of ALEC model bills that have surfaced to date were part of a massive leak last year to the Center for Media and Democracy, which has placed more than 800 of them online at ALECexposed.org.

State legislators often deny that their bills were inspired by ALEC, even when the language is similar or identical to bills advanced by ALEC members in other states. When Florida State Rep. Chris Dorworth proposed a ban on union dues checkoff for all public employees, GOP legislative officials told the press that Dorworth’s office “did not receive any materials from ALEC relating to this bill or any ‘model’ legislation.” But a public records request turned up three model bills on this subject in Dorworth’s working papers, with “Copyright, ALEC” printed on every one.

In the past year ALEC’s hidden influence has drawn growing public attention, with its “social-issue” legislation coming under especially sharp attack. Key examples include ALEC’s support for legislation similar to similar to Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law cited in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and legislative restrictions on the right to vote.

Why would corporations like ExxonMobil or Reed Elsevier give money to a group that supports legislative proposals like these, which are often flashpoints for racial conflict? In part it’s the value of being connected to a nationwide legislative network that is reliably pro-corporate. And as columnist Paul Krugman observed, it’s also “the same old story – the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda.” These “social-issue” bills may not be the main reason corporations join and give money to ALEC, but neither have they seen such proposals as in conflict with their interests.

Until now. As grassroots groups targeted ALEC’s corporate funders over these and other bills, some corporations began to rethink their affiliation. In recent weeks companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Intuit, and Kraft have all announced their departure from ALEC. Others, like Koch Industries, Pfizer and Altria/Philip Morris, have said that they will “stand their ground” and remain ALEC members.

Reed Elsevier has yet to comment.

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RELATED COVERAGE:

Academic Journals and Corporate Interests: Reed Elsevier and ALEC

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