By: Bob Lucore
For almost 40 years the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has promoted regressive ideas in state legislatures throughout the nation. In the 1970s, ALEC assisted in blocking ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by the states. In the wake of California’s Proposition 13, ALEC was instrumental in spreading legislation that has restricted many state and local governments from raising adequate revenues. ALEC was an early connecting point for legislators opposing statehood for the District of Columbia. ALEC operatives tried to undermine the appointment of Sandra Day O’Conner to the Supreme Court, implying that the Reagan administration was somehow covering up O’Conner’s “secret” pro-choice record in the Arizona legislature. ALEC has played a role in a multitude of backward endeavors undertaken at the state level.
ALEC’s role has not gone unnoticed. Public interest advocates and labor unions have long fought ALEC’s efforts to promote privatization and corporate cannibalization of education and other government services. Progressive activists have tried to draw public attention to the corrosive role that ALEC often plays in policy-making.
Efforts to shed light on ALEC were hampered because it operated in secrecy. Its model bills were only available to its members—some 2000 conservative state legislators and 300 corporate backers. However, last year a whistleblower obtained an archive of some 800 documents, detailing ALEC’s model legislation and corporate sponsorship. With this information, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Nation magazine began working to analyze and publicize ALEC’s activities. CMD set up an invaluable web site, ALEC Exposed, to shed light on this shadowy organization.
The picture of ALEC that emerges from the analysis of these leaked documents is one of a transmission belt between corporate interests and right-wing legislators. Powerful corporate donors (including the infamous Koch brothers) craft legislation that they want to see enacted at the state level. ALEC assists in getting these private-interest bills introduced in legislatures across the nation. The corporations benefit from such legislation as favors for tobacco companies, limits on corporate liability for harmful pharmaceuticals, laws benefiting private health insurers, and immigrant-detainee statutes that help fill privatized prisons while also filling the coffers of private prison corporations. In return, conservative legislators benefit from corporate sponsored junkets and personal access to wealthy election funders.
In the wake of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, public scrutiny of ALEC has expanded as never before. The role of ALEC in promoting model “Stand Your Ground” legislation has come to light. In addition, ALEC’s behind-the-scenes promotion of efforts to disenfranchise voters, through unnecessary voter ID laws, has been exposed. Public outrage has prompted numerous corporate sponsors to withdraw support. Common Cause has requested that the IRS investigate ALEC’s nonprofit status.
In response, ALEC has claimed that it will stop pushing for voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. However, it will continue to promote legislation to take away workers collective bargaining rights. It will work to expand restrictions on the rights of consumers to seek justice in the courts. It will continue efforts to turn public education over to for-profit companies. It will continue numerous other efforts to foster corporate dominance over state legislatures.
In 2008, economist James K. Galbraith (an ADA Vice-President) wrote a book titled The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. He argued that the notion of free markets and a public-interest government have both been replaced by a Predator State: “an economic system wherein entire sectors have been built up to feast on public systems built originally for public purposes...” (p. 146). Galbraith says the public purpose has been abandoned and a “corporate republic simply administers the spoils system,” on behalf of its favor-seeking wealthy clients.
It would be hard to find a more relevant illustration of Galbraith’s Predator State than ALEC.
Bob Lucore, a long-time ADA board member, is the former Director of Research and Policy for the United American Nurses and has worked for the Teamsters and the Department of Economic Research at the AFL-CIO. . He taught economics for several years at Centre College and Colorado State University and is currently a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University.Back