American Legislative Exchange Council: Putting Corporate Interests First with a Dash of Racism

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Written by Hazel Weiser

If you are wondering how the same voter ID requirements, end to public employee collective bargaining, and anti-EPA legislation end up in different state legislatures, you might not know about the American Legislative Exchange Council.

This is how ALEC explains itself: limited government, free markets, federalism.

“More than 30 years ago, a small group of state legislators and conservative policy advocates met in Chicago to implement a vision: A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C. “

The ALEC board of directors are all current or former legislators from various states, with a definite southern affinity although there are members from New York and Connecticut, too.  The Private Enterprise Board, which is larger, includes executives from the largest corporations spanning a range of industry: food, chemicals, retail, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and energy.   It’s not surprising to see names like WalMart, Koch Industries, ExxonMobile, GlaxoSmithKline, and Kraft Foods represented on this board.

Going down the list of “model legislation” one immediately recognizes the talking points of conservative legislators acting on behalf of their corporate constituents’ interests.  (Only members can have access to the actual proposed bills on the website.)  The section on “Civil Justice” reads like a litany of how to close the courtroom doors to any accountability for faulty products, poisoned air or water, with specific emphasis on ridding corporate America of the dreaded class action.  Yesterday the United States Supreme Court took the lead and followed the bidding of corporate interests by allowing standard contracts to limit the right of consumers to band together in collective arbitration.  In AT&T MOBILITY LLC v. CONCEPCION (2011), the Court ruled 5-4 that businesses could finally put an end to those pesky and expensive class actions by including in contracts two simple provisions: that disputes be raised only through the informal mechanism of arbitration and that claims be brought one by one.  Now in this case, the dispute was over a $30 fee, how can anyone afford to dispute those kinds of fees individually?  Imagine what a windfall this offers to business.

Take a look at the size of the ALEC staff. When corporations want something done, they can afford to pay for it.  Twenty-five in full time staff can draft and market a lot of legislation.  A review of ALEC’s 2009 990 filing with the IRS reveals that it gets its $6.2 million in operating expenses this way: about $5 million a year in contributions, about $600,000 in membership dues, and the rest in registration fees for its conferences.  Let’s take a moment to wonder who gives so generously to ALEC?  Certainly ALEC would not be fiscally sustainable without this $5 million largess.

A review of the Inside ALEC publication, its monthly newsletter, reveals just how effective ALEC is in putting into the media the talking points it wants.  The January 2011 issue was dedicated to state budget reform, with a lead article: Public Employee Unions: Pushing States to Bankruptcy.  Another was 8 Ways States Can Push Back on ObamaCare.  March had a piece about how state global warming legislation was weighing down business.  April denounced federal economic bailouts as being bad for the states.  Rush Limbaugh spoke at an ALEC annual meeting.

On April 26, The New York Times ran an editorial linking ALEC with the eight states that have already passed mandatory voter ID requirements. More than thirty other states have pending bills on the subject.  Texas considers this an emergency and although it won’t allow school IDs as legitimate proof, its version proposes to allow gun permits. There is no voter fraud of any dimension.  This is all made up to embolden challenges to poor, African American, Latino, and foreign-born eligible voters.  These requirements that voters show government-issued identification harkens back to the days of literacy tests and poll taxes.  Except the Supreme Court once again denied those historical references when it issued the 6-3 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008) validating the requirement so long as the government-issued ID was free.

Yet proving one’s legitimacy through “showing papers” cannot ever be disconnected from its roots of subordination.  The most horrifying example of this is the demand by birthers that President Barack Obama release his birth certificate, which he finally did yesterday with understandable disgust.  Donald Trump (who now wants the President to release all of his college transcripts) is truly delusional in denying that his insistence that Obama prove his legitimacy three years into his presidency is not connected to present day, strongly felt racism.  That Trump, without any claim to any authority other than his race, wealth, and access to the media, had the right to make such a demand on the President stands alone as evidence of his entitlement as a white man.  Goldie Taylor did a guest op ed piece on Rachel Maddow’s show last night that put all of this in perspective.  Read her piece. Or watch it and then get angry enough to talk back to these bigots.