Media outlets have been buzzing recently about ALEC. The controversial “Stand Your Ground” legislation has shed light on yet another powerful institution, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by big business to influence politicians. (I know, what’s new?) We hear about the crony congress so often that we are unfazed when we hear yet another example of the power money has on our political system.
What makes ALEC any different? ALEC is a non- profit organization which pushes laws that directly promote corporate interests and deregulate major industries with many effectively privatizing public services like state prisons and our public school system. John Nichols from The Nation explains that “For the most part, ALEC’s model legislation is designed to ease taxes and regulations for corporations, while weakening unions and undermining tort laws.”
ALEC describes itself as “the nation’s largest nonpartisan, individual membership association.” PR Watch reports only one percent of ALEC’s money comes from membership dues, “according to ALEC’s IRS filings, over the past three years it has raised $21,615,465 from corporations, foundations, and other sources, and just over $250,000 in dues paid by state legislators.” These companies include AT&T, The American Bail Coalition (a for-profit bail bond trade group), ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline among others.
Where is all this money spent? ALEC provides “scholarship funds” for legislators which pay for members’ family vacations to ALEC conventions each year. These trips are free or heavily subsidized vacations for their spouses and children, and other perks like free child care, Broadway theater tickets and dinners. These conventions bring together legislators and corporations for some much needed bonding time over “dinners, golf outings, skeet shooting, boat rides, cigar smoking parties, and other events.”
Sounds a lot like lobbying right? Well… not exactly says Michael Bowman a senior director of policy, “ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come and debate and discuss,” he says. “You have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it.” Because ALEC defines itself as a nonprofit membership organization, legislators can skirt the lobbying rules that apply to Congress such as disclosing who they met with, what gifts were given, where they went and who paid.
Paul Krugman in the New York Times recently weighed in warning:
And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.
ALEC is in it for the long- haul, they are thinking big picture and that picture is crystal clear, well except for the grey smog that has accumulated from all the anti- environment and climate change denial legislation they have successfully produced, packaged, and passed on to legislators.
Politicians that are elected and pledge allegiance to ALEC should remember the oath of office they took upon entering public service. It is unpatriotic to make decisions that yield results in the short term and systematically fail future generations. Legislators do not lack vision; it is the absence of courage and conscience that prevents these politicians from putting in place policies that would invest in America. While it is important for the American people to be made aware of ALEC’s influence and agenda, we need to start electing representatives that pledge allegiance to the country over corporate interests.