By Evan Harmon
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has gradually carved out a powerful place at the heart of the legislative process in the United States. Founded in 1973, ALEC describes itself in its mission statement as “a nonpartisan public-private partnership” created “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”
Or to put it another way, as Wisconsin state assemblyman Mark Pocan puts it, “Alec is like a giant corporate dating service [for] lonely legislators and their special interest corporate allies.”
ALEC is a policy organization that drafts bills at exclusive triannual ALEC conferences which are attended by some of the nation’s biggest corporations and politicians from across the country. ALEC then makes these “model bills” available to state legislators so they can introduce them as their own. There is no way for non-ALEC members to know whether or not a bill introduced to a state legislature is based on one of ALEC’s model bills.
Florida state Representative Rachel Burgin was recently caught in the middle of this dubious process when she introduced a bill to reduce corporate taxes that inadvertently included ALEC’s mission statement in its wording, which had apparently been copied verbatim from ALEC’s model bill. Burgin promptly withdrew the bill and then resubmitted it the next day without the glaring connection to ALEC.
With members in all 50 state legislatures, as well as 85 members of congress and hundreds of corporations, ALEC’s true function might be best understood by considering where it gets its funding, almost all of which comes from some of the country’s largest corporations. ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, State Farm, BP, AT&T, and Bayer are just a few of the members on its corporate board.
A recent file leak of ALEC model bills clearly reveals how this “public-private partnership” works due to the bills’ carefully-worded exemptions, loopholes, immunities, and tax breaks which benefit these powerful corporations’ profit-driven goals. In other words, these are not bills to, for example, turn a vacant lot into a community park.
ALEC bills consistently push profits over people, and toward that end, many of these bills are also anti-environment, anti-union, anti-regulation, anti-corporate-taxes, and anti-immigrant. In fact, ALEC is behind one of the most racist bills in recent U.S. history–Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped draft. Two of the many criticisms of this act are that it encourages racial profiling and that it consumes limited police resources by requiring police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that he is an illegal immigrant.
SB 1070 was actually modelled on ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” This model bill was privately drafted by an ALEC task force that included prison companies which would likely profit from the bill’s passage due to increased incarceration of illegal immigrants.
Due to the file leak, we now know that ALEC model bills have found their way into state legislation across the country.
Many are calling for this process of corporations writing bills that turn into state law to at least be a more transparent and democratic one. One group critical of ALEC, Government watchdog Common Cause, wants to revoke ALEC’s nonprofit designation due to its claim that it “spend[s] most of its resources lobbying, in violation of the rules governing nonprofit organizations.” And lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin are trying to pass the Alec Accountability Act, which would require ALEC to reveal where it gets its funding and to register as a lobbying organization.
On February 29th, Occupy Movements across the country joined together in a mass protest against ALEC’s corporate members that seek profits over people and greed over democracy. They want corporations and their deep pockets to stop bending yet another of our nation’s democratic institutions to the whims of big business. Dubbed #F29 to match the action’s Twitter hashtag, more and more people are putting their money where their mouth is and working to improve the fate of Kansas City as well as their country.
Representative Pocan went on to say, “Alec operates best when it operates in the shadows. Once people find out that it’s really nothing but a front for corporate special interests you start to know that the ideas they put forward aren’t in the public good.”