The killing of an unarmed teenager in Florida by a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, who was not arrested for weeks, has shined a spotlight not only on dangerous "stand your ground" laws but also on ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — which sponsored such laws in more than half the states. ALEC claims to be non-partisan and is registered as a public charity.
The truth is that ALEC's agenda is partisan Republican, and the organization is not a charity but a secretive, highly organized and well-funded lobbying machine that recruits lawmakers into the service of corporations seeking taxpayer dollars, profit and especially rollback of any environmental regulations designed to protect the nation's air and water.
On May 1, Common Cause of Kentucky, as part of a national campaign, asked Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate the tax status of ALEC. Its co-chairs, Sen. Tom Buford and Rep. Mike Harmon, both Republicans, claim the group has a low profile in Kentucky and defend it as non-partisan.
Yet in 2011 only one of 104 national leaders of ALEC was not a Republican, and a recent ALEC choice for "legislator of the year" was Kentucky Senate President David Williams, a Republican. In 2010, when Republicans took over 20 state legislatures, they immediately began introducing bills generated by ALEC. As the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Obama administration's health care law earlier this year, ALEC sent its 2,000 legislator members "talking points" against it.
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During 2011, predominantly Republican legislators (who pay $100 in "dues") introduced more than 1,000 of ALEC's "model" bills. The national media continuously — and erroneously — refer to ALEC-generated laws as "model laws," but just what are they models of?
This network of legislators and lobbyists for corporations has promoted laws seeking to prevent access to voting by Democratic groups — the young, college students, Hispanics, blacks, the poor — as well as the elderly. The union-busting laws advanced during 2011 in several states by Republicans — and throwing Wisconsin into turmoil — have long been an ALEC pet project.
Quite simply, ALEC promotes laws to destroy the Democratic voting base.
Is it legal for businessmen, lobbyists and politicians to consult about public policy? Of course, nor is it sinister. But ALEC doesn't just lobby; it literally writes the laws, giving fully drafted bills to state legislators, who then push them through, often word for word. Arizona's harsh and controversial immigration law came directly out of ALEC's mill.
Founded in 1973 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich and other Republicans, ALEC's big funding comes from corporations — Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, AT&T, the usual suspects — who profit handsomely from ALEC-sponsored laws. And their contributions are tax-deductible.
There's nothing wrong with pursuing a pro-business agenda, but not when it results in policies that pretend, say, to promote clean water but contain hidden loopholes that allow companies to release contaminants into our drinking water.
High on ALEC's agenda is privatization of public services such as prisons and schools, turning them into for-profit enterprises run by companies that work closely with ALEC. This sets up a nice feedback loop by which legislators funnel taxpayer dollars to these corporations, which then give generously to political campaigns and to ALEC. Oh, and corporate money allows ALEC to invite lawmakers to expense-paid, four-day national retreats.
Last year, 800 of ALEC's secret documents came to light, revealing that during meetings of the national board of legislators and ALEC officials, the corporate members can overrule even a majority of the legislative representatives.
Since the backlash against "stand your ground" and voter suppression laws, various corporate members have quit ALEC: McDonald's, Amazon, Wendy's, Kraft Foods, Mars Inc., Coca Cola and others sensitive to their public image.
Would that Kentucky legislators do the same.