Recently, a group of civic-minded women in El Dorado County invited a member of Common Cause, a non-partisan group, to view a documentary presentation and participate in discussion on the growing power of an organization that most of us have never heard of: ALEC. We feel that the mission of ALEC, coupled with its growing influence among our elected officials, is alarming and should disturb citizens of any political persuasion who believe in Democracy.
ALEC, a 501c3, is an acronym for American Legislative Exchange Council. It was founded in 1973 and is composed of hundreds America’s largest corporations, as well as some 2,000 state and federal legislators across the country, in all of the 50 states. The mission of ALEC is to write legislation that benefits its corporate members, and funders, and then to take that legislation back to the states to get it passed by the state’s legislature.
Their model bills have consisted of legislation that has attacked environmental regulations that protect our air and drinking water, worker’s health and safety regulations and many other consumer protections. They have advocated and provided our legislators bills/language to implement as laws in state and federal legislation for voter ID laws, bank deregulation, utility deregulation, privatization of public education and many other measures that, in our view, are an assault on public health, consumer protection, public safety, a woman’s right to choose and quality of life.
Concern for the general public takes a back seat to corporate earnings.
They have been very successful in this endeavor, passing such laws as Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, voter ID laws, which restrict access to voting for minorities and the poor, and even The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which is used as a model in about 12 U.S. state legislatures. This law makes it illegal to film, videotape or make photographs on livestock farms in order to “defame the facility or its owner.” People found to be in violation (for example, with a cell phone) would be put on a “terrorist registry.” In other words, if you report animal cruelty at a slaughterhouse or an agri-business facility, you may be found in violation of this law. If you are convicted, you are then branded as a terrorist.
Some of the corporations that are on the board of ALEC include UPS, State Farm Insurance, AT&T, Pfizer and ExxonMobil. Their non-profit status allows members to deduct their dues and the freedom to NOT disclose the names of the legislators who attend its “educational” seminars.
ALEC has been very effective and persuasive in getting elected officials to implement ALEC’s agenda. To date, ALEC has written more than 1,000 pieces of “model” legislation. Many of ALEC’s model bills have passed in state legislatures with nothing but a change in the letterhead. This is quite alarming no matter what political persuasion one is.
Our democratically elected legislative members are given many perks for their association/membership with ALEC — junkets to tourist destinations, heavily subsidized trips for spouses and children, free tickets to shows and sports events, expensive dinners and even free child care. Yet despite its very clear political agenda, ALEC is not registered as a lobbyist, and none of these gifts need to be reported. In fact, they are a tax write-off; documentary website: http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-united-states-of-alec/.
• Should an organization whose members write legislation for state governments on behalf of special corporate interest groups be classified as a tax exempt non-profit?
• Should our legislators both at the state and federal level be working for the people who elected them to office or for ALEC’s profit oriented mission?
• Should an organization like ALEC, who exerts so much influence, that it can quietly subvert the democratic process, be allowed to register as a 501c3?
• Shouldn’t ALEC be required to register in a fashion that more accurately reflects its true agenda?