Much has been made of the recent comeback of the American right wing. It seems that in every other news cycle, some state legislature or other is ratifying laws that damage unions or restrict abortion or threaten immigrants. Even so, the ones you hear about are only the tip of the iceberg: Along with the “war on women,” the country has been swept by a quiet war on environmental regulation, sane gun laws, and what’s left of worker’s rights.
Many of the laws going through state legislatures bear remarkable similarity to laws going through legislatures in entirely different states. Many of them are practically twins … which is understandable given that they were born at the same meetings.
Across the country, conservative lawmakers looking to check off their Reaganite wishlist know who to go to: the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Composed of primarily Republican legislators, lobbyists, and corporate sponsors, ALEC (as it’s usually referred to) brings together elected officials and private sector leaders to draft ‘model legislation’ that is then brought to state senates around the country. These bills usually start in one state and, after successfully passing, are shopped across the country. The controversial bill in Arizona that allowed police officers to demand documentation from anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant is the product of an ALEC task force where lawmakers, the National Rifle Association, and representatives of the Corrections Corporation of America—a for-profit prison operator that identifies immigrant detention as a major source of its income. These corporate interest groups literally voted on legislation that was subsequently passed into law. Laws echoing Arizona’s immigration reform have been passed in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, and Rhode Island.
ALEC has a wide variety of anti-union model legislation that eats away at the foundation of public sector unions, and it’s being put to good use not only in Wisconsin, but in the rest of the country. Ohio Governor John Kasich has been involved with ALEC since its formative years in the ‘70s, and under him his state has seen a slew of model legislation, including bills that cripple unions, push for school privatization, and prop up the prison industrial complex. Even the liberal bastion of New England has been affected: New Hampshire recently vetoed a bill similar to the one in Wisconsin.
The story repeats itself across the country in shades of environmental deregulation, support of predatory healthcare practices, voter ID laws, on and on.
ALEC works through task forces that deal with a particular issue, such as tax policy and education, a tactic that Tom Stivers, former national chairman of ALEC, picked up from Ronald Reagan’s own task force on Federalism in 1981. The Reagan task force made great use of the testimony of ALEC members, including John Kasich—then a lowly state senator from Ohio—and then-Senate President of New Hampshire Robert Monier. More recent ALEC alumni include Joe Wilson, who famously called the president a liar in the middle of a State of the Union address, malevolent lich Jesse Helms, speaker of the house John Boehner, and former presidential candidate Rick Perry.
ALEC—and through it, the corporations stand to benefit from swollen prisons and poisoned rivers and myriad other ills—has its hooks deeper in American legislation than any private citizen. But it cannot withstand the will of the masses. The Stand Your Ground laws that protected George Zimmerman in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin are another result of ALEC, and it took that poor boy losing his life before people got angry enough to do something. But when they did, it worked. In the wake of the shooting, corporations began pulling their support from ALEC. Forty-one corporations have cut ties so far, including Wal-Mart, which chaired the task force that initially drafted the legislation that protected George Zimmerman.
Make no mistake, there is a war between the American people and ALEC, but we are not the underdog: They are. We just need to wake up and realize it.
WANT TO LEARN MORE? CHECK OUT ALECEXPOSED.ORG