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ALEC exposed, feels the heat

By Will Parry 

“ALEC” – it sounds like a stick caught in your throat. And it’s even uglier than it sounds.

ALEC is short for American Legislative Exchange Council. We profiled it as “a secretive, sophisticated and sinister organization” in the February Retiree Advocate.

Well, it’s still sophisticated and sinister, but it’s a good deal less secretive now than it was a few months ago.

Founded in 1973 by the ultra-conservative Paul Weyrich, ALEC has always operated in the shadows. It claims nearly 2,000 state legislator members (only 69 of them Democrats) who pay a token $100 in dues. But its big money comes from 110 corporations, 40 trade associations, 67 nonprofits and 23 corporate law firms, each of which pays annual dues ranging from $7,000 to $25,000.

As we reported in February, ALEC brings together fat-cat corporate sponsors and right wing legislators to inject political poison into all 50 state legislatures. The poison takes the form of model legislation drafted by ALEC task forces and introduced in one legislature after another, often word for word.

ALEC is the source of more than a thousand bills during every legislative cycle. They claim that about 17 percent of those bills become law. The average lobbyist would sell his soul for that batting average.

Here’s the good news. Thanks to a whistleblower, a slew of internal ALEC documents have reached the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a nonprofit interest group. As a result we now have lists of current and former ALEC members and copies of more than 800 model bills. A special CMD website, ALEC Exposed, has made all this material accessible to the public.

ALEC’s unwanted exposure has also led a dozen of its corporate sponsors to quietly resign from the organization. Among them, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

ALEC legislation is across-the-board corporate wish fulfillment. Bills to undermine measures to combat climate change, bills to cut corporate taxes, bills to privatize government functions, bills to weaken labor – especially public workers – the list goes on. (For an analysis of the ALEC-sponsored campaign of voter suppression (see page 8).

One of ALEC’s “model laws” is Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” act, the legislation that vigilante George Zimmerman is relying on to escape punishment for having shot and killed the unarmed teen-ager, Trayvon Martin. The law allows a person to attack a perceived assailant, without having to retreat, if they believe they are in danger.

The nationwide outrage aroused by this killing “might finally shine a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society – and our democracy,” Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times.

Common Cause, the citizens advocacy group, reveals that the National Rifle Association, always a major source of funding for ALEC, asked at a closed-door meeting of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force to use the Florida law as a template for other legislatures.

That task force was chaired by a Walmart executive. Walmart is the nation’s No. 1 seller of guns and ammunition. Sure enough, in September, 2005, the “Stand Your Ground” bill created by the task force was adopted by ALEC’s board of directors.

Over the objections of law enforcement groups, the NRA in 2005 rammed the Stand Your Ground law through the Florida legislature, and it was signed by Governor Jeb Bush.

Florida law enforcement officials report that since 2005 the number of that state’s “justifiable homicides” has nearly tripled. In those seven years more than two dozen states have passed similar laws.

The heat ALEC has taken since the Trayvon Martin killing led it to quietly dissolve its Public Safety and Elections Task Force. ALEC is still powerful and dangerous, a political behemoth. But it’s not impervious to pressure from an aroused public.

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