Corporate America’s Shadow Government

Ever wonder why, when Arizona passes an anti-immigrant bill, suddenly similar bills show up in other state legislatures? Or why, as North Carolina legislators introduce a Voter ID bill designed to suppress minority and student votes, similar bills are making their way through dozens of other states?

It’s not coincidence. And it’s not merely some sort of copycat, legislative follow-the-leader. It’s orchestrated by an organization called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

Sponsored by large corporations, ALEC describes itself as “a membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions.” More accurately, describes the group as “a screen for hundreds of big corporations and trade associations to advance their legislative agendas in state capitols from coast to coast.”

Membership of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board reads like a Who’s Who of big, greedy corporations and conservative special interest groups: CenterPoint360, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Reynolds American, Wal-Mart, Johnson&Johnson, PhRMA, KraftFoods, AT&T, UPS, ExxonMobil, Altria, State Farm, and, of course, the now infamous Koch Industries, to name but a few.

Here’s how it works: ALEC maintains a staff of “scholars”, lawyers and conservative ideologues who write legislation on behalf of its corporate sponsors. It then distributes the proposed bills for its legislative members to introduce in every state legislature in America. Often the legislators don’t even read the bills which carry their names until after they’ve introduced them. An example is a Florida legislator who, upon introducing a bill on the floor of the Florida statehouse, began reading the ALEC “for your eyes only” instructions that accompanied the bill.

In Arizona alone, ALEC members have introduced more than 50 ALEC–authored bills during the current legislative session. These bills read like a robber baron’s wish list, ranging from cutting corporate taxes to eliminating collective bargaining to privatizing more prisons to eliminating regulations and public oversight of corporations.

There are no comparable organizations for private citizens and progressives. Indeed, ALEC’s website brags that “ALEC is the only state legislative organization that adopts policies and creates model legislation for its members to use in their states. To date, ALEC has nearly 1,000 pieces of model legislation.”

And you probably thought your legislators were elected to work for you! To learn more, read the report on ALEC by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council.