This weekend, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a meeting in Chicago. If you are still unfamiliar with ALEC, you are no doubt familiar with its legislation, such as Stand Your Ground laws, Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-immigration law, and the new wave of Voter ID laws designed to limit votes by minorities and the poor.
ALEC was created 40 years ago by a group of conservatives and large corporations. It was formed out of frustration with Congress; that it was too difficult to pass corporate-friendly laws at the national level. So corporations turned to state legislatures under the belief that they could more effectively change American politics state by state.
ALEC reached out to other large corporations for funding and to conservative legislators for influence and power. ALEC hired attorneys to draft “model” legislation that would benefit large corporations and the conservative cause. It charged conservative legislators a small membership fee and paid for them to attend ALEC meetings. At the meetings, ALEC handed members bills (up to 1,000/year) for them to sponsor during their legislative sessions, and many did so without even bothering to read the text.
For 38 years, all of this happened out of the sight of American citizens. No legislators talked about ALEC. No media covered the organization.
Then, in 2011, a few organizations began to shine a light on ALEC. The Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation created a project named ALEC Exposed. Moyers & Company broadcast the documentary United States of ALEC. And other groups got into the act, turning up the heat on sponsoring corporations. As a result, 49 corporations have been forced to disassociate themselves from ALEC and stop their funding.
ALEC is no longer operating below the radar and more people are discovering its impact on our democracy. As it gathered for its 40th anniversary session, thousands of union members, civil rights activists, environmentalists, and others have vowed to surround the auditorium and take to the streets to demonstrate.
The scrutiny has had an impact. Yet many of ALEC’s corporate sponsors are unphased. I have written to those with which I do business with no response. I’ve ended one long-standing business relationship as a result. I’m switching my insurance coverage from State Farm. And I plan to end relationships with any other ALEC sponsors. This is the only way we have to show our disdain for an organization that meets behind closed doors to shape laws that favor corporations over people.
Congressional lobbyists are bad. ALEC is worse. Both are undemocratic and un-American.
If you’d like to learn more and see a list of the corporations that sponsor ALEC, visit ALECWatch.org.