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ALEC is a Shadowy Organization Which Promotes Corporate Interests and Harms Democracy

With the recent controversy of the death of Trayvon Martin, the conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has come under attacks from public interest groups. Consequently, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Intuit pulled out their memberships with ALEC, an action lauded as a major victory for liberals. However, it is too soon to applaud these recent successes. ALEC, whose influence extends beyond Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law, has disfranchised America through its legislation franchising.

ALEC claims its mission is to “advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty,” developing policies to ensure “the powers of government are derived from, and assigned to, first the People.” As a 501(c)3 tax-exempted, bipartisan non-profit, ALEC is far from being bipartisan. The majority of its 2,000 state legislators are Republican and only one of its 29 directors is a Democrat.

Under Code section 501(c)3, ALEC is supposed to follow a 50% limitation of expenditures towards lobbying. Its documents show that lawmakers pay $50 a year to become a member, while America's 300 biggest corporations pay annually from $7,000 to $25,000 to join. These corporations account for 98% of ALEC's $7 million dollar budget. The membership dues are broken down as follows: $5,000-$50,000 to advance their agendas and $1,500-$5,000 to participate in its task forces (where legislators welcome corporate executives as “equals” in drafting model bills). The organization also has expenses that often go unreported, like valuable perquisites for legislators’ spouses and children or paid trips to Australia where, as State Senator Raymond Hayes acknowledged, little work is conducted.

Besides indications that the majority of its expenses fund lobbying efforts, ALEC, with its non-profit status, gets away with a lack of transparency. Its model bill database and discussion sessions where bills are written are exclusive to members. Draft legislations are not publicized, nor are its lobbyists’ input into those bills disclosed.

Thus, although state legislators like Governor Chris Christie have proposed bills strikingly similar to ALEC proposals in ideas, specific numbers, time frames, benchmarks, and language (and having a chief of staff that is an ALEC alumni)he still deniesconnections to the organization. State Senator Joseph Kyrillos (R-New Jersey) collected $72,000 from ALEC members while saying he had not been involved with ALEC for 20 years. During the 2010 election cycle, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) received $368,200 from ALEC’s private enterprise board, more than any other federal politician.

In 2011, when history professor William Cronon, a self-described political moderate, questioned ALEC’s role in Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill, the Wisconsin Republican Party requested Cronon’s copies of emails containing any of a wide range of terms, including “Republican” and names of Republican politicians.

ALEC’s mission of promoting limited government is deeply misleading. In reality, it promotes privatizing government and allowing corporations to profit from taxpayers’ dollars. One of its benefactors, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) made the offer to buy up prison populations at discount as long as state kept prisons 90 percent filled. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of inmates in private facilities grew 1664 percent, earning CCA almost $3 billion in 2010 while violating sanitation and human rights without being subjected to the Freedom of Information Act.

Another benefactor of ALEC is the American Beverage Association (ABA) which lobbies behind the claims that “sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes.”  In 2009, when soda taxes were actively discussed and introduced to 12 states, Coke and ABA successfully campaigned against these measures. While those measures could have generated a total of more than $10 billion per year for the states and reduced the deficit, the states are now spending more taxpayers’ money on subsidizing treatment for diabetes.

Not only does it advance corporate interests, ALEC is linked to recent voter ID laws passed in several states by Republican legislators. According to a recent report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, those laws can affect more than 5 million voters. ALEC founder Paul Weyrich nonchalantly expresses his stand: “I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

ALEC boasts 20 percent of its 1,000 proposals go into laws every year, yet its political influence went unnoticed. Americans should not be too cheerful about the recent organizing successes, because although Coca-Cola, Kraft, PepsiCo and Intuit dropped their ALEC memberships, the other 294 corporations have not. Neither are ALEC’s 2,000 state legislators transparent about its influence.

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