BREAKING NEWS: Today, June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court dealt a mixed bag to ALEC when the Court:
A 100-year-old Montana Law that bans corporate money in elections as anti-Citizens United
Life without Parole for Teens, under the age of 14, convicted of murder
3 of 4 parts of Arizona SB1070 Immigration law –
- crime for an undocumented immigrant to be in Arizona
- crime for an undocumented immigrant to seek employment in Arizona
- allowed for Arizona police to arrest anyone they believed had committed a deportable crime
Arizona SB1070 ‘papers please’ section which allows the police to detain anyone arrested for any crime until verification of immigration status is received from the federal government database.
So, who is ALEC and how could ALEC be involved in such diverse Supreme Court rulings?
GOOGLE search "The American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC".
You will find that ALEC was the brainchild of a group of conservative policy advocates, state legislators, as well as members of the US Congress. This group met to determine how they could work together to enact legislation, focused at the state level, which promoted their shared beliefs in "limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty." The group believed that local government was the guarantor of individual freedoms and better reflected the values of the people. The "distant, bloated federal government in Washington DC" was an infringement on ‘states’ rights’ and individual liberty.
This meeting was held in 1973 – 39 years ago. ALEC highlights that at that meeting were:
Illinois State Rep Henry Hyde (R), who went on to serve in the US House of Representative from Illinois’ 6th District from 1975 – 2007;
Paul Weyrich a conservative activist who is credited as being the ‘father of the new right wing’ and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation; and
Lou Barnett a renowned conservative activist who revived and revitalized the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and National Political Director of Reagan’s PAC, Citizens for the Republic.
Barnett’s involvement in this movement was crucial given his connection to Reagan. Reagan, early in his first administration, started the Task Force on Federalism, which relied on ALEC as expert witnesses at Congressional Hearings. In response to this new ‘expert’ recognition, ALEC started several task forces dealing with policy issues, again providing the expert witnesses to congress.
At the end of the Reagan administration, ALEC changed its’ focus from conservative ideas clearinghouse to think tanks and "model bill movers." As ALEC says on its’ web site: "They began to actively solicit more input from private sector members, seizing upon ALEC’s long-time philosophy that the private sector should be an ally rather than an adversary in developing sound public policy." That was in 1989 – 23 years ago.
Some of the people who have been involved in ALEC since the beginning have very familiar names today, even if they were not nationally known when they first joined. They include Gov John Kasich, (R OH), Gov John Branstad (R IA), former Governors Tommy Thompson (R WI) and John Engler (R MI). (Scott Walker was an ALEC member when he was a WI State representative.) ALEC is especially proud of how many of its’ members have moved from the state legislatures to now serve in the US Congress and in recognition of this has started the "Federal Relations" program. "The focus of the Federal Relations program is to build a productive, bipartisan working relationship among current and former ALEC members at all levels of government. It enables ALEC members, both state and federal, to secure and protect a sound, balanced government."
Today, eighty-eight ALEC members serve in the US House of Representatives including John Boehner (R OH), Eric Cantor (VA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R WA), Steve King (R IA) and Joe Wilson (R SC). Nine ALEC members serve in the senate including Lindsey Graham (R SC), James Inhofe (R OK), Marco Rubio (R FL), Richard Shelby (R AL) – oh, and Joe Manchin (D WV)(the sole democrat listed).
As proud as ALEC is of the number of state legislators, and now federal legislators who are members, they are especially proud of the number and industry diversity of their corporate members. These corporate members pay the lion’s share of ALEC funding. ALEC estimates that only about 10% of their funding come from legislators. The rest comes from corporate dues as well as substantial additional fees to be members of an ALEC task force. As a result, their corporate members have played a very active, highly influential role in the writing of the ‘model’ legislation that the states are considering or have enacted. Of course, legislation that favorably impacts their industry.
According to ALEC, "One of ALEC’s greatest strengths is the public-private partnership. ALEC provides the private sector with an unparalleled opportunity to have its’ voice heard, and its’ perspective appreciated, by the legislative members." (Emphasis added) In this context, "private sector" means corporations.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v FEC is the natural consequence of the ALEC belief that the ‘free market’ is the best arbiter of public policy. In fact, while the Supreme Court was first hearing the arguments for Citizens United, ALEC wrote and adopted: "Resolution Supporting Citizens Involvement in Elections." When Chief Justice John Roberts ordered the case to be reargued before the Court, the Citizens United lawyers used the language from ALEC’s resolution in their argument and this language was further reflected in the Court’s decision. In this context, "citizens" means corporations.
After the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, ALEC adopted "Resolution in support of the Citizens United Decision" in which it advocated that shareholders could not have a say in whether corporate money was spent on political campaigning and further, that American subsidiaries of foreign companies could not be banned from participating in political advertising because this would "strip First Amendment rights from American citizens." Oddly, shareholder citizen’s rights are limited while corporate citizen’s rights are protected even though they reside outside of U.S. boarders. Clearly, while all "citizens" are equal, some are more equal than others.
Romney’s "Corporations are people, too" is perfect synergy with the mission of ALEC.
The partnership between corporations and politicians, in ALEC’s words: "identifies issues and then responds with common-sense result-oriented policies. The two groups work in unison to solve the challenges facing the nation with results that will define the American political landscape in the 21st century."
For 39 years, 23 of which it was writing model legislation for the states and writing aggressive tactics to ensure passage by the states, ALEC operated under the radar. For 23 years, ALEC wrote and states enacted into law bills that impacted the American people and pushed America, itself, ever further towards benefits for corporations at the expense of the rest of us. ALEC provided guidelines to the states on how to get the laws passed – overwhelm the legislature so that the opposition cannot effectively fight the bills. Use pretty words, political hot buttons and innocuous language to gain public support for their bills.
So what is the result? The ALEC Task Force Public Safety & Elections’ role and influence on criminal sentencing and prison operations is a good example. The task force has played a major role in dramatically raising prison occupancy rates and privatizing prisons thereby creating a golden business opportunity for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) founded in 1983, GEO Group, founded in 1984, and other for-profit prison management firms who have written the legislation.
During his presidency, Reagan declared a ‘war on crime’ and at the Federal level instituted several laws that toughened incarceration laws, such as mandatory sentencing laws for Federal Judges. As documented on ALEC’s web page regarding ALEC’s history, ALEC and their corporate members were used by the Reagan administration as ‘experts’, so it is fair to assume they were involved in the writing of these new federal laws.
These laws were sold to the American public as ‘public safety’ ‘law and order’ being ‘tough on crimes’, or as Reagan framed it – a war of good against evil. And, the ‘good’ felt safer.
In the 1990s state laws that reinforced the Reagan era federal laws were written and enacted across the country. And who wrote these laws? ALEC – thanks to CCA and GEO Group. All of these bills increase the incarceration and retention rates in America. A few examples:
The mandatory minimum sentence for non-violent drug offences;
Three strikes law – on the third conviction, a life sentence is imposed;
Truth in sentencing laws which require inmates to serve their full sentence, without chance of parole or early release;
Trying (and sentencing) juveniles as adults.
All of these state laws were sold to a willing public because they would get the thugs – the bad guys – off the streets. What they really did and were intended to do was increase the prison population in America, to increase the profit potential of private management prisons. Voila – America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With five percent of the world’s population, we have twenty five percent of the worlds incarcerated in our jails.
Criminologists account for this by explaining that we now jail for what other countries see as minor offences (passing bad checks, possessing drugs) and our sentences for all crimes are longer than other countries.
Recognizing more business generates more profit, ALEC, or more correctly, CCA and GEO Group, crafted Arizona’s SB1070 anti-immigration law. (Russell Pearce, former AZ State senator and sponsor of SB1070, and Jan Brewer, AZ Governor, who signed SB1070 into law are members of ALEC.) The objective is to have Arizona prisons managed by these private for-profit companies kept to overflowing capacity with detained illegals.
ALEC, with bills written by private for-profit prison corporations to increase incarceration rates and prisoner retention rates, and ALEC, with bills written by these same private for-profit prison corporations, have written bills to privatize prisons.
For the most part, these private for-profit prison corporations like CCA and GEO Group have managed state prisons under contract with the state. They are paid a per prisoner per diem for their management operations. Recently, though, Gov Kasich (R OH) upped CCA’s prison footprint when Ohio sold a state prison to them, while contractually agreeing that the state guarantees 90% occupancy. This is the endgame: increase prison populations – increase private for-profit management or ownership of prisons with guaranteed occupancy – increase profits.
Good Job, ALEC and the private for-profit prison corporations.
There are so many more examples, but the ALEC-NRA connection stands out because it was ALEC activity in this regard that exposed it’s operations to the public. ALEC-NRA wrote the ‘Stand Your Ground’, legislation which basically eliminates government intrusion in the form of police, judge, and jury from our judicial system. The killing of Trayvon Martin, with the shooter walking free because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law caused an eruption throughout the country. It was Trayvon Martin’s death that finally led to the lid being blown off and ALEC’s secret involvement in America’s laws exposed.
Thanks to groups like ColorOfChange, and ALEC Exposed, as well as other progressive groups, American’s now know about ALEC. These groups have been incredibly successful at exposing ALEC corporate members and organizing public campaigns to pressure corporations to drop their ALEC membership. In April 2012, ALEC announced it would stop working on anything but economic issues. However, as ColorOfChange has uncovered, this announcement was little more than a PR stunt. The ‘non-economic’ task forces have just been folded into the ‘economic’ task forces. So their work continues.
What is outrageous and insidious about the corporate involvement in writing ‘model bills’ that favorably impact its’ industry – we actually paid for this outrage when we purchased products or shopped certain stores. Every time we drank a coke or pepsi, shopped at Walmart, bought on Amazon, bought Johnson & Johnson drugs or hygiene products, we helped to pay for this right wing legislation. Though the companies listed above as well as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Kraft Foods have all withdrawn their membership in ALEC, many more companies remain as members.
Not surprisingly, Koch Industries, owned by the infamously conservative Koch brothers, remains a corporate member. But so have many others corporations. Have you ever taken a Bayer aspirin? Sent a package UPS? Bought electronics at Best Buy? These are but some of the many big name corporations that are retaining their membership with ALEC. (A complete list can be obtained at ALEC Exposed.org)
Alec Exposed didn’t just identify the corporations who were members; they also listed by state all legislator members. As a result of this exposure, 54 legislators have resigned from ALEC, 40 of whom are democrats, but hundreds more legislators remain active ALEC members. (Again, go to ALEC Exposed.org for the list.)
ALEC is registered as a 501(c)(3) – a non-profit. According to the IRS a 501(c)(3) is defined: "To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) . . . In addition, it may not be an action organization ie, it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities. . ."
What a joke.
ALEC is not happy having been exposed, but has vowed to carry on law writing work. We are 23 years late in fighting their radical free market agenda. ALEC with its corporate partners have written laws that affect every aspect of American life and all the while America slept, allowing it to happen.
Republicans yell "States’ Rights". The (duly elected) government in Washington DC has no right to enact laws that impinge on states’ rights. But an ultra conservative, Washington DC think tank, where (unelected) corporations write laws that are in the best interest of the corporation somehow enhances individual liberty and states’ rights.
The hypocrisy is outstanding.