ALEC is dead. Long live ALEC. Yesterday, the American Legislative Exchange Council — a national clearinghouse of pre-written right-wing bills, helpfully provided to conservative state legislators too dumb to come up with their own ideas — announced that it was abandoning the task force that pushed voter-surpression bills and "Stand Your Ground" laws like the one that led Sanford Police to free George Zimmerman the night he killed Trayvon Martin. "We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues," the group's statement said, "and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."
Which is a victory, sort of. But even when it's not actively trying to arm every white person and deny the vote to every black person, ALEC is creepy as fuck. Here's your guide.
What is ALEC?
According to its website, ALEC, or the America Legislative Exchange Council, is a non-profit "forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues."
I don't know what that means.
Basically, ALEC is the highway rest stop where huge corporations meet with state legislators to draft — or just hand over — "model legislation" that the lawmakers can take back to their home states.
How does that work, exactly?
Every year, ALEC throws an all-expenses-paid retreat, attended by its 2,000 legislative members and representatives from its hundreds of corporate partners. They hang out, party (child care is provided), recount frat hazing stories, and "discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues." Sometimes, this means outlining and drafting legislation together; more often, it means introducing and explaining pre-written bills for the legislators to propose, either wholesale, or with modifications.
You have an example?
Take The Council on Efficient Government Act, a bill mandating the creation of "a council on efficient government," composed entirely of people "engaged in the private sector," to "leverage resources and contract with private sector vendors." Written by one of ALEC's many "task forces," that bill has in the last few years been introduced verbatim to legislatures in South Carolina, Arizona and Illinois, copied with changes in Virginia, Oregon, Maryland and Kansas, or proposed in a modified form in several different states.
But why would state legislators do that?
Well, the obvious answer is that state legislators are not the sharpest Law Tools in the Democracy Shed, and they are easily-swayed by glad-handing Captains of Industry at ALEC's yearly retreat. The other answer is that they genuinely believe in the values espoused by ALEC and see no problem with introducing its bills without announcing their source. Also, they're lazy, and "writing laws" is not as a fun as "collecting Nazi memorabilia" or "installing cameras in the Starbucks women's restroom," or whatever it is that state senators do.
What, exactly, are the values espoused by ALEC?
ALEC's principles — located on the front page of its website — are "limited government, free markets [and] federalism."
Those are just meaningless conservative platitudes.
Well, it's a weird definition of "federalism," as ALEC's job is essentially to provide top-down, one-size-fits-all legislation across the country. But bills they introduce, as the ALEC Exposed project has documented, tend to focus on conservative obsessions like busting unions or limiting their power, blocking health-care reform, dismantling safety and environmental regulations, and generally pushing for as many government functions as possible to be taken over by profit-driven private companies — education in particular.
So they're, like, "economic" conservatives.
Because their biggest donors and strongest supporters tend to be big corporations, most of their model legislation has to do with traditionally pro-corporate issues. But until recently the "ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force" was pushing a lot of right-wing laws like Voted I.D. that tend to suppress minority votes — and, as the news has been noting, pro-gun laws like Stand Your Ground.
Ahhh, yeah. This is why they're in the news right now?
Yeah: For weeks now, liberal advocacy organizations like Color of Change have been putting pressure on ALEC's corporate sponsors to sever their ties with the group over its drafting of and lobbying for Stand Your Ground laws. After it became clear that Florida's Stand Your Ground law — which ALEC was involved with — was one of the reasons Sanford police didn't arrest George Zimmeman the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Shutting down the Guns and Poll Tax Squad, or whatever it was called, is ALEC's white flag; as Alex Pareene says, "major corporations... hadn't signed on for the full right-wing culture war."
Hey! Good for us, right?
Sure — it's always good when an organization like ALEC gets rolled. But activists have been aware of ALEC's influence on the lawmaking process for years, and it took a major national tragedy — plus "ALEC Exposed," last year's 800-page document leak spearheaded by the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation — to generate enough momentum to convince corporations to quit. All the rest of ALEC's task forces (Civil Justice, Education, Health and Human Safety) still exist, and are still writing and promoting gross legislation.
I mean, sorry, don't get me wrong, it's great! Power to the people, or whatever! But ALEC is still trying to bust unions, repeal taxes, end minimum wage laws, fight climate-change laws and environmental regulation and promote "tort reform."
And Ted Nugent, too. Right? I bet they're behind Ted Nugent.