The ALEC Controversy — Much Ado About Nothing

by Marlo Lewis on July 22, 2011 · 11 comments

in Features, Politics as Usual, Sanctimony, Zeitgeist

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I listened to the NPR segment about The Nation magazine and Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD’s) alleged exposé on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national association of conservative state legislators. Calling their project “ALEC Exposed,” The Nation and CMD try to make hay out of the well-known fact that ALEC’s task forces, which include both public- and private-sector members, draft model legislation “behind closed doors.” As if any lawmaker ever places in the public record his deliberative discussions with staff and lobbyists on legislation he is drafting!

The Nation and CMD also neglect to mention that although private-sector members have a “voice and a vote” in the task forces that develop model legislation, only the public-sector (state-legislator) members of ALEC’s board of directors decide which proposals become ALEC model bills.

More importantly, ALEC model bills only become law if they go through the same process of hearings and debate that other bills introduced in state legislatures do.

I checked out The Nation‘s landing page, then “Business Domination, Inc.” (the first of five articles posted on the site), then the CMD site and its archive of 800-plus ALEC model bills. There’s no there there. What The Nation and CMD are waging is just another lefty campaign to drive the marketplace out of the marketplace of ideas.

In “Business Domination, Inc.,” the authors claim that ALEC believes that “Any force in civil society, especially labor, that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus for itself, and to treat people like road kill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.” Didn’t Karl Marx say stuff like that about all capitalists?

The model bills the authors cite to illustrate ALEC’s alleged hostility to people and the earth in fact demonstrate ALEC’s fidelity to its mission, which is “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” One ALEC model bill would require a super-majority vote to raise taxes. Another would require tax rates to decline as state revenues increase, another would prohibit government agencies from unfairly competing with private-sector firms, another would require competitive contracting at the Department of Motor Vehicles, another would bar unions from using membership dues for political advocacy.

These and similar model bills are damning evidence of skulduggery only if one starts with the premise that for-profit companies are evil and have no legitimate place in the legislative process.

As noted, ALEC’s mission is to advance the principles of free markets, limited government federalism, and individual liberty. To do that effectively, ALEC needs (a) expertise and (b) muscle (lobbying support). Now, if you’re a conservative state legislator, who ya gonna call: the Sierra Club,, the Service Employees International Union? Naturally, you work with your allies — people in the private sector who know which taxes and regulations impede their ability to compete and create jobs, and who can mobilize support for legislation embodying “Jeffersonian principles.”

The Nation and CMD try to make a big deal over the fact that ALEC’s private sector members have the power to ”veto” any proposed model bill. While this is technically correct, the implication of impropriety is without merit. Before an ALEC task force (on energy, taxes, education, etc.) adopts a model bill, both the public- and the private-sector task force members must support it. This process that The Nation and CMD find so objectionable is called consensus-based decision making. It ensures that each ALEC task force is genuine partnership. It ensures that neither side can advance an agenda adverse to the principles or interests of the other side.

How weird that an organization whose last name is “Democracy” does not understand that when decisions are to be made by two co-equal partners, neither side can out-vote the other! Each party must have the power to “veto” the other, otherwise they are no longer equal.

While they’re at it, why don’t The Nation and CMD run an exposé on the role of unions and environmental groups in drafting and promoting labor and environmental laws? Well, because those are the right kind of people – you know, people who care about the “public interest” rather than profits.

So from their perspective, it’s totally fine, even noble, for example, that the Bluewater Network helped California legislator Fran Pavley draft AB 1493, the greenhouse gas (GHG) motor vehicle emissions bill that gave EPA the whip hand to ram GHG standards down the throat of the U.S. auto industry. But it’s not okay for businesses to help conservative legislators develop legislation to cut taxes or block GHG regulation in their respective states.

What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. In hard-core lefty politics, it never is. The hard left is not into fairness. They’re into power. And they know they can’t get power by playing fair.

Photo: The Nation’s John Nichols speaks at a union-funded rally in Madison, Wisc., to oppose changes to the unsustainable collective bargaining agreements of unionized government employees. Credit: fixjuxa on Flickr.

Anon July 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his friend George Logan, 1816

The major resistance to ALEC has NOT BEEN FROM UNIONS, but from individuals and activists (lot of them young people) that care deeply for this Country. This is NOT ABOUT UNIONS, this is about EVERYONE on a MULTITUDE of issues and policies (non-Union issues) and this is about DEMOCRACY vs CORPORATE CORRUPTION in its purest form. Who runs government? Citizens or corporations, make your choice.

The FIRST protest of ALEC was organized by mostly kids, unions were intentionally NOT INVITED. I was there and saw what our future generations did, they took action.

Our ‘moneyed corporations’ are writing our Nation’s laws. The advent of ALEC appears to be one of the most serious challenges to citizen driven democracy in US history, while only part of a national strategy or movement, ALEC is providing the content and materials for the execution of shaping America into something other than democracy, or even traditional capitalism, into something new.

ALEC is the execution arm of a conservative ‘industry’ or the conservative political power-for-profit environment (some call this the “vast ring wing conspiracy”) created and funded by mega-wealthy ideologues, right wing organizations, and finds it roots in the Council for National Policy and the Heritage Foundation, with which it is associated. Leaders in the GOP and conservative moment have been working on a stated national strategy to take their ‘revolution’ to the States.

While awareness of ALEC is starting to grow and action plans are starting to emerge, we will continue to resist the replacement of citizen government for some corporate sponsored monster.

Read MORE:

Anon July 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Just because YOU are a PAID hack, DO NOT ASSUME WE ARE.
CEI Senior Fellow
Lewis is the former Director of External Relations for the Reason Foundation and has served as Staff Director of the House Government Reform Subcommitte on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs for the 106th Congress. He writes for several publications, including Tech Central Station, and researches global warming, energy policy, and other public policy issues for CEI.

He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a B.A. in Political Science from Claremont McKenna College.

MnDem999 July 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I can’t honestly believe that you would say this with a straight face
“The Nation and CMD try to make a big deal over the fact that ALEC’s private sector members have the power to ”veto” any proposed model bill. While this is technically correct, the implication of impropriety is without merit. Before an ALEC task force (on energy, taxes, education, etc.) adopts a model bill, both the public- and the private-sector task force members must support it. ”

I can’t remember the last time MY legislator sat down with THEIR TRUE CONSTITUENTS – the state taxpayer – for two or three days to discuss OUR needs for legislature. The residents of any state would love to have their legislator’s attention for more than 2 hours at a town meeting – but I guess we don’t have enough cash in our pockets to get that type of attention.

So what you are saying is representative government is now – representation for corporations! Shame on you – you should be ahsamed! This is so incredibly sad – that you write to support this travesty of democracy –

Based on a free market theory – how much did you get paid for this?

Marc Scribner July 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Great job, Marlo! Speaking of “paid hacks,” I love, love, love the “ALEC is shadowy” BS coming from ex-USSR sympathizers at The Nation, et al. (and if you’re wealthy, far-left socialite Katrina vanden Heuvel, an actual information conduit for USSR/KGB propagandists into the late ’80s). Translation: we were too lazy to overcome our ignorance of the existence of a long-established center-right organization. But what do you expect from people who spent 70 years defending international communism and who routinely make light of or dismiss the fact that they spent decades pandering to regimes in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America that killed, tortured, and displaced far more people than even the fascists, and permanently damaged the psyches of many, many more? What a bunch of amoral creeps.

Bob Sloan July 22, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Oh what wicked webs…ALEC’s National Chairman just went on NPR and stated that the corporations represented by the Private Enterprise Board had no “vote” once they proposed the “legislation” at the Task Force level…that all subsequent voting is done by the “legislators” representing the public. Not only was that a lie, it was said with arrogance and a smirk. Thanks so much for contradicting the statements made by ALEC’s National Chairman…and oh, by the way…What happened to ALEC’s “Publicopoly” Initiative just rolled out a couple of months ago to help identify seven ways to privatize state operations, responsibilities and duties? If we, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy (note democracy is not in the middle as you mention) are so wrong about ALEC and their activities on behalf of their corporate partners wanting to privatize the entire nation, why did they pull this Publicopoly agenda down? All reference to it at the ALEC site is gone, erased, scrubbed…much like this attempt at justifying their activities should be. Why not post their membership lists? Why are lawmakers nationwide now trying to hide their membership and participation in this evil and un-democratic process?

Unions, students, workers, teachers are not responsible for enacting laws that benefited workers – the people combined were. ALEC is the conduit allowing Right Wing corporations and their owners to return us to low wages, no bargaining rights, privatization of education and reduce our voting numbers. All of this done without the benefit of allowing the public to have a voice.

Do you really think we’re so gullible as to think for one moment that a conservative lawmaker being wined, dined and funded by their corporate masters will vote the conscience of their constituents? Give us more credit than that. At ALEC neither Democrat, Independent or the average citizen has any say, input or control over proposed legislation intended to be enacted as laws we have to live by.

Shame on ALEC, their members – public and private – any your publication for attempting to turn back the clock and overcome democracy in such a clearly fascist manner.

Bob Sloan July 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm

This entire article is dis-informative and ignores the core issue of corporations being over-represented in the legislative processes. The interests of all individuals and business interests should be considered when a state works on legislation to become laws that all of use must live under. Creating and writing model legislation behind a curtain of secrecy by corporations partnered with lawmakers representing only one view – that of conservatism – cannot possibly result in model legislation that represents the views of liberals, progressives or independents. This concept leads to a preponderance of influence upon our laws by business and the conservative agenda they prescribe to, advanced without input from other genuine and established political positions and beliefs.

Proposing legislation that can – and has in hundreds of interests – become the law of the land in this manner disregards the beliefs of all non-conservative, non-business supporters. Thus this process is insidious and misrepresented by ALEC and you in the rush to attempt and somehow legitimize this kind of nefarious and non-democratic process and agenda.

You say the Private Enterprise Board of ALEC does in fact have a final vote on these Model legislations, yet yesterday ALEC’s National Chairman denied this when questioned. One of you is incorrect either through being misinformed or deliberately lying. I would simply point out that if ALEC is so legal, doing nothing wrong by their legislative efforts, not lobbying or violating any premise of legality…why are public members denying their membership? Why are they admitting membership in ALEC, but claiming they are inactive? Why are some also saying they “subscribe” to ALEC, but don’t really take part? Finally, if privatization is such a good thing for America…why did ALEC pull their “Publicopoly” initiative down from their site? This was their latest program designed to push for privatization of most state and federal programs, responsibilities and services. After only a few weeks – they pull it down? Is it possible that once a light was shone on them they decided to pull Publicopoly back into the hole behind them?

McFish July 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Amoral creeps” that’s what ALEC is. How would “Fox News” spin this if the “evil” unions operated this way?

Bob Sloan July 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Like a top on steroids.

Yezhov July 23, 2011 at 8:08 am

Thomas Jefferson proposed the lex talionis for Virginia. Here is his legislative proposal for sex offenses.
“Whoever shall be guilty of rape, polygamy, or sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least. “(JP 2.497)

In it’s touted “shadowy/secret” deliberations, did ALEC approve or disapprove? After all it’s an articulated Jeffersonian principle.

Bob Sloan July 23, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Gotta say, I haven’t seen any women lately with extra holes in their noses, so maybe that’s one of the Jeffersonian Principles they ignored.

Diana Davies August 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm

If ALEC is so benign and wonderful, instead of the secrecy, why aren’t its members rushing forward to proudly identify themselves? Because ALEC is nothing more than a conspiracy to further a corporate agenda to the detriment of the citizenry; the stealth dismantling of our democracy in favor of corporate anarchy?

I am requesting that the FBI investigate ALEC re bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and treason. Considering the misery, death and destruction ALEC’s activities are, and will, cause to our people and our planet (re legislation detrimental to healthcare, the environment, etc ) terrorism should be added to that list.

ALEC members will soon find that their association with ALEC is toxic. Legislators who break the public trust by accepting ALEC’s bribes will be voted out of office. Corporate members are now being boycotted.

You will find that the American people are not sheep. We’ve fought Fascism before and won. Expect us.

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