Wising up to ALEC: better late than never

A new website—ALEC Exposed—is shedding much-needed light on the politically conservative American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC]. Launched on July 13, 2011 by the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC Exposed offers:

…a trove of more than 800 “model” bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through ALEC. These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state.

Until ALEC Exposed came along, these “model” bills were available only to members on ALEC’s password-protected site.

ALEC bills, which largely benefit the organization’s corporate members, have been introduced in legislatures in every state—but without disclosing to the public that corporations previously drafted or voted on them through ALEC.

Before ALEC Exposed published these bills, it was difficult to trace the numerous controversial and extreme provisions popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC and its corporate underwriters.

The Center obtained copies of the bills after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistle-blower provided a copy to the Center.

The bills and resolutions, says ALEC Exposed, affect worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and environmental issues. The Center for Media and Democracy has analyzed and annotated the bills and resolutions to help readers understand what the bills do, which often is the exact opposite of their public-relations-shaped and frequently Orwellian-double-speak titles.

Only by seeing the depth and breadth and language of the bills can one fully understand the power and sweep of corporate influence behind the scenes on bills affecting the rights and future of every American in every single state.

ALEC Exposed invites readers to engage in the analysis and dialogue—not just through comments, but as active analysts and reporters. The site encourages readers to report on ALEC-created bills in their own states and to document the corporations, organizations and politicians who are backing them. To this end, the site offers a Wikipedia-like format open to contributors’ findings and observations.

A good example of an analysis of how ALEC’s model bills have shaped state legislation–in Missouri– has just been published at Progress Missouri.The report not only shows the direct connection between ALEC’s model language and specific bills introduced in the Missouri Legislature, it also names names, revealing which state legislators backed the ALEC-dictated bills.

All of the above is the good news.  The bad news is that ALEC is far from new and has been molding [even that seems too weak a word] state legislative agendas and votes for many years. [In August 2011, ALEC is holding its 38th–yes, 38th!– annual meeting, this time in New Orleans.] I learned this disheartening fact a few months ago, when the topic of ALEC arose during a casual conversation I had with a former Missouri legislator known as a stalwart progressive. While the legislator was glad that people were wising up to ALEC and its far-right and far-reaching agenda, she was bemused by leaders of progressive blog world announcing that they had suddenly “discovered” this supposedly new and nefarious political force. To illustrate the belatedness of the left’s new-found awareness of ALEC, she shared a story: Many years ago, when she was a political newbie, she was invited to attend a regional meeting of ALEC, which she knew little about. A much savvier colleague clued her in, she remembered, and advised her, in no uncertain terms, to stay as far away from that meeting as possible.  She didn’t attend, but at least she knew what ALEC was up to, and that was long before the rest of us got the memo. Back then, “reasonable” people were shocked—shocked—at Hilary Clinton’s seemingly bitter and paranoid remark about a vast, right-wing conspiracy. [In the 90s, I would have had to encase that phrase in quotation marks. At least we’re finally over that.]

Clearly, progressives have been asleep at the wheel, while ALEC has been wide-awake, hyper-active, injecting itself with right-wing growth hormones and muscling —quite effectively—its corporate-sponsored, anti-democracy agenda. It makes you wonder: What else are we missing, ignoring or denying?