Inside ALEC's Powerful, Right-Wing Indoctrination Machine
Continued from previous page
ALEC's various Task Forces have altogether produced thousands of pieces of model legislation that have little to do with organic movements inside the states and everything to do with top-down nationwide attacks on workers' rights, environmental and other industry regulations, as well as pushes to accelerate the privatization of public education, federal lands, and the criminal justice system. The group has proven to be an ingenious multi-purpose tool for expanding corporate power. Like any lobby shop, it is pay-to-play. Corporate memberships run between $7,000 and $25,000, which buys full voting rights on Task Forces that function as bill mills for national and multinational corporations, industrial trade associations, and right-wing think tanks. Just as $100 is a steal for legislators, $25,000 is a bargain on the private sector side. As early as 1995, an article sent to ALEC's private sector members boasted of the group's growing effectiveness. "With our success rate at more than 20 percent [of bills passed] I would say that ALEC is a good investment," then-executive director Samuel Brunelli told corporate backers. "Nowhere else can you get a return that high."
The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule over everything from vast tracts of American wilderness to K through 12 education.
But ALEC's long-term goals are increasingly threatened by growing public awareness of its work. For years it has increased its influence while flying low enough to the ground to avoid public radar. This began to change last summer, when Lisa Graves, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for legal policy at the Justice Department, launched ALECexposed.org after a whistleblower shared with her hundreds of ALEC bills pre-voted on by corporate lobbyists. "The leaks let us connect all of the dots for the first time," says Graves. Among the most important of these dots was the revelation that ALEC had been a driving force, along with its close ally the NRA, behind 24 states' adoption of the gun industry's "Stand Your Ground" law. The law became the subject of fierce national debate when it was applied to Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, protecting him from arrest and complicating his prosecution.
"We had a growing amount of press coverage when the Trayvon Martin tragedy captured the media's attention," says Graves. "That, combined with ALEC's role in making it harder for Americans to vote in states across the country, led to the breakthrough in public awareness about this secretive group." A coalition of progressive organizations -- led by Color of Change, Common Cause, Credo, People for the American Way, Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy -- resulted in raising the profile on ALEC's work and triggering calls for transparency. Thirty corporations have since broken off from the group, many claiming that they joined because of narrow economic interests and want no part of ALEC's broader agenda touching on guns and voting.
When the corporate exodus began, ALEC responded by dissolving the Public Safety and Elections Task Force that produced "Stand Your Ground" at the NRA's urging. By all appearances, the scrapping of the task force is more cosmetic surgery than organ removal. The NRA bought a large booth in this year's exhibition hall and sponsored a trap shoot on the last day of the conference, as it has for the past several years. Present in Salt Lake City was not only the NRA's state coordinator Chuck Cunningham, but also NRA board member Grover Norquist.
When asked if he still considers ALEC a useful vehicle of influence without the Task Force, Cunningham muttered something about "going where the legislators are" and turned away. It was understandable that Cunningham wasn't eager to speak to press. Days before the start of the Salt Lake conference, a mentally unbalanced Colorado man killed 12 and wounded dozens in a crowded movie theater. The ALEC gun agenda, crafted over the years with NRA participation, features a variety of bills and resolutions aimed at weakening gun restriction, notably support for assault weapons of the kind used in multiple recent gun massacres.