Right-Wing ALEC Retreats on Most Controversial Issues
Under growing public pressure and the departure of multiple corporate members, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has announced it is disbanding the Task Force that has been responsible for some of the organization's most controversial pieces of legislation. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced several bills approved by that Task Force when he was a legislator in the 1990s and early 2000s.
For at least three decades, the corporations, special interest groups, and legislators on the ALEC Public Safety & Elections Task Force (known as the Criminal Justice Task Force until 2009) have approved model bills that promote for-profit prisons and lengthen prison sentences, criminalize immigrants, expand the "war on drugs," thwart evidence-based pre-trial release programs in favor of for-profit bail-bonding, and many other policies.
In recent weeks, ALEC has been under increasing scrutiny for that Task Force's role in advancing laws that promote voter suppression, and for adopting the so-called Stand Your Ground law, which in Florida had been cited to prevent the prosecution of the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Corporate Exodus Leads to Disbanding Task Force
As the result of a campaign by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way, CREDO, and others, a stampede of ALEC member corporations have announced they are severing their ties from the organization.
As Mark Schmitt of the Roosevelt Institute notes in the New Republic, "[f]ar from 'intimidation,' what the boycott threat did was force the companies to make a more careful, deliberate choice about what kind of political speech it actually wanted to support and put its reputation behind." And companies like McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and others apparently do not want to be associated with policies like those coming out of the Public Safety & Elections Task Force.
ALEC's responses to the campaign also claimed that "ALEC policies promote 'economic vitality.'" But many noted that it was hard to see how policies like Stand Your Ground and voter suppression promoted "economic vitality."
Apparently in response to the corporate exodus, and to the contradictions between ALEC's stated mission and its policies, the organization issued a press release today stating they are "eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force that dealt with non-economic issues" and that they would be "redoubling our efforts on the economic front."
CMD's Executive Director Lisa Graves said:
"ALEC's announcement is a partial victory for the power of grassroots citizen action, but for Americans concerned about brand-name corporations underwriting ALEC's extreme agenda to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote and to protect armed vigilantes, ALEC's PR maneuver to try to distance itself from its record of extremism is an empty gesture unless it and the corporations that have bankrolled its operations work to repeal ALEC-backed laws that have advanced the NRA's agenda and that will impede citizens from voting in the coming elections."
As CMD has reported, the NRA conceived the so-called Stand Your Ground law in Florida, promoted its passage, then brought it to the ALEC in 2005, where the legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a "model bill." At the time, Wal-Mart was the Task Force co-chair, and the NRA led the Task Force in subsequent years. Since becoming an ALEC model it has become law in dozens of other states, and the number of homicides classified as "justifiable" has dramatically increased in many states (and jumped 300 percent in Florida). In 2009, members of the same Task Force approved the model "Voter ID Act", versions of which were introduced in a majority of states in 2011.