Notorious Pro-Corporate Group ALEC's Hidden Role in Stoking Class War in Wisconsin and the Rest of America

The current anti-union campaign being implemented in Wisconsin and other states has the fingerprints of the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) all over it.

AlterNet writer Joshua Holland recently identified ALEC as one of the behind-the-scenes players in the Wisconsin showdown. It's important to shine a bright light on ALEC to reveal how one aspect of the class war gripping America today is being fought out.

ALEC has unprecedented influence in Washington and state capitols throughout the country. According to Jonathan Williams, ALEC's fiscal policy director, "Wisconsin has become ground zero." He adds, "What happens could serve as a domino, win or lose, in either direction."

Williams, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, hides his union-bashing politics behind the threat of fiscal crisis. In an interview of PBS's New Hour, he elaborated: "Wisconsin is a state in serious fiscal problems right now. So, the question is, is, you know, the budgeting as usual isn't working here, and, so, what are the major reforms that we can accomplish to solve this budget shortfall without going back to the taxpayers and asking for more?"

Union busting is part of the broader campaign to eviscerate the middle class. Corporations and right-wing ideologues are promoting stringent right-to-work provisions. In Virginia, along with Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin, bills have been introduced to incorporate such laws into the respective state constitutions.

Efforts are also underway to end the union dues check-off, which the right-wing calls "paycheck protection" laws. Such legislation has been passed in Alabama, Utah and Idaho; it is being pushed in Wisconsin as well as in Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri.

The assault on the middle-class taking place in Wisconsin involves an attack on their wages, their right to join a union, their self-esteem and the very future of America. The same battle is being played out in different forms throughout the country. In Wisconsin and Indiana, Republicans are aggressively wagging the class war campaign; in California and New York, Democratic moderates are implementing a softer version of the same campaign.

* * *

If you think the battle over labor rights now being fought out in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and other states is purely a matter of coincidence or budget shortfalls, I've got a bridge to sell you.

The Wisconsin showdown is a result of an economic crisis precipitated by bankers, financial speculators and intentionally inept regulators. In line with Naomi Klein's argument in The Shock Doctrine, America's Great Recession served to destabilize the nation's economy so as to facilitate the systematic expropriation of the personal and social wealth of the middle-class. The effort by Wisconsin citizens opposing Gov. Walker's anti-labor campaign is an attempt to halt this ongoing plunder.

The Republican campaign being waged against the rights of middle-class Americans, particularly government employees, is surely part of a well-financed, orchestrated and coordinated campaign. If our legal system recognized class war as a crime, many of today's most reactionary but celebrated public figures and organizations would be arrested, tried and judged for the crimes they committed against the well-being the majority of Americas. Alas, class war in America is merely another name for libertarian freedom.

Republican forces are collaborating in the massive robbery of the collective wealth and precious self-esteem amassed by the America middle-class since it took shape following World War II. And ALEC is at the center of this political campaign. Its programs fashion the legislative agenda of class robbery that defines American politics today.

Arch-reactionary Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation helped found ALEC in 1973. It promotes itself as a "nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators that favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions." It claims to "advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty." Whether its claims are making Jefferson spin in his grave is an open question; nevertheless, ALEC's campaign is clear. It seeks to destroy unions and help further shift wealth to the upper class.

ALEC is, formally, a non-profit group that drafts model legislation. It has an estimated membership exceeding 2,400 state legislators from both political parties, but most are conservative Republicans. It regularly invites members to all-expense paid private gatherings with corporate executives and lobbyists where they devise model legislation to fulfill their political agenda. These legislators, in turn, return to their home states and promote the legislation at state houses throughout the country. Many of their initiatives are enacted.

Fortune reported that during the 2009 legislative session, ALEC developed 826 state bills and 115 of them were made into law. (In 2010, the GOP picked up more than 700 seats in state legislatures and now controls 25 state legislatures, up from 14.) According to Edwin Bender, executive director, National Institute on Money in State Politics, "Corporations can implement their agendas very effectively using ALEC."

Its principal funding comes from large corporate backers and right-wing foundations. About 300 corporate sponsors pay membership fees ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Its backers include American Express, Coors, Wal-Mart, Texaco, GlaxoSmithKline, Philip Morris, Corrections Corporation of America and Koch Industries as well as the National Rifle Association. Among its telecommunications backers are AT&T, Sprint and Verizon as well as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

ALEC actively supports repealing the minimum wage, privatizing Social Security and replacing guaranteed health benefits with medical savings accounts. It gives large donations and other perks to legislators, most often reactionary Republicans, in states across the country to carryout corporate initiatives. A couple of these efforts are illustrative.

It took a strong hand in shaping the opposition of conservative state politicians to national health-care reform. Under the federal program, Medicaid will expand and states will be expected to play a major role in implementing the health care law and to create exchanges for individuals to compare and purchase coverage. ALEC played a key role developing the campaign pushed by Republican attorney generals, led by Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli, against "Obamacare."

ALEC played an essential role in Arizona's anti-immigration law. State legislator Russell Pearce is reported to have participated in an invitation-only meeting at the Washington, D.C., Grand Hyatt in which ALEC representatives, along with NRA and Corrections Corporation of America delegates, drafted what became known as the "Show Us Your Papers" anti-immigrant bill.

It has also been a steadfast proponent of telecommunications deregulations and an opponent to Net neutrality. Among the telecom legislations it has backed have included are the "Advanced Voice Services Availability Act of 2007," "Broadband Parity Act," "Cable and Video Competition Act" and the "Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act." The Advanced Voice Services Act was written to block state public utility commissions (PUCs) from regulating rates, terms or conditions for interconnected Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like that offered by Vonage.

* * *

ALEC and the other class-war advocates are systematically killing the American middle class. The income of ordinary Americans has been flat for decades and only the two-income family and the incurring of mounting debt has kept them above water. However, in the face of the popping of the housing bubble and the Great Recession, increasing numbers of American are drowning in poverty.

But the rich are getting richer. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the top 1 percent controlled 23 percent of all income in 2006, the same level the super-rich held just prior to the 1929 stock market crash when it controlled 24 percent of all income. One can only imagine that by 2011, this situation has gotten more severe. [EPI, State of Working America, 2010]

The fiction that America is a nation without class, a lie since its inception a half-century ago, gets more and more untenable as actual class struggle intensifies. It's time to accept the simple yet profound fact that America is in the midst of class war -- and the super-rich, with their legions of collaborators, is winning.

Class war is not a crime in America but rather an aspect of the political process. Not unlike Nazi, fascist or Stalinist collaborators of a half-century ago, today's ruling class "collaborates" have something to gain in looting the wealth of the middle class.

The Koch brothers' predatory practices are accepted as normal business; the activities of Dick Armey's FreedomWorks is accepted as normal astroturf politics; the ideological diarrhea of Christian nationalist bloviators like Glen Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Russ Limbaugh is accepted as news; and the porno politics of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann titillate conservative voters.

ALEC's activities, however, pose a deeper problem. Its practices have long remained hidden, playing a behind-the-scene role effectively using state-legislative stooges to implement the agenda of giant corporations and the super-rich. Its time to shine a bright light on this sinister organization.


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