By Francine Busby / San Diego Democratic Party
Sometimes we just need a little sunshine. That shouldn’t be too much to ask here in Southern California. Unfortunately, a dark cloud is headed our way in the form of a shadowy lobbying organization that buys loyalty from state legislatures with untraceable corporate dollars and threatens the very fabric of our democracy.
Exaggeration? Not even a little. Concerned yet? You should be.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the people who brought us Citizens United, is a “bill mill” funded by corporations and billionaires. It creates “model legislation” by and for industries, which right-wing legislators then take back to their statehouses and enact into law. (Sometimes they even forget to remove the ALEC watermark from the proposed bill or change the name of the state.)
Here’s how it works: ALEC positions itself a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization without the usual financial or ethical accountability required by lobbying groups. There is no reporting of gifts. There is no Freedom of Information Act. Corporate members with big-time lobbyists subsidize lavish conferences where they wine and dine lawmakers. The all-expenses-paid trips for legislators and their families include “educational” material in the form of pre-written, fill-in-the-blank templates given to the legislators, who return to their home states and sponsor the corporate legislation.
The public is not allowed in these events. Reporters have been threatened by law enforcement for trying to get in. No disclosures are made. It’s a clear form of corruption that happens to be perfectly legal.
This insidious scheme allows legislation, created by and for industries, to be presented in multiple states simultanously by politicians who peddle think-tank-tested messaging with little scrutiny from unwitting voters. It turns our system against the interests of the very voters that representative democracy was meant to serve.
And it has worked — for them — for 42 years.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, authored by ALEC, has been passed in 30 states. Arizona’s “Papers Please” anti-immigration law spawned similar policies in four other states and bills in 17. Voter ID bills became law in six states, making voting more difficult for students, minorities, the elderly, and the poor. “Right to Work” (read: “Right to Not Have Rights at Work”) was originally an ALEC proposal.
ALEC members are working to privatize education and prisons, block Medicaid expansion, disenfranchise voters, squash renewable energy, reduce workplace flexibility for women and families, and create more corporate loopholes. All policies are aimed at hurting the middle class and strengthening corporations while weakening government.
ALEC effectively undermines our Democratic process. Outside money is used to surreptitiously overwhelm local candidates and laws in favor of candidates who have to no accountability to local voters. What’s worse — they aren’t stopping at the state level.
It’s said that “all politics is local.” ALEC has birthed a new program called the American City County Exchange, or ACCE. Based on the same model that has pushed conservative and corporate policies on the state level since 1973, ACCE focuses on municipal and county representatives. The aim is to prevent cities and counties from creating policy that goes above and beyond the mandatory minimum set by the state, chipping away at state regulations one jurisdiction at a time.
Let’s think about this. There are about 7,000 state legislators in the United States, which in itself makes ALEC dangerous. But there are nearly 30,000 city and county representatives across the country. That makes ACCE particularly threatening on the most basic level of democracy. For example, Kentucky is not a “Right to Work” state, but there are 12 counties in the state that have adopted “Right to Work” policies.
Bill Moyers, in his exposé “The United States of ALEC,” methodically shows “how corporations and state legislators are colluding to write laws and remake America, one statehouse at a time.” In Moyers’ “Eye on ALEC,” you can “learn more about the most influential corporate-funded political force you’ve likely never heard of.”
ALEC is active right here in California and San Diego County. AT&T, an ALEC member, is also the single largest source of lobbying money in Sacramento. San Diego’s State Senator Joel Anderson was named the “2011 ALEC State Legislator of the Year.” Mirroring the ALEC strategies, special interests were able to defeat the Barrio Logan Community Plan and send the Minimum Wage and Earned Sick Leave ordinance to the ballot in a low-turnout primary election.
This year’s national ALEC and ACCE conference will take place here, on July 22, when legislators, local representatives, and big corporate lobbyists from all over the country will be converging on the Manchester Grand Hyatt in Downtown San Diego.
ALEC’s strength comes from operating in the shadows. Secret meetings and dark money keep voters from holding members accountable. Their weakness is exposure. Well, they’re about to come to the wrong place.
Join us! We will be there in force, along with our allies representing good government, labor, the environment, women, small business, and social justice. We will show them that they can no longer operate in darkness — and that they are not welcome in California. We will hold ALEC members accountable. We will bring the sunshine. Click here for details and to sign up.