Democratic Perspective continued its series about the use of political front groups as a way of hiding corporate contributions in order to subvert the political process. This week, we looked at ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC’s website calls the organization “A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” But our co-hosts, Steve Williamson and Mike Cosentino, more accurately described ALEC as “A dating service for giant corporations and conservative legislators.”
The National Resources Defense Council goes further. It authored a press release describing ALEC as “Corporate America’s Trojan Horse In The States.”
ALEC was founded in 1973 by a group of conservatives which included Paul Weyrich, originator of the term “Moral Majority” for Jerry Falwell. It originally focused on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But the founders soon realized that they could get corporations to fund everything and state legislators to push their ideas at the state level.
Today, ALEC boasts a membership of nearly 2,000 state conservative legislators and hundreds of corporate sponsors. Some of the corporations and associations represented on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board are Centerpoint360, Bayer Corp, GlaxoSmithKline, Reynolds American, Wal-Mart Stores, Energy Future Holdings, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, AT&T, Peabody Energy, UPS, Koch Companies, Coca-Cola, Altria, ExxonMobil, Salt River Project and State Farm Insurance.
Here’s how it works: Funded almost entirely by corporations and industries, ALEC dreams up legislation that is right wing, business-friendly or both. Conservative Republicans bring the legislation home to their statehouses. The legislators are then rewarded for their efforts with large campaign contributions by the corporate sponsors.
By focusing on state legislatures in this manner, ALEC provides corporations with 50 opportunities to push conservative legislation versus just one at the federal level.
In Arizona, 50 of the state’s 90 legislators are members of ALEC. And, thus far, 19 of 36 ALEC-generated laws introduced in the Arizona legislature have become law.
One example is the law creating corporate-owned prisons in the state. Despite the fact that these prisons cost more per prisoner than Arizona’s publically-funded prisons, their number is growing. And thanks to the SB1070 anti-immigration bill (another ALEC initiative), they’re preparing for more growth. As soon as 1070 passed, the prison corporation and conservative legislators began seeking land for new prisons to be filled by 1070.
Other issues being pursued by ALEC members at the state level are tax incentives for moist, fruit-flavored tobacco that appeals to kids, bills that would block the Kyota protocols on global warming, bills designed to block EPA efforts to maintain clean water and clean air, tort reform to “discourage frivolous lawsuits,” and bills which would block the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act one state at a time.