2012 – An Awakening Electorate and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

Op-Ed by Exec. Dir. Bob Sloan

As pressure has been brought to bear upon the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over the past couple of years, many of their far-right conservative initiatives were brought into the light along with that organization’s secretive memberships and vast influence.

Articles began surfacing that advised voters of ALEC’s involvement in crafting and urging passage of key state legislation designed to suppress voter rights, tort reform (to limit consumer protections) and on social issues involving abortion, separation of church and state, privatization of public schools, utilities and abolishing or repealing the Affordable Care Act.  They have written and disseminated labor legislation to end collective bargaining, reduce Union and worker wages and other legislation beneficial to their corporate members.

Most Americans were completely unaware of ALEC from it’s conception in 1973…and those who did know ALEC existed, were uninformed as to what ALEC actually did.  All of that changed in May 2011 when hundreds of ALEC’s documents were turned over  to the Nation Magazine and the Center for Media and Democracy by a concerned whistleblower.  In July CMD and the Nation launched “ALEC Exposed” a joint project to fully expose ALEC to the public.  When the site went public, there was less than 18 months remaining until the 2012 election, requiring those of us knowledgeable about ALEC to work quickly to make voters fully aware of ALEC.

Other organizations and groups joined CMD in helping to pull ALEC from the dark shadows and expose their activities to all Americans. Groups such as Common Cause, Color of Change, PFAW, Progress Now, Democracy Now and Walden Asset Management  joined with CMD in an effort of enlightening everyone about ALEC – and demonstrating why their activities were so dangerous to democracy and the very fabric of our Nation.  Jointly they issued state reports identifying ALEC state legislative members, the legislation they were responsible for writing and passing in each state.  They issued reports on the corporate members of ALEC that funded and co-wrote free market legislation for the state members to introduce and pass in each state.

Here at VLTP we launched in-depth reports informing of ALEC’s involvement at the federal level, the 100 + ALEC alumni serving in congress and their exporting of a conservative American agenda to foreign countries through the formation of a UK based affiliate, the Atlantic Bridge Charity and an ALEC International Relations “Task Force”.

With the final results we learned that many of our efforts were successful.  Voters in Wisconsin were informed of the long and close relationship between ALEC and former Governor and Senator Tommy Thompson and defeated him at the polls, choosing Tammy Baldwin instead.  Similarly in Virginia, ALEC’s alum and former US Senator and Governor, George Allen was exposed and then beaten at the polls by former VA Governor Tim Kaine.  This was important as Allen was the first “ALEC Federal Forum Task Force” Co-Chair in 2005-06.

Education

An additional plus was the defeat of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett.  Bennett has been criss-crossing the US advocating and lobbying for ALEC’s educational legislation and policies.  He is particularly fond of Common Core Standards and has pursued passage of that nationally.

Bennett presented the pro-Common Core case to the board of ALEC .   Dr. Bennett is also on the Board of Directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), one of the two trade associations managing the Common Core Standards (along with the National Governors Association).  Additionally, he is the Chairman of Chiefs for Change, an initiative of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education and CCSSO have received $1,000,000 and $70,000,000, respectively, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary force financing and pushing the Common Core.

Bennett was defeated by a Democrat who issued statements Tuesday night that two immediate reforms she will make in Indiana is the repeal of Common Core and ensuring that public money is used to fund public schools.  This represents a 180 degree change from what this state has been subjected to under Bennett.

In a win for labor and education, voters in Idaho rejected two referenda to uphold 2011 education laws that had limited collective bargaining for teachers. Proposition 1 to limit teacher contracts failed, with 43 percent voting for and 57 percent against. Proposition 2 also failed, with 42 percent voting for and 58 percent against.

Unfortunately Georgia voters weighed in on a proposal to give the state legislature the right to create public charter schools. The measure passed, with 58.5 percent voting for and 41.5 percent voting against.  An ALEC win.

Washington State voted on a proposition to allow the creation of 40 charter schools in the next five years. It has been called the “billionaires initiative” because its signature drive was primarily funded by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and the parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The measure passed, with 51.24 percent voting for and 48.76 percent against. Another ALEC win.

In Idaho teachers opposed Propositions 1, 2 and 3 – in an effort to overturn the so-called “Luna laws.” These harmful education laws, which are named after the state’s schools Superintendent, Tom Luna, are now history. All three propositions were rejected.

Amendment 8 in Florida was pushed by its supporters as a matter of religious freedom when it would have actually allowed the state to publicly fund religious schools and institutions, taking away resources from public schools (more ALEC initiatives). Voters saw through the misleading rhetoric and defeated the measure.

Criminal Justice

Other legislation ALEC has been responsible for are laws dedicated to keeping the “War on Drugs” going.  The laws written by them and passed nationwide has been responsible for imprisoning more than 2 million Americans, imposition of long and harsh sentences for marijuana use, possession or cultivation.  Related laws involving privatizing prisons, criminal bonds and prison healthcare have resulted in huge profits to corporations involved in each – such as former ALEC members, Geo Group and Corrections Corp. of America – began to experience fear for bottom lines as two states (Colorado and Washington) legalized recreational marijuana use, effectively decriminalizing the drug which will reduce jail and prison populations and costs of imprisonment overall.

Colorado and Montana Vote Against Citizens United.  Colorado’s Amendment 65 and Montana’s Initiative 166 are ballot propositions designed to challenge the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. FEC that lifted bans on corporate political spending.

Massachusetts voters passed a proposition to legalize medical marijuana.

California voters approved a softening of the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law but upheld the death penalty.

Labor

California’s Proposition 32 has been called the “Paycheck Protection” Initiative — a name straight out of the playbook of ALEC. As CMD has reported, this proposition has been spun as campaign finance reform but would actually “eviscerate labor” by banning employers from withholding union dues and reimbursing the union.

The measure failed to pass, with 43.8 percent voting for and 56.2 percent voting against, but labor spent$75.2 million to hold off the attack. Similar measures have failed twice before in California.

Healthcare

Voters in Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming weighed in on propositions to block aspects of 2010 federal health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act or “ObamaCare.” ALEC has been pushing similar laws nationwide.

The measures fared as follows: passed in Alabama, failed in Florida, passed in Missouri, passed percent in Montana, and passed in Wyoming.

Miscellaneous

Michigan

Michigan’s controversial Emergency Manager Law, 2011 Public Act 4, allowing the governor to appoint emergency managers to take over local municipalities in place of elected officials was on the ballot in that state. Volunteers collected over 200,000 signatures to get a referendum — Proposal 1 — on yesterday’s ballot to overturn the law.  The measure to keep the law in place failed, with 48 percent voting for and 52 percent against, successfully overturning the law.

Michigan voters also voted on a proposition sponsored by the front group Michigan Alliance for Prosperity (again taken right from ALEC’s playbook). The Michigan Taxation Amendment, Proposal 5, is similar to ALEC’s Super-Majority Act and would amend the state constitution to require a 2/3 majority in the legislature to enact an increase in state taxes.

The measure failed, with 31 percent voting for and 69 percent against.

Maryland

Maryland voters upheld their state’s DREAM Act, which ensures that all Maryland kids whose families pay Maryland taxes are able to pay in-state tuition.

Minnesota

Voters in Minnesota* rejected a voter restriction amendment, which would have placed additional burdens on voting. This marks the first time a popular vote has rejected voter restriction tactics.

It is important to note that though the GOP in Congress is adamantly claiming that the electoral outcome on Tuesday is not a “mandate” for the President’s policies and agenda, that claim is totally false.  Those considering whether this claim has merit or not should include the voter suppression factor when calculating the actual will of the people.

Efforts by ALEC Alums Governor Kasich and Sec. of State Husted in Ohio to install voter ID laws, limit early voting and reduce the number of days of early voting had an as yet undetermined impact upon voters.  The Ohio efforts were mirrored nationwide by states that had passed similar laws or were implementing regulations to reduce the time for early voting and requiring ID’s – such as in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and more than 20 other states.  Efforts of suppressing the vote to prevail in key races failed – but undoubtedly those laws did affect turnout of minorities; African Americans, Latino’s, Senior citizens and College Students (unable to use their school ID’s to vote) – and thus had a measurable impact upon electoral outcome(s).

Currently with Florida not determined yet, the President won the popular vote by a margin of 2.9 million votes.  The latest estimate of the number of voters who were disenfranchised by these ALEC voter ID laws has been reported as 5 million.  Thus, the margin of President Obama’s victory could/should have been as much as 7.9 +/- million votes.  There is no way of estimating how the disenfranchised would have impacted the final results in other state and national races or upon referenda, ballot issues or questions.  Without the extensive voter suppression laws put in place by the GOP through ALEC model legislation, the election outcome would have been considered a landslide rather than just an ass whipping.

What Karl Rove and the donors to his PAC’s and dark money funds got in return for the hundreds of millions contributed to advancing the ALEC/GOP agenda was a lessening of the number of voters able to cast their ballots.  While they didn’t prevail in the face of a huge turnout of Democrats, if left in place such voter laws will have an impact upon the 2014 and subsequent election cycles.  An effort must be made immediately to begin to repeal such laws to enable the electorate to vote freely without intimidation or further suppression efforts put in place by one party.  Hopefully repeals will be introduced between now and 2014 in the states or better yet, a federal bill to prohibit such suppression.