ALEC’s 40th Birthday Bash Crashed in Chicago

by Bob Sloan

As members of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meet for their Annual Meeting in Chicago (August 7-9), the organization planned a “two-for” to also celebrate their fortieth corporate birthday.  In addition to a meeting to determine upcoming pro-corporate (anti-consumer) model legislation for the coming year, ALEC hoped to celebrate forty years of secretive activities that has brought American’s new state laws in reference to; “Stand Your Ground”, Privatized Prisons, Prison Industries, Tort “Reforms”, voter ID, voter suppression, fracking and anti-labor.

Why is ALEC so dangerous to our democracy – and how have they been able to chart a conservative course for America for the past forty years?  These questions were answered by the CMD General Counsel, Brendan Fischer in a recent interview on “Real News Network“:

“But with respect to how is this different from traditional lobbying, with traditional lobbying you at least have some level of transparency. If a lobbyist is going to meet with a legislator in a state, they’ll maybe get there ear for 15 minutes. With ALEC, legislators fly to ALEC meetings, usually on the corporate dime. Meetings are held in places like Amelia Island, Florida, or New Orleans, or this year in Chicago, usually at the nicest hotel in town. The corporate members that benefit from ALEC model legislation are footing the bill for legislators’ travel expenses.

While at these meetings, lobbyists get legislators’ ear for three days of meetings and workshops and other events where legislators are sold on these corporate-friendly ideas and urged to pass these bills that are going to benefit the corporations that are footing the bill for the travel, for the meetings, for the nights out. By the time legislators get back to the state, they are the ones who are already convinced that a particular bill or policy idea is right for the state. By the time the public gets a chance to weigh in, the legislator is oftentimes already convinced. So in some ways the legislators are the ones who are becoming the lobbyists for the corporate special-interest agenda advanced by ALEC.”

With all the media attention, things have not been going as planned for the ultra-conservative think tank as hundreds of protesters, activists, clergy, organized labor members and an angry public have turned out to protest ALEC’s existence, their anti-consumer legislative activities and efforts to prioritize corporate rights over human ones.

The protests in Chicago this week are the latest in a long line of similar actions undertaken over the past three years.  In April 2011 hundreds turned out in Cincinnati in the first ever Anti-ALEC protest/rally.  At that event a whistleblower turned over hundreds of ALEC’s secret “model legislation” earmarked for presentation in state legislatures to fatten the bottom lines of ALEC’s corporate membership.  CMD published all of the material at a PRWatch website: www.alecexposed.org to warn the public of then current and upcoming “initiatives” of ALEC that would be detrimental to the general public.

Since that initial protest, VLTP along with organizations such as People For the American Way (PFAW), Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Common Cause, Color of Change and a half dozen others have pursued ALEC continuously.  We have crisscrossed America following ALEC from state to state, city by city to set-up and protest all of their activities and to offer information to locals about ALEC’s legislative record and ongoing agenda.  Common Cause and VLTP were joined by Clergy Voice in Ohio in filing whistleblower complaints/claims with the IRS, asserting that ALEC’s IRS (c)(3) exempt status is being used to openly lobby at the state and federal levels for legislation they themselves wrote on behalf of corporate interests.  Such activities are prohibited for “charities” holding the 501 (c)(3) exemption.

ALEC protesters have turned to social media of late in an effort of informing more Americans about ALEC.  A special Facebook Group page was established to allow activists to communicate, plan and announce events planned for Chicago this week.  Activists have attracted unions by exposing ALEC’s anti-worker, anti-union legislative efforts.  In Oklahoma city earlier this year at ALEC’s spring summit, AFLCIO members joined with the Teamsters and local unions to organize a huge anti-ALEC protest, rally and march.

In Chicago AFSCME has weighed in along with the Chicago Teacher’s Union

The ALEC protesting started on Monday (Moral Monday) of this week as protesters staged a sit-in at the fashionable Chicago resort/hotel, the Palmer House where several protesters were arrested:

Six people were arrested Monday when protesters descended upon the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago to push back against the impending visit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose conservative agenda, activists say, promotes policies and legislation that protects corporate interests and disenfranchises workers and voters.

Chanting “No to ALEC,” Goodman, along with fellow members of the Chicago Moral Monday Coalition, such as Natalie Wahlberg, were arrested for linking arms on the steps of the hotel’s lobby, at 17 E. Monroe St. According to the Chicago Police Department, six protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for causing a disturbance and refusing to leave the lobby. (see video of the event here.

The arrests demonstrate how ALEC coordinates with Hotel security, local police and some say Homeland Security to provide protection to the hundreds of corporate representatives that attend ALEC events to wine and dine thousands of state legislators in an attempt to woo them into sponsoring proposed legislation beneficial to corporate interests.  In Phoenix in November 2011 dozens of demonstrators were pepper sprayed by local police – most wearing their name badges backwards to hide their identity – before arrests were made at a protest in front of the Westin resort in Scottsdale.

Obviously with their vast influence, money and connections (nearly 2,000 state legislative members), ALEC is able to deter local authorities from the primary task of “serving the public” to “licking the boots of the corporate elite” at each event.  Instead of protecting the public and their rights to protest and demonstrate, local authorities are quick to arrest on behalf of ALEC.

Yesterday, PRWatch published information about ALEC’s efforts in Chicago, exposing the think tank’s upcoming agenda:

CHICAGO — This week, the corporate and legislator members of the American Legislative Exchange Council are meeting at the swank Palmer House hotel in Chicago to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, be educated in corporate sponsored workshops and adopt legislative priorities for the coming year. Here is what is on the agenda for ALEC’s 40th — notably, some of the workshops carry a $40,000 pricetag for corporate sponsors.

Fracking, Virtual Schools, and Privatization

  • New ways to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or county governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds. Members of the Agriculture Subcommittee — which is chaired by Jeff Case of CropLife America — will consider a bill to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or local governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds, which happens to benefit many members of CropLife’s trade association and other big ag companies. Contrary to Jeffersonian principles of local democracy, for years ALEC has promoted bills to preempt local efforts to establish everything from paid sick days to municipal broadband.
  • ALEC's Energy, Environment & Agriculture (EEA) task forcePresentations on how fracking America can lead to increased profits through exporting America’s natural gas. American Petroleum Institute representatives Jon Shore and Rebecca Heimlich will give a presentation on “Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing: Coming Soon to Your District.” Jason French of energy company Cheniere Energy will present to the Energy Subcommittee about “LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] exports: A Story of American Innovation and Economic Opportunity.”
  • Discussions of the wonders of nuclear energy and offshore drilling. Other energy-related agenda items include a presentation on “Nuclear Energy’s Continuing Role in Providing Baseload Electricity,” and another on “Developing America’s Offshore Energy Potential: Good Sense and Good Cents.” ALEC will also consider a “Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax.”
  • More climate change denial? Members of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force will be part of a breakfast plenary session called “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” The title is less inflammatory than some of its past panels — at the 2011 ALEC meeting, legislators attended a workshop titled “Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2” — but given ALEC funders like the Koch brothers and members like the Heartland Institute, it seems unlikely that the organization has woken up to the dangers of climate change.
  • Expanding virtual “schools,” which enriches ALEC’s online school corporate funders, such as K12 Inc.The Illinois Policy Institute — the State Policy Network affiliate in the state — will present on “digital education.” IPI employees had pushed a Virtual Charter School plan in Illinois, apparently in collaboration with ALEC member K12 Inc., the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools (which has become notorious for poor educational outcomes and high profit margins). Additionally, at least two “workshops” — which carry a $40,000 pricetag — will deal with online education: “Modeling State Funding Formulas, K-12 Online Course Providers” and “Statewide Full-Time Virtual Schools: The Case for Parent Choice vs. Local Control.”

(Read the full agenda at the link provided above).

These topics are why so many Americans are now putting their safety and freedom on the line to step forward and actively protest ALEC.  The future of our society and indeed our nation are at peril from this organization and their powerful members.  Now that organized labor has joined the fray in earnest, I’m hopeful ALEC’s days are numbered and the countdown to the end is accelerating.

Finally, a great article by The Nation encapsulates the complete ALEC story and forewarns all of us of what the future holds if ALEC is allowed to continue operations unabated.

Street protests against ALEC like those planned in Chicago directly led to the organization’s exposure two years ago. After University of Wisconsin–Madison history professor William Cronon wrote a blog post examining the organization’s role in providing model legislation similar to the “Budget Repair Bill” pushed by Governor Scott Walker (a former ALEC member as a state legislator) that led to the famous Madison capitol occupation, Midwestern activists organized a protest outside the annual ALEC convention and a series of informational teach-ins in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two hours later, a whistleblower telephoned protest organizer Aliya Rahman, offering access to 800 of ALEC’s model bills.

Since that leak two years ago, and the subsequent investigation by The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy’s, “ALEC Exposed,” as well as the CMD’s ongoing coverage through ALECexposed.org, the organization has faced intense national scrutiny, drawing protest from a wide variety of progressive groups in cities around the country for their role in writing and promoting a battery of right-wing legislation.