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ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

Featured photo credit: Tim Meko/For the Center for Public Integrity

By Bob Sloan

Recently a federal case involving gross physical abuse, discrimination and underpayment of wages to 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered such abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer, was decided by a jury in favor of the workers.  The jury awarded $240 million in actual and punitive damages.  Following that judgment another federal judge has reduced that award to a total of $1.6 million.

In an article about this case, written by Chris Young for the Center for Public Integrity, Young identifies two key factors that resulted in the huge reduction in the amount of the award.  First the American’s with Disabilities Act has caps that limit the amount of damages.

“Under the act, compensatory and punitive damages are capped at $50,000 for companies like Henry’s that employ between 14 and 101 employees.”

Secondly, the judge who reduced the award, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa is a frequent attendee of pro-corporate seminars and is considered to be “corporate friendly.”

“An Iowa federal judge who frequently attends business-friendly judicial education conferences slashed a landmark $240 million verdict to $1.6 million for 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer.”

In fact in a related story by Young, Judge Wolfe is one of the top attendees of conservative “junkets” paid for by the likes of the Koch Family Foundations and organized by the Koch funded George Mason University:

“The most-traveled judges, according to reports filed online by the judges, were U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa and Chief Judge Thomas B. Bennett of the Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Court. Each reported attending nine seminars.

“Wolle is a “senior status” judge, meaning he is semi-retired. He did not respond to requests for comment.”

The reduction of the initial jury award by Judge Wolfe appears on the surface to be legally required under existing ADA rules and legislative restrictions.  The judge’s hands were “tied” by the law setting a limit on what those disabled workers could receive.  A larger and more important question is – who is responsible for tying the hands of our judiciary?

When we look beyond the law and investigate why such “caps” are in place, we find that in most cases pro-corporate and anti-consumer laws known as tort laws, originate within and are spread by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC claims to have 2,000 elected state lawmakers as members and close to 100 sitting U.S. Congressmen and women are ALEC alumni.  This legislative membership is sponsored, funded and works in concert with more than 350 corporations.

One of ALEC’s key initiatives over the past two decades has been the pursuit of “tort reform” legislation that limits the ability of consumers to recover damages inflicted by defective products, negligence, medical malpractice or corporate malfeasance.  In fact, ALEC and their corporate partners have developed and distributed dozens and dozens of model legislative tort reform “bills” and many of these have been successfully passed and now serve as the “law of the land” regarding consumer and worker rights.

Last year VLTP published several articles related to the ALEC/Koch Cabal’s involvement in unduly influencing our state and federal judiciaries.  This influence included the filing of Amicus briefs (friend of the court) in important cases involving key topics important to corporate interests; tort reform, second amendment gun rights, taxation, EPA and environmental issues and telecommunication laws.

Additional influence involves “training” seminars sponsored and paid for by conservative funded think tanks, corporations and foundations such as the Koch Family Foundation(s) and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.  Federal judges are treated to all expense paid junkets to plush resorts where they attend seminars focusing upon the ALEC/Koch agenda of limited government, free-markets and federalism.

Other sponsors of these events include federal judges themselves who help fund these conservative training sessions for new judicial appointees to enhance their knowledge and skills in complex areas of the law – from a conservative POV. The main or core corporate funding comes from:

  • The Searle Freedom Trust
  • ExxonMobil Corp.
  • Shell Oil Co.
  • Pfizer Inc.
  • State Farm Insurance
  • Dow Chemical Co.
  • AT&T Inc.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce 

All of these companies and organization have one thing in commonality: they are all either ALEC members, former members or supporters of ALEC and representatives of most even now sit upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

The Center for Public Integrity identifies the same companies, foundations and family names involved that VLTP identified over a year ago…and ABC reported on over a decade ago.  Since 2000 states have implemented law after law written by corporate interests, adopted by ALEC and supported by legislators working on behalf of ALEC instead of the rights of their constituents.

In 2001 ABC’s 20/20 presented an expose titled “Junkets for Judges” which can be found on YouTube in a two part presentation.  Here is a link to part one.  Though the 20/20 expose concentrated upon George Mason University’s involvement in providing these trips for our judges,we found several additional universities and private, non-profit organizations participating in these efforts at both the state and federal level.  All but one are provided by conservative organizations, foundations or schools:

•    George Mason University(Law and Economics Center – LEC)   (Recipient of Koch funding totaling $20,297,143 from 1986-2006 ), Earhart Foundation, JM Olin Foundation.
•    Foundation for Research on Economics and Environment (FREE).  Funded by ExxonMobil, GE Foundation, Koch Family Foundation  ($1,305,500 through 2006), JM Olin Foundation, Earhart Foundation and Castle Rock Foundation (Coors). ($65,000 in 2009) and the Claude Lambe Foundation ($1,540,000).
•    Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program (funded by many key ALEC members, including Koch)
•    Liberty Fund providing judicial conferences and seminars to/for Judges.
•    Federalist Society  (Koch funded   $1,437,200 through 2006)
•    Aspen Institute (Koch funded  $1,115,000 through 2006 with David Koch on the BOD).
•    University of Kansas, Law and Organizational Economics Center (LOEC) begun in 1995 by Henry Butler  with a $1,000,000 grant from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation (see section on Henry Butler below).
•    International Judicial Academy which provides seminars for judges on the International level.

These seminars are a way for ALEC’s corporate members and contributors to assist the cabal’s pursuit of influencing judges to render pro-corporate decisions on important issues and cases.  Another concern is the fact that one or more of our sitting Supreme Court Justices have attended seminars organized or held by these groups and openly favor corporate interests – as witnessed by the decision in Citizens United.

This latest case involving the ADA and 32 mentally disabled workers being cruelly treated by their employer, the outcome of the ALEC/Koch cabal’s pursuit of writing our laws is high-lighted.  Telling our judges how to rule in individual cases through the use of amicus briefs after wining and dining them at plush resorts and indoctrinating them in conservative based ideology – has been successful for the cabal.

Today this cabal is busy privatizing the USPS, public schools, buying up newspapers and media outlets.  No doubt as more and more legal challenges erupt from these activities pursuing control of the media, labor, wages and upcoming model legislation, our courts will be tasked with determining the legality of those pursuits.  Already courts are now busy deciding key cases involving voter ID laws, immigration laws, second amendment challenges and the legality of new laws privatizing our schools.

With friendly judges, cooperating lawmakers and greedy corporations working hand in hand, American consumers, voters and workers are completely compromised.  Unless and until Americans say enough is enough this will continue with corporate owners, investors and politicians reaping the rewards at our expense.  Please join us in abolishing this cabal and returning our country to a country of the people – instead of a growing corporatocracy…

BOYCOTT PEARSON NOW!

Pearson, ALEC, and the Brave New (Corporate) World:
Stand Up to Pearson Now!

(Publisher’s Note: We have revised our Boycott Pearson boycottinformation for clarity and in order to add additional research – please use this version, posted April 29, 2012, when sharing.)

 

Supporters of Public Education,

The curtain has been pulled aside recently from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), exposing the seedy underbelly of our democracy. Organizations like ALEC circumvent the democratic process in favor of corporations. Financial resources are used to influence public officials and provide model legislation meant to easily pass through state houses of governance. Recent examples include infamous “Stand Your Ground” laws and others that seek to limit the voting rights of marginalized populations. Education reform legislation is also part of ALEC’s agenda, with substantial sponsorship from corporate funds to divert the flow of valuable taxpayer dollars away from public schools.

ALEC-inspired advocacy for public education reform typically follows a path to privatization; that is, viewing educational practices vis-à-vis economic and capitalist principles. Strict school choice models, vouchers, private charter management organizations, and the erosion of collective bargaining rights are all examples of the economic management of public education. As opposed to a valuable public good, certain entities prevalent in the education reform debate are forcing schools to motivate themselves by profit and competition. What it means to be an educated person (e.g., college and career ready), what is important to teach (e.g., common standards), and how success is measured (e.g., standardized tests) are currently under significant transformation without the thorough vetting via democratic processes. And with the frustration and confusion ensuing from rapid developments occurring behind closed doors, outside the public spotlight of democracy, there are large corporations conveniently present to sell us products that will solve all of our problems.

Pearson is one such entity that as of late always seems to be at the right place and precisely at the right time. In other words, just as new legislation is passed, as new educational mandates are set, Pearson is suddenly able to provide the legions of educators and school systems clamoring for some kind of answer with just the right product. How can this be? In recent years, this once relatively small publishing house turned itself into a massive provider of a range of educational products, from traditional print materials for the K-12 sector, higher education resources and technology solutions for public school systems. It is one thing to have various products to sell and to allow the marketplace to judge their success or failure. It is another matter to reorganize the rules so that Pearson products are all one needs to buy to satisfy a range of emerging Federal and State education mandates.

For better or for worse, education reform in the United States is largely controlled by legislation. It appears then that Pearson is successfully implementing a two-pronged approach: grease the democratic process in their favor so that certain rules must be followed and from the other side perfectly match their own products so they have exactly what can be bought to satisfy those requirements. Pearson, through connections to ALEC, has become the dominant provider of education resources and services in the K-12 and post-secondary markets. The following are some of the affiliations that made this perfect alignment possible:

  • Pearson acquired the Connections Academy, whose co-founder and executive VP is Mickey Revenaugh, is also the co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force. In September of 2004, Connections Academy was sold to an investor group led by Apollo Management, L.P. In the fall of 2011, Pearson acquired Connections Education, establishing a leading position in the fast-growing virtual school segment and the opportunity to apply Connections Education’s skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets.
  • According to Pearson’s website: “Pearson Education and the University of Phoenix (a subsidiary of Apollo Management Group), the largest private (for-profit) university in the United States announced a partnership which will accelerate the University’s move to convert its course materials to electronic delivery.” [emphasis added]. As such, Pearson will certainly provide the materials and the mode of transmission. It must also be stated here that many for-profit universities have been under investigation for student loan fraud and unethical recruitment practices. The CEO of AMG, Charles (Chaz) Edelstein, was Managing Director of Credit Suisse and Head of the Global Services group within the Investment Banking division, based in Chicago. He is also on the Board of Directors for Teach for America, which is a provider of temporary and inexperienced teachers and also frequently associated with corporate education reform. One prominent name in this regard is TFA alum Michelle Rhee, the failed former Chancellor of DC public schools.
  • America’s Choice was also recently acquired by Pearson. This organization is directly associated with the Lumina, Broad, and Walton Foundations, all active members of ALEC. They each promote so-called “innovations” that appeal to the corporate and for-profit mindset.
  • Bryan Cave, LLP is the lobbying firm for Pearson. Edward Koch is currently one of the partners at Bryan Cave. Edward Koch sits conveniently and comfortably on the board for StudentsFirst NY, a branch of the national initiative StudentsFirst, which is the brainchild of failed former Chancellor of DC public schools Michelle Rhee. It must also be stated that Rhee’s tenure is under a dark cloud of investigation for rampant test cheating and tampering in the district.
  • Pearson is contracted with Stanford University to deliver the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) to more than 25 participating states. According to Pearson’s website, “TPA is led by Stanford University, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and Pearson.” Furthermore, “Pearson’s electronic portfolio management system will support candidates, institutions of higher education, and state educational agencies by providing registration and account management services, submission of the portfolio for scoring and results reporting.” [emphasis added]. Pearson provides the administrative management skills and broad-based technology and delivery systems that will support the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) and bring it to a national scale. Stanford University’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) selected Pearson to provide these needed services for the TPA. Let it be known that the U.S. Dept. of Ed. is currently considering teacher preparation programs to be evaluated based on accountability measures similar to public schools.
  • Sir Michael Barber is the current Chief Education Advisor for Pearson. It is no secret that Mr. Barber is a powerful advocate for the free-market approach to education, including union busting, merit pay, and turning public schools into privately run charters.
  • Pearson contracts with Achieve to manage the PARCC assessments. Achieve is funded by Lumina, State Farm (both members of ALEC) and The Alliance for Excellence in Education (AEE). AEE chairman Bob Wise is a regular contributor to and participant with the ALEC educational agenda. Moreover, PARCC awarded Pearson a contract in January to develop a new Technology Readiness Tool, which will support state education agencies to evaluate and determine needed technology and infrastructure upgrades for the new online assessments. Pray tell, who will sell those upgrades?
  • The Tucker Capital Corporation acted as exclusive advisor to The American Council on Education (ACE) and Pearson on the creation of a groundbreaking new business that will drive the future direction, design, and delivery of the GED testing program.
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) partners with a whole cast of other organizations that promote a corporate, anti-public education reform agenda. CCSSO Central “partners” include (among others) McGraw-Hill and Pearson. CCSSO Director Tom Luna works closely with Jeb Bush, whose associations with ALEC and corporate-reform are too numerous to mention.
  • GradNation is a special project of America’s Promise Alliance, sponsored by Alma and Gen. Colin Powell. Grad Nation sponsors include State Farm (ALEC), the Walton Foundation (ALEC), AT&T (on the corporate board of ALEC), The Boeing Company (ALEC), the Pearson Foundation and Philip Morris USA (ALEC). The GradNation Summit list of presenters reads like an ALEC yearbook.
  • Gen. Colin Powell sits on the Board of Directors for The Council for Foreign Relations, which issued an “Education Reform and National Security” report (co-chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice, directed by Julia Levy). The report states, among other things, that: “The Task Force believes that though revamping expectations for students should be a state-led effort, a broader coalition … including the defense community, businesses leaders, the U.S. Department of Education, and others … also has a meaningful role to play in monitoring and supporting implementation and creating incentives to motivate states to adopt high expectations. The Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense, and other leaders from the public and private sectors should evaluate the learning standards of education in America and periodically assess whether what and how students are learning is sufficiently rigorous to protect the country’s national security interests.” [emphasis added].
  • According to Susan Ohanian: “In the introduction to the Education Reform and National Security report, Julia Levy, Project Director, thanks ‘the several people who met with and briefed the Task Force group including the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Mary Cullinane formerly of Microsoft [Philadelphia School of the Future] [now Vice President of Corporate and Social Responsibility for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt], Sir Michael Barber of Pearson and David Coleman of Student Achievement Partners …’ They were briefed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson.”
  • Pearson has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a series of digital instructional resources. In November 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave ALEC $376,635 to educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement (the Gates Foundation recently withdrew its support for ALEC under the heat of public pressure). However, their billions of dollars still flow to other far-reaching organizations dedicated to dismantling public education.
  • The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards is a private-sector member of ALEC. Bob Wise (Chairman, of NBPTS) and Alliance for Excellent Education presented on “National Board’s Fund Initiative to Grow Great Schools” at the Education Task Force Meeting at the 2011 ALEC annual picnic. According to the NBPTS website, they “announced that it has awarded Pearson a five-year contract for the period 2009-2013 to develop, administer and score its National Board Certification program for accomplished teachers. Pearson will collaborate with NBPTS to manage its advanced teacher certification program in 25 certificate areas that span 16 subject areas.”
  • Pearson has also acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, SAT testing, GED testing, and was the central player (through Achieve) in the design of the National Common Core Standards. The GED Testing Service, while wholly owned by the American Council for Education, entered into a joint venture with Pearson to transform the GED for some 40 million adult Americans (one in five adults) lacking a high school diploma. This is an entirely new market.

Even with all of Pearson’s efforts, they are not the only game in town. McGraw-Hill is another publisher forging similar connections and making money hand over fist due to NCLB-mandated reading programs like Open Court and SRA Reading Mastery. Of course, after billions spent on Reading First and the McGraw-Hill materials, the federally funded evaluation of the program showed no increase in reading comprehension by third grade. McGraw-Hill is also one of the biggest test publishers in the U.S. and publishes the CTBS, the central competitor to Pearson’s illustrious SAT-10.

The legislation forced upon states to adopt the curriculum (i.e., the Common Core) and its required testing measures (i.e., PARCC) essentially eliminates the possibility of consumer choice (supposedly a key concept in free market ideology) and requires that taxpayer dollars for education be handed over to Pearson and McGraw-Hill as the sole providers of nearly all educational resources available to the schools. It is frightening that Pearson, profiting billions from public education, is simultaneously operated by and sponsors organizations that promote the destruction of public education. It is essentially forcing the public to pay for the demise of its own education system.

It is possible that Pearson and its allies will deny and attempt to refute the information bulleted above. Perhaps the magnitude of their efforts will project the magnitude of their guilt. Whatever the semantics here, if a connection is really an association, if ownership is actually sponsorship, or if partnership actually means membership, it is interesting and coincidental that the above cast of characters constantly find themselves associated with each other. Additionally, the common friend to all seems to be Pearson.

If Pearson is truly interested in profit, as all corporations typically are, then consumer pressure is the best way to be heard. We at United Opt Out National are calling on everyone to take a stand against Pearson by doing any or all of the following:

  • Refuse to buy their materials or adopt them in your courses or for personal use.
  • Bring these concerns to local PTAs, school boards and libraries.
  • If required to use Pearson products due to professional obligations, do so under public protest.
  • Promote the use of ACT rather than SAT, as SAT is a Pearson product.
  • Inform Pearson of your actions.
  • If you are in higher education, discuss your concerns with your local Pearson representative, informing them that for these purposes you are not going to adopt their materials in any of your courses.

Raise public awareness so the brakes can be put on this madness. Please click here to see Education News’ sample letter, which you are encouraged to share so that others may refuse Pearson products.

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This article is written by or from a variety of publications on EducationViews.org on March 11, 2013 and is published in Education News.
Education Newshttp://educationviews.org/boycott-pearson-now/#
Please visit their site to read the Pearson Boycott Letter
and to sign your name and intention to Boycott Pearson
in their Comment Section by clicking here

A Lot of White Space: Firms Drop Off ALEC’s Meeting Brochure

Very significant results of the ongoing campaign to make ALEC a toxic relationship for its corporate members.  Reported on by Lisa Graves of CMD and re-posted hereApparent among all of the excellent information she has provided, is the emergence of the State Policy Network (SPN) as perhaps the “heir apparent” to ALEC?  To find out a lot more about SPN, I refer you to Sourcewatch’s report on SPN’s finances, membership, and goals, which you can read by clicking here.
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…last year’s conference was filled with favorable press coverage and bankrolled by at least 82 private sector corporations were convention underwriters.

This year, only 36 corporations were willing to have their logos listed as paying for ALEC’s schmooze and booze affair. Not all 46 of those missing corporations have left ALEC, but dozens have fled the sunshine that CMD and other investigative journalists, advocates, and concerned citizens across the country have focused on ALEC and the power it has given to corporations to try to rewrite hundreds of laws across the United States.

Two More Large Corporations Quit ALEC, Rocking the Conservative Group

By Bob Sloan, at the Daily Kos.

Banner

Earlier this morning it was announced that Wal-Mart, one of a handful of huge U.S. Corporate members (including Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Wellpoint and State Farm Insurance) refusing to quit their membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – finally succumbed to consumer and activist pressure and ended that membership.  Wal-Mart issued this statement:

“Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC’s decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission ‘to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets,'” Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC’s national chairman and executive director.”We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC.”

This followed an announcement by Medtronics earlier this week that they had not renewed their membership in ALEC for this year…saying they actually left in 2010.  However, documents obtained by Common Cause and published by PRWatch on Tuesday dispute that claim, the evidence showing:

“ALEC documents obtained and released by Common Cause list three Medtronic representatives on ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force as of June and March 2011, as well as in October 2010. In October 2011, Medtronic posted a job opening for a Government Affairs Director that would “participate in and support corporate SGA efforts with select national bodies of state legislators, including ALEC” (emphasis added).

 

Medtronic’s admission of non-renewal of their ALEC membership – made with untruths spilling from the cup, demonstrates how poisonous ALEC has become to corporate members and financial supporters.

Quitting ALEC is no longer sufficient as a degree if separation: these companies attempt to separate themselves even further from the conservative front group by falsely claiming they dropped out voluntarily as much as two years previously. Medtronic’s claim of leaving in 2010 is clearly false, due to the documentation of their holding “three seats upon the Health and Human Services Task Force” as recently as June of last year.  The additional recruitment of someone as a “Government Affairs Director” last October to serve the corporation’s interests with “select national bodies of state legislators” indicates quite clearly Medtronic intended to stay with ALEC and reinforce their relationship.

Medtronic’s three seats upon the H&HS Task Force cost the corporation $3,000.00 each in addition to their membership fees which run from $7,000.00 to $25,000.00 annually (depending upon the degree of influence they want within ALEC).

Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart’s vice president of public affairs and government relations served as Secretary on the same H&HS Task Force.  Medtronic and Wal-Mart’s leaving has hopefully crippled the Health and Human Services’ Task Force – with the loss of the Secretary and three task force seats becoming vacant.  Maybe the H&HS Director, Christie Herrera’s statements to protesters at the ALEC Protest in Charlotte earlier this month hastened the decisions of Wal-Mart to drop their membership.  A person identified as Herrera made statements to the effect that those who “don’t pay property taxes, have no right to expect free healthcare, public education or a right to vote”.

As I noted in yesterday’s diary, Breitbart’s blog has run a video claiming that the Anti-ALEC Protest and Teach-in in Charlotte during the ALEC Spring Summit was a “failure” due to a low turnout.  Those making this claim fail to note that immediately following the protest, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) announced they were dropping their membership. Was it the numerous conversations with the protesting teachers and students outside the Charlotte Westin that was responsible for this sudden decision?

The NACSA left along with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards which dropped their membership on May 1.

With the loss of Wal-Mart and Medtronics, the number of corporations dropping ALEC during the month of our protest now stands at four!  Not a bad record for a “failed” protest of ALEC. Hopefully the abandonment of ALEC will be even greater in July as we go after them at their Annual meeting in Salt Lake City!

While the news of corporations abandoning ALEC is encouraging and rewarding to those of us who have been pursuing the cabal – we must all keep in mind that the true strength of ALEC lay with their legislative members who disseminate and ensure passage of their model legislation state by state.  To date I believe the number of legislative members who have quit ALEC stands at 57 or 58.  By the end of the year we have to increase that number substantially.  In the absence of corporate financial support and membership ALEC is going to be looking high and low for replacement members.  To do that they have to offer “something” in return for new members to have the incentive to join…that will only come through ALEC’s legislative members working hard to pass their model bills to demonstrate they still have the “power and influence” necessary to advance pro-corporate legislation.

ALEC’s Article X, section 10.03 “Duties of the ALEC State Chairmen” requires each State Chair to “ensure introduction of model legislation”.  These are the legislators responsible for introducing every piece of ALEC crap in each state.  Here is ALEC’s list of current State Chairmen.  Take a look and if you’re rep is on this list, please contact him/her and tell them you “know who they are and what they’ve done”, urging them to drop their membership or answer to you and fellow voters in the next election.

Let’s all concentrate on urging all state lawmakers to drop their ALEC memberships and return to representing their constituents instead. After all, isn’t that why they were elected?