Let's Fix This Country

Who’s Writing the Laws in Your State?

What the Trayvon Martin killing revealed

It took a neighborhood killing in Florida to make the American public aware — only somewhat aware, it should be said — of a stealth political process that has been underway for decades across the U.S.

Americans suddenly woke up to “stand your ground” laws that now exist in more than half the states, but they are also being made aware of an organization called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that is responsible for the proliferation of this law into half the states so far with more considering.

That’s not the half of it — or a tenth of it. ALEC is an alliance of corporations and conservative legislators who collaborate to make sure that state legislative agendas are filled with business concerns that go In Just One Year: In 2011 alone, 154 reform measures derived from 24 of ALEC's 'model laws' were introduced in state legislatures.
far beyond law enforcement. To lend a helping hand to those legislatures, ALEC’s industry partners write “model” laws for the organization’s lawmaker members to take

home to their states to enact. ALEC itself claims that nearly a thousand bills based on their prototypes are introduced in state legislatures every year.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is one of them. It was promoted around the country by the National Rifle Association, which wanted to confer on citizens the right to carry and use their firearms, rather than back down in an argument, and then claim self-defense. John Timoney, who as deputy police commissioner in New York City, then top cop in Philadelphia and Miami, knows something about law and order, called the Florida law signed by Jeb Bush in 2005 a “recipe for disaster” in this op-ed. Police officers are accountable for every bullet fired, he points out, but proponents of the Florida law held that the stand-your-ground shooter should not even be subject to judicial review.

Blinded by the Florida sunshine that has exposed its work in the shadows, ALEC has announced that it will no longer work to influence law enforcement, but its law writing and promoting spans a wide spectrum of categories. It works to cut taxes, strip regulatory laws, privatize education, hobble unions, and was the prime mover in getting voter ID laws passed in Republican controlled states as we reported in this article in January. Battleground states were the particular targets for these laws, their aim being to create obstacles to voting for groups that usually poll Democratic.

Arizona’s notorious immigration law that calls for police to confront anyone for proof of citizenship? ALEC had a part in that. Pushing for that was ALEC member CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America, who saw immigrant detention as a path to its growth and wanted the police to have greater freedom to fatten its inventory.

Resolutions by state legislatures calling upon the Environmental Protection Agency to gut its “train wreck” regulations, and another praising the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling? Those, too, were crafted by ALEC.

Another push has been to limit the public’s right to influence law directly by referendums and ballot propositions, saying that lawmaking should be channeled only through the state legislatures, which exist for that purpose (and where ALEC can exert its influence) .

On behalf of its corporate sponsors, ALEC has placed particular emphasis on templates for laws that make it difficult for unions to form or survive — right to work laws that exempt workers from paying the union dues that fund collective bargaining (even though those workers benefit from union gains), and that end the practice of the state deducting dues from payroll on behalf of public service unions (leaving the unions to dun its members). The Nation magazine says that some 500 anti-labor laws were introduced by ALEC last year.

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker was an alumnus of ALEC , which may explain his union-busting laws that have so angered that state’s citizens that he faces recall. In that state, collective bargaining is allowed for wages only — not for benefits, safety or work conditions — with increases held to n more than the inflation rate. Each year at least 50% of members must vote for a union’s continuance or it ceases to exist.

Restrictions on taxes are the special interest of corporate ALEC members, for example, fending off taxes on soda or snacks meant to raise revenue while combating the national obesity epidemic. More than thirty states have adopted various tax limits as laws or even as constitutional amendments. An example is ALEC’s draft Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act, which lowers tax rates every two years for both corporations and residents in good times if revenue exceeds certain thresholds — but has no provision for taxes ratcheting up when bad times come around.

ALEC’s good times arrived wih the 2010 elections that gave Republicans the majority in both legislative houses in twenty-six states, a gain of eleven. The organization refers to its role as merely “educational”, except that its model laws, which major corporations get to ghostwrite, often wind up word-for-word in state statutes. To be members, corporations pay hefty fees; legislators pay a modest amount and are comp’d at the organization’s conferences and outings. Its laws are kept private, in view only to its 300 or so corporate members and an estimated 2,000 legislators.

behind the curtain

But a year ago a leak brought 800 of those prototype laws into the open, leading to this multipart series in The Nation magazine. All 800 can be viewed online here at the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” site.

With their membership in this clandestine organization exposed by the Trayvon Martin shooting, corporations have been fleeing ALEC — McDonald’s, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Mars (candy), Blue Cross Blue Shield among them. But all the while we have been buying their products while they have surreptitiously worked to turn their own interests into laws often detrimental to a public that is blind to how much is already on the books. Much as the U.S. Congress has been bought by corporations and special interests, state legislators have allowed corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council effectively to take their place in state legislatures and through contributions to their campaigns (as reported in this database) see to it that their “model” laws get passed. What we are seeing is a general corporate takeover of American government.

Not surprisingly, the The Wall Street Journal sees it differently. In this editorial, the voices raised against corporate sponsors and a clandestine organization that few have heard of for writing the states’ laws belong to “bullying…left-wing activists”, “playing the race card” to wage an assault on “free and open debate”.

1 Comment for “Who’s Writing the Laws in Your State?”

  1. Why should I be forced by law to back down from an aggressive person? I think not knowing if the other person is packing or not will tend to make a more polite interchange.

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