“The ALEC media policy clearly states which meetings are open”
Last week, Atlanta television station WXIA-TV aired a shocking exposé revealing the private conference rooms where legislators and lobbyists from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch-backed, anti-environment group make laws without the input of civilians.
On Wednesday, ALEC responded to the report, arguing that the news cameras caught their spokesperson “off-guard.”
For several years, ALEC has welcomed journalists from prominent outlets to ALEC workshops and plenary sessions. In December 2014, 34 journalists were credentialed to attend the Washington, D.C. meeting. The ALEC media policy clearly states which meetings are open.
Unfortunately, the recent piece on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) broadcast by NBC Atlanta (WXIA-TV) sensationalizes and misrepresents ALEC member engagement and policy discussions. ALEC is a forum for the exchange of ideas and free-market policies by a diverse array of members including legislators, business and thought leaders, think tank scholars and individuals… The report exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of ALEC.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been described as a “shadowy group” of companies and politicians working behind closed doors to rewrite our laws, frequently to bolster corporate profits at any cost. Over the last 41 years, ALEC has worked tirelessly to tear down many of the programs and protections Americans, particularly seniors, have come to rely on, and only recently have many of their objectives come to light.
ALEC doesn’t just exist in the backrooms of Washington, D.C.; they’re also in the backyards of every community in every state, pursuing their agenda at the state and local level. When these representatives and corporations sit down at the table to craft “model” legislation, middle-class Americans don’t win.
These pieces of legislation are uniformly disastrous for retirees and anyone who hopes to retire one day. They include initiatives to wipe out public pensions systems in favor of private 401(k) plans, regardless of how well the public pension is doing. Policies like this not only scapegoat and attack public services, public workers and collective bargaining but expose workers to higher fees, which go straight into the pockets of Wall Street bankers.
ALEC hasn’t been content to stop with public pensions either; they continue to push for privatization of Medicare and Social Security, which would effectively end these programs as we know them. This push to hand over our most crucial earned benefits to the very same individuals who helped to engineer the financial crisis of 2007 is unacceptable.
ALEC isn’t invincible. The efforts of individuals across every state to shine light on ALEC’s actions have produced clear results. Dozens of lawmakers have withdrawn their ALEC membership within the last few years. ALEC legislation has met with tough fights state by state, and it’s just beginning. Protecting corporations’ bottom lines at taxpayer expense has gone too far. It’s time to expose ALEC.
But there were also some victories for progressives in 2013, especially in state and local politics. While Washington was stuck in the grip of the politics of obstruction, grass-roots activists did their part, scoring some major wins for economic justice, civil liberties and democracy.In politics, as in sports, you can’t win ‘em all. With a divided government and a House of Representatives firmly in the control of tea partiers, it was a tough year for progressives in Washington – one marked by the painful cuts of sequestration and austerity’s continued drag on an already anemic recovery.
As we near the end of the year, here are some of the biggest progressive wins we saw. They’re in no particular order, but you can rank them in the comments.
1. Wounding ALEC …
They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that proved true this year as activists continued to expose the previously shadowy workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The group took a big hit in 2012 when controversy over Florida’s Shoot First law, also known as “stand your ground,” peaked after the killing of Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s fingerprints on the legislation came to light. ALEC’s hand in pushing voter disenfranchisement laws was also revealed before the 2012 election. And earlier this year, ALEC got more bad press for pushing model legislation that would require science teachers to include pseudo-scientific rebuttals to the data on climate change in their curricula.
While ALEC’s corporate sponsors were happy to back the group’s efforts to secure lower taxes and less regulation, they didn’t want to share the heat associated with these other issues. State lawmakers who had enjoyed ALEC’s luxurious junkets also came under pressure to cut ties with the organization. As a result, The Guardian reported that, “by Alec’s own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.”
2. Love wins …
Last New Year’s Eve, gay Americans could legally marry in 10 states. When the ball drops this year, they’ll have that right in 18 states.
2013 also saw the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) overturned by the Supreme Court, a victory that was years in the making.
3. Progressive cities …
In New York City and Los Angeles – two of the most influential cities in the world – unapologetically populist candidates backed by grass-roots community groups organized labor and scored decisive wins over more centrist rivals.
These weren’t partisan battles – in LA, two Democrats, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, made it through the runoff to face each other in the final election, and in New York, the real battle was in the Democratic primary as polls showed that any of the three leading Dems would have beaten Republican Joe Lhota in the general election.
They were contests of ideas. Garcetti ran a campaign focused on restoring public services that had been cut and attacking Greuel for relying on heavy spending by outside groups. Greuel, who had earned plaudits from the Chamber of Commerce for slashing corporate taxes in LA as councilwoman, lost to Garcetti by eight points.
In New York, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rose from the bottom of the pack to win the nomination – and then trounce Lhota – by relentlessly campaigning against the city’s sky-high levels of inequality. He also condemned the NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policies and promised reform. Democratic City Council President Christine Quinn, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preferred successor and the front-runner going into the race, had wounded her reputation by blocking paid sick leave legislation – while raking in contributions from business groups opposed to the measure – and came in third in the primary. Peter Dreier and John Atlas wrote in The Nationthat de Blasio’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without years of progressive grass-roots organizing in the City that Never Sleeps.
4. Stop-and-Frisk checked …
Even before the mayoral race, community groups and civil libertarians had made real progress reining in what they viewed as the NYPD’s rampant racial profiling. Not only did they shine a light on the practice, with the help of excellent reporting from NYC’s NPR affiliate, but they also helped win passage of the Community Safety Act, which established a civil liberties watchdog for the NYPD and made it easier to sue the department for incidents of racial profiling. In August, the City Council overrode Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the law.
5. Predatory lending checked …
In November, regulators enacted tough restrictions on predatory lending by banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Sally Kohn reported that the rules were largely the fruit of a two-year campaign by National People’s Action, “a national network of grass-roots organizations with more than 200 organizers in cities and states across the country.”
6. People got raises … and sick days
On January 1, 2014, working people in 13 states will see their minimum wages increase, according to the National Employment Law Project.
New Jersey not only raised its minimum wage by a dollar, but its citizens also approved a constitutional amendment that ties future hikes to the rate of inflation. Connecticut is raising its minimum to $9 per hour by 2015. A regional block consisting of Washington, DC, and two of its suburban counties in suburban Maryland are on the cusp of enacting an $11.50 living wage that will cover 2.5 million residents. In Massachusetts, the state Senate approved a measure that will enact a living wage of $11 per hour over the next two years – and double the minimum for tipped workers. The Assembly is expected to take up the bill next year. And in Sea-Tac, Wash., voters narrowly approved a $15 wage that is expected to be matched by Seattle next year.
Also this year, NYC and Portland, Ore., became the fifth and sixth major cities to require employers to offer workers paid sick days. Washington, DC, will soon become the seventh. And the fight continues: According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “legislators and advocates continue to advance proposals in Congress and about 20 other states and cities.”
7. Larry Summers derailed …
Progressive Democrats in the Senate, led by Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jeff Merkeley (Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) — and pressure from reform-minded activists — forced Larry Summers to withdraw his nomination for Federal Reserve chairman in favor of Janet Yellen, who was generally expected to be much tougher in terms of regulating Wall Street.
Summers, who served as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary before a controversial tenure as president of Harvard University, was widely respected for his knowledge and backed by President Obama. But he was also associated with financial deregulation in the 1990’s, had pushed a tepid response to the 2008 crisis and helped keep millions of homeowners underwater by refusing to endorse allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce what struggling homeowners owed to their lenders.
8. Fili-busted …
After facing unprecedented obstruction that ground the institution to a halt, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) finally killed the filibuster for most executive branch nominations. As CNNnoted, a handful of progressive bloggers, led by Daily Kos writer David Waldman, deserve a huge amount of credit for the change, having spent eight years writing about and organizing around the issue.
9. Gun safety …
Bizarrely, some states and localities responded to the nightmarish shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School by loosening restrictions on firearms. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, asMother Jonesreported, “41 new laws in 22 states made it harder for people to own guns, hard for people to carry them in public and enhanced the government’s ability to track guns.” Seven states passed legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
10. A march to war was stopped …
Progressives can’t take all of the credit for blocking the Obama administration’s path to entering Syria’s bloody civil war, but they deserve a good amount of it. Highly energetic opposition from the American left let Democrats in Congress know that they would pay a price if they uncritically supported the president’s planned attack.
11. Domestic workers got some dignity …
This year, Hawaii and California became the second and third states to enact a bill of rights law for domestic workers (New York led the way in 2010). The laws guarantee workers overtime pay and some days off and offer protections against sexual abuse and other workplace violations.
12. A global fight in a Washington county…
Whatcom County elections aren’t usually a subject of national attention. But this year, a slate of four progressive candidates for the county council, backed by grass-roots activists and environmental groups, beat back a group of business-backed rivals. As Joel Connelly reported for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the results of the race will likely kill the development of the massive, $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export as much as 48 million tons of climate-changing coal to China every year.
13. California expands access to reproductive health care …
While many red states were passing overly burdensome regulations on abortion providers – which pro-choice activists say amount to “back door” bans on the procedure – California went the other way. A law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October permits more health care providers — trained nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives – to perform abortions in the first trimester. According to Washington Post health reporter Sarah Kliff, it was the first time a state had expanded abortion access since 2006.
14. Homeowners got some protection against foreclosures …
Homeowners’ bill of rights legislation passed in Minnesota and Nevada and went into effect inCalifornia this year. Among other protections, these laws banned so-called “dual-tracking,” when lenders foreclose on a homeowner who has an application pending for a loan modification. During the first month the law was in effect in Nevada, foreclosure-related filings fell by almost 40 percent.
15. Immigrant rights activists win a couple in Connecticut …
If immigration reform isn’t dead in the nation’s capitol, it’s gravely ill and on life support. But in Connecticut and California, lawmakers decided that public safety was more important than anti-immigrant sentiment. Those states joined a growing number that allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses after passing a background check and the necessary written tests and driving exams.
Connecticut also passed the TRUST Act, which gives law enforcement officers discretion regarding whether or not to hold individuals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The intent of the law is to encourage the undocumented to report crimes and cooperate with police without fear of deportation.
School privatization laws crafted by corporate interests have been introduced in nearly every state in the first half of 2013, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. 43 states and the District of Columbia are considering school legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the umbrella organization that pushes state laws catered to business interests on a myriad of topics.
CMD’s report, “Cashing In On Kids,” details 139 separate ALEC-designed bills promoting for-profit education in the states and D.C. this year alone. Three states have considered school voucher programs, and 10 have taken up another ALEC measure that funnels public dollars to private schools via tax credits. Three states have considered the “Virtual Schools Act,” which spends taxpayer money on an online education model “few educators think is appropriate for young children.” So-called “Parent Trigger” laws designed by ALEC and the conservative Heartland Institute have come up in 12 states.
“Cashing In On Kids” notes that Wisconsin taxpayers have sent nearly two billion dollars to for-profit, religious, and online schools since Milwaukee became the nation’s first school vouchers city in 1990. School voucher programs in Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma have sent taxpayer money to schools that teach creationism. In Louisiana, almost none of the private schools receiving voucher funds have maintained the separate accounts for public dollars which the law requires, making it impossible to audit their use of the funds. Just two schools have been properly audited, and one of them relies on uncertified teachers and “plopping students in front of televisions to watch lessons on DVDs.”
Whether public education contributes to the Common Good depends, of course, on what kind of education it is, to whom it is available, and what we take to be the Common Good. There’s no need to tarry on the fact that these are highly contested matters, have been throughout history, and continue to be so today.
One of the great achievements of American democracy has been the introduction of mass public education, from children to advanced research universities. And in some respects that leadership position has been maintained. Unfortunately, not all. Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack on any rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species.
All of this falls within the general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called “neoliberal era.” I’ll return to these matters, of great significance and import.
Sometimes the attacks on education and on the Common Good are very closely linked. One current illustration is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” that is being proposed to legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth. This act mandates “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms.”
Open government advocates accused a conservative legislative group Monday of falsely claiming tax-exempt status while doing widespread lobbying.
Advocacy group Common Cause said Monday it had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity. ALEC is formed as a nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and private sector organizations to develop legislation and policy.
ALEC says its work is not lobbying.
Common Cause disagrees. “It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. “ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer.”
Common Cause wants an IRS audit of ALEC’s work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.
A spokeswoman for ALEC did not return a call seeking comment.
ALEC has been active since the 1970s and has long drawn the ire of open government groups who question the secretive development of legislation and close relationship between private sector officials and lawmakers who meet at conferences to jointly develop model legislation. Liberal activists have seized on ALEC’s support of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, coordinating a campaign against the group in the wake of the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman, who has been charged in Martin’s death, maintains he shot in self-defense. His attorney plans to cite the “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
Amid the backlash, several companies who have previously supported ALEC financially, including Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald’s Corp., said they are no longer members. And ALEC said it was disbanding its public safety task force that helped export the Florida law to other states.
Those task forces consume much of ALEC’s spending, and Common Cause believes they are simply forums for lobbying. Common Cause said its complaint was based on more than 4,000 pages of ALEC records, including talking points that ALEC workers provided to lawmakers in order to better argue on behalf of the legislation the group develops.
One has to wonder, why the GOP think that they will truly suppress tens of thousands of voters without a valid ID from casting their ballots on election day. If their strategy was to make sure those tens of thousands don’t vote, activists and civil rights advocates are making an effort to help voters with the process of obtaining an ID before election day.
In the meantime, some of us sit and watch this attack on democracy try to take hold, but I am certain those leading the effort to retain our democratic principles will eventually rule the day. I intend to do my part.
Shortly after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced it was dropping voter identification laws from its agenda, another conservative group is stepping in to fill the void.
The National Center for Public Policy Research announced this week it had formed a “Voter Identification Task Force” to continue ALEC’s “excellent work” in “promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting.” Describing itself as a “conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank,” the group was established in 1982.
“The fact that ALEC is no longer going to be offering the services it did got us interested in doing something,” National Center for Public Policy Research executive director David Almasi told TPM. “We obviously can’t do everything ALEC did, but we can do something to make sure the issue doesn’t go away.”
“This is something that we picked up because someone else dropped it and not because anyone has come to us and said here’s a check, do it. It’s something that we feel strongly enough about that we’re willing to do it off our regular strategic plan,” Almasi said.
“We’re putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we’ll kick it up a notch somewhere else,” Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, said in a statement. “You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory.”
Corporate CEOs who “cower in the face of liberal boycott threats need to understand that the left never gives up,” Ridenour said. “If these corporations do not reverse course and immediately grow enough of a backbone to say no when the left tells them what to do, conservatives may as well consider them part of the organized left. It doesn’t matter if corporate executives have free-market sentiments hidden deep inside them if they continually surrender to the left’s Trotskyite strategy of making relentless demand after demand in public.”
While several conservative organizations have taken up the issue of voter identification, no national group that considered voter ID their central issue has existed since the American Center for Voting Rights disappeared back in 2007. More recently, the Tea Party group True the Vote has held a national conference to address the issue and James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas has produced a number of “undercover” videos in an attempt to show why they believe voter ID laws are necessary.
“Now we know that Yum! Brands has joined the 11 other companies that have announced in recent weeks that they’re no longer members of ALEC. These companies are McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars Inc., Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Reed Elsevier (owner of LexisNexis and publisher of science and health information), American Traffic Solutions and Arizona Public Service.
“We want to thank these companies for making the right decision, and we want to thank ColorOfChange members and our partners. We continue to call on all major corporations to stop funding ALEC given its involvement in voter suppression. Our members and allied groups are prepared to hold accountable companies that continue to associate themselves with an organization that has attacked voting rights, causing irreparable damage nationwide.”
The loss of Yum! is also a significant loss for ALEC because the fast food giant held an important leadership role within the conservative group. YUM! co-chaired ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee which, among other things, fought to repeal laws guaranteeing paid sick leave to workers.
Reed Elsevier stated that the campaign to highlight ALEC’s promotion of measures that disempower and disenfranchise minorities played a role in its decision. “We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC,” said a Reed Elsevier spokesman.
American Traffic Solutions spokesman Charles Territo said his group’s decision not to renew its membership with ALEC “was based on how best to allocate our resources.”
To recap, here is the list of companies that have dropped ALEC so far:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Arizona Public Service
American Traffic Solutions
Zaid Jilani reports that, while complaining about “bullying” and “intimidation” by others, ALEC is “apparently deleting comments on its Facebook page that are critical of the corporate front group.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday vowed to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative nonprofit that drafts model bills for legislators.
The foundation contributed more than $375,000 to ALEC in the past two years, according to Roll Call.
“We have made a single grant, narrowly and specifically focused on providing information to ALEC-affiliated state legislators on teacher effectiveness and school finance,” said Chris Williams, the company’s spokesman.
Though the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was formed almost 40 years to organize conservative state legislators and allow them to share and replicate one another’s legislative ideas — and has been “soliciting more input from private sector members”about what is good for them for more than 20 years — it wasn’t until recently that it attracted almost any scrutiny for its promulgation of everything from Stand Your Ground laws to voter ID to business-friendly tort reforms to Arizona’s controversial immigration law to privatizing public education. That increased scrutiny may have just started to get costly for ALEC.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Color of Change, and several other groups have begun targeting influential sponsors of ALEC. Last week, Kraft Foods Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Intuit Inc. announced they would no longer support the organization. Pepsi dropped out of ALEC in January.
Color of Change has set its sights on another member of ALEC, the telecom giant AT&T.
“After hearing from us about ALEC’s involvement in voter suppression, major corporations like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Kraft have done the right thing and decided to stop funding the group,” Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, said Monday. “But despite numerous letters, emails and telephone calls from ColorOfChange, AT&T seems unconcerned their dollars are helping to suppress the black vote, support shoot first laws and undermine our democracy. It’s time that At&T hears the voices of people all across the country who expect better.”
Color of Change strategy director and head of the anti-ALEC campaign Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte last week told Raw Story that transparency is the best weapon of progressives and consumer advocates.
Color of Change, he said, plans to continue its campaign to publicly expose companies who still support ALEC. The group intends to mobilize supporters through a combination of email and social media.