by Scott Shields, Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 02:52:26 PM EST
Up in Wyoming, the local Casper Star-Tribune decided to take a look at the machinery that pushes conservative laws in the state's legislature. Many here at MyDD may be well aware of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded rightist law-writing factory that works behind the scenes to cram their agenda on the states. But I have a feeling it's a group that isn't discussed very often among readers of the Star-Tribune (or, for that matter, any local paper outside of Washington, DC). That's why their coverage of ALEC is so important.
ALEC is one of several national organizations of state legislators. But it's not a typical good-government association. Rather, it's a conduit for corporate interests to influence legislators.
ALEC has an unabashed conservative leaning, and liberal organizations indignantly denounce it as the Great Satan of American politics. Even though most Wyoming voters would cheerfully approve of their legislators' involvement in a conservative group, some aspects of ALEC are troubling.
When you watch government officials, it's a good idea to follow the money. In ALEC's case, the trail is pretty clear. A state legislator pays only $50 a year to join. Corporate sponsors put up $5,000 to $50,000 -- for which they are privileged to write "model" laws that ALEC distributes to legislators nationwide. Legislators attend ALEC's conventions in touristy locales, where they rub elbows with the corporate benefactors who subsidize the whole shebang. (This year's gathering is in San Francisco.)
Secrecy is another red flag. [State Rep. Pete] Illoway, a Cheyenne Republican, refused a Star-Tribune request for a list of Wyoming legislators who are ALEC members. The next question is obvious: What do those legislators have to hide?
As Matt Singer points out at the PLAN blog, "ALEC's real focus is on corporate profit and hurting liberals for purely political gain." Corporations funnel unknown amounts of money into the organization, which then writes pro-corporate legislation that gets passed to members in state legislators who, as the Star-Tribune points out, don't have to disclose their membership.
If you ever find yourself frustrated that the Republicans seem to be better tacticians than Democrats, you should know that ALEC is one of the reasons why. By pushing canned legislation at the state level, ALEC helps Republicans build the groundwork for future gains, as these rightist laws then filter up the legislative food chain, eventually finding a foothold in Washington. Just take a look at some of their wish list: fighting auto emissions standards, fighting against lowering class sizes in schools, fighting living wage laws, fighting against progressive taxation, etc.
The emergence of PLAN as a counterbalance to ALEC is an important step in ending the corporate right's onslaught on our state governments. But perhaps more important is the fact that people all across the country learn what ALEC is about and who is behind it. As the Star-Tribune points out, living in our communities, state legislators are far more easily influenced than members of the US Congress. Local campaigns to let them know that their constituents know all about ALEC -- what they do, where their money comes from -- is not unlikely to shake them out of some of that laziness.