Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Masterminding the War on Workers: ALEC

Kind of like this.
Oh this has been an evil, evil few months in statehouses around the country. Extremist corporate-backed lawmakers have passed or tried to pass cookie-cutter legislation to further weaken the middle class. Repealing child labor laws, destroying unions, giving polluters free rein, passing Jim Crow voting laws, giving barrels of money to corporations. You name it.

Wonder why these politicians are all marching to exactly the same drumbeat and introducing exactly the same legislation (instead of doing what their constituents actually want them to do)?


Yup, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. Sounds like a decent enough group, right? One of those earnest, good-government talking shops where people wearing name tags talk about combined sewer outflow projects?


ALEC puts Republican state lawmakers together with Koch-funded think tanks and corporations like, well, Koch Industries and Wal-Mart. Then the corporations have their lawyers draft "model legislation" that the lawmakers can cut and paste into a bill. ALEC will even supply talking points to make the bills sound as if they're not aimed at destroying the middle class. Like the way the corporate stooge governors of Ohio and Wisconsin talk about giving cities and towns "toolkits" --i.e., union-busting -- to "solve their fiscal crises."

Here's how it works: A little old lady state representative from Nebraska, say, pays $100 in dues to belong to ALEC. She might even make the state's taxpayers pay for it. The corporate donor pays thousands of dollars to wine and dine the simple rube -- up to $1,900 a meeting. Now a $1,900 trip to Las Vegas is bound to bedazzle a little old lady from Omaha who's idea of a night out is the salad bar at the Golden Corral.

Then she gets to see the model legislation that, say, prevents municipalities from offering cheap broadband. Or deregulates electric utilities (that worked out well, didn't it?) Or forbidding the reimportation of prescription drugs. It's the ultimate smoke-filled room, only maybe without the smoke.

Lately ALEC has been pushing draconian anti-union legislation, as we've seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Why? We like this take on it, from Scott Marshall at People's World.
Because giant corporations fundamentally want dictatorial powers. They abhor the idea of employees having any, even a limited, voice on the job. But the corporate elite's undemocratic appetites go far beyond union workers. They can't abide any democratic resistance to their economic or political goals.
DailyKos today reports that at least 14 of the 19 Republican senators in Wisconsin belong to ALEC. No shock there. What is shocking is how secretive the group is. They don't like you to know anything about them. When a University of Wisconsin professor, William Cronon,  exposed ALEC's influence on Wisconsin lawmakers in a blog posting, he was persecuted by the state Republican party. They demanded to see all of his e-mails from his university email account. (They didn't dig up anything juicy).

One more thing about ALEC: it's behind a lot of nasty anti-woman, anti-immigration, anti-gay, racist legislation. Why? Because it wants to divide working people. Writes Marshall,
Unity is a central component of working class resistance to attacks on democracy. ALEC focuses on budget and tax legislation not only to cut their own taxes, but also to disempower working people through economic crisis and poverty. ALEC would "shrink government to the size that can be drowned in a bathtub."...very importantly, organized labor has increasingly focused on being a voice for all of the working class - multinational, multiracial, male and female, young and old, gay and straight, middle class and poor, union and non-union. Labor is critical in building the biggest, broadest possible people's coalition that can actually resist and reversecorporate America's grab for power and profits before people.
If you'd like to harass your Republican state representatives for belonging to ALEC, the Man from Middletown at DailyKos drafted a nifty model letter you can send them. He suggests asking questions such as
  • Are you a member of ALEC, yes or no?
  • If Yes, when did you join?
  • Have you ever sponsored, or co-sponsored legislation written or partially written by ALEC?
  • Please identify all ALEC written legislation you have sponsored or co-sponsored.
  • ALEC has a series of conferences and workshops throughout the year.  The next event is the Annual Meeting which is to be held in New Orleans, LA August 3-6, 2011.  Do you intend to attend this event?
  • If you attend this event, will you be traveling at Taxpayer expense, Yes or No? 
Great idea, no?