[Any law proposed by businessmen] ought always to be listened to with great precaution . . . It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
— Adam Smith in “Wealth of Nations”
Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
In 1973, a group of state legislators from around the country met with some right-wing ideologues to form the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to promote policies favorable to limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty, as they understood these concepts. These are the same concepts that underlie the neo-conservative and libertarian agenda that has become well known recently in Wisconsin and Ohio, and which permeate the actions of legislators throughout the US, including in the Congress.
One of the key founders of ALEC was Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, promoter of direct mail fund-raising for right-wing causes, and the first right-winger to cultivate and recruit evangelical activists to support social conservative causes. With Jerry Falwell, Weyrich founded the Moral Majority, a name he invented. Weyrich was one of the key right-wing leaders who worked to develop conservatism into the powerful force it is today after the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the disappointment with Richard Nixon’s too-moderate presidency. But Weyrich, who died in 2008, would not support Goldwater or Nixon were they alive today. They were too moderate for Weyrich’s tastes.
In the late 1980’s, ALEC saw an opportunity to move beyond policy and education by producing model legislation to promote its right-wing, pro-corporate agenda. ALEC organized itself into a number of task forces to write and promote legislation in many areas of public life. It describes itself this way:
“For more than 35 years, ALEC has been the ideal means of creating and delivering public policy ideas aimed at protecting and expanding our free society. Thanks to ALEC’s membership, the duly elected leaders of their state legislatures, Jeffersonian principles advise and inform legislative action across the country. Literally hundreds of dedicated ALEC members have worked together to create, develop, introduce and guide to enactment many of the cutting-edge, conservative policies that have now become the law in the states. The strategic knowledge and training ALEC members have received over the years has been integral to these victories.”
This description is not an exaggeration. ALEC task forces have broad mandates in the areas of Civil Justice; Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development; Communications and Technology; Education; Energy, Environment, and Agriculture; Health and Human Services; International Relations; Public Safety and Elections; and Tax and Fiscal Policy.
ALEC is funded largely by corporations and corporate leaders, so it should come as no surprise that its model legislation benefits corporate interests to the exclusion of the public interest. As Progress Texas, a membership organization focused on holding elected officials responsible to the people, explains:
“ALEC is made of more than 300 corporate and 2,000 legislative members who work behind closed doors to approve ‘model’ legislation designed to increase corporate profits at public expense. These corporate-approved bills are then introduced in states like Texas, where lobbyists of many of those same corporations also write checks donating to the political campaigns of lawmakers who advance their agenda in the Texas Legislature. The typical cycle is as follows:
1. Corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators approve ‘model’ legislation
2. Corporations donate money to receptive legislators to help them win their elections
3. Legislators file and pass the bills drafted by their corporate counterparts in ALEC
More than 80% of the corporate representatives on ALEC’s board are lobbyists for corporations, such as Altria/Phillip Morris USA, Bayer, Corrections Corporation of America, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Reynolds, State Farm, United Healthcare, and Wal-Mart. Around 200 pieces of legislation initiated by ALEC are passed into law each year in legislatures around the country.
At least one house of the Texas Legislature in 2011 approved ALEC-model bills that were vetted and endorsed by a small number of corporations, including the photo ID bill, the women’s sonogram bill, and the sanctuary cities bill (which would have denied state funds to local governments that prohibit peace officers and employees of special districts from inquiring into the status of a person arrested or detained for the investigation of crime).
Progress Texas reports that ALEC’s “legislative leadership is comprised almost entirely of Republicans and also corporations, and ALEC receives 98% of its funding from corporations, foundations, and sources other than legislative (membership) dues. ALEC corporations and their corporate representatives will give money to state legislators, in one of three ways: directly to candidates, to statewide ballot campaigns, and/or directly to Republican committees. In the past 20 years, ALEC corporations or their employees have donated $228.3 million to campaigns, $202.1 million to candidates, and an additional $85.8 million to Republican Party committees, totaling $516.2 million.”
To find out which legislators and corporations are involved with influencing and funding legislators in your state, go to the ALEC Exposed website at
http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed . ALEC Exposed is a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit investigative reporting group that focuses on “exposing corporate spin and government propaganda.”
At the ALEC Exposed website, you can learn how ALEC plans to undermine public school systems throughout the US by turning them over to corporations, to limit your legal right to seek damages for injuries caused by corporations, to turn government-run prisons into private prisons, to limit access to the ballot box by ordinary citizens, to dismiss the effects of second-hand smoke on non-smokers and block anti-tobacco laws, to limit the ability of states to raise or collect taxes, to limit the ability of public-sector workers to organize together to improve worker benefits, to create new give-aways to big business, to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, to undermine environmental protections, to limit the ability of local governments to manage land use, to further distort the harshness of the criminal justice system by incarcerating more people for longer sentences, and a host of other legislation that will fatten corporate coffers and diminish the lives of ordinary citizens.
Although ALEC has built itself into a powerful tool of right-wing and corporate interests for nearly 40 years, its influence can be combated if people are aware of its largely hidden activities. ALEC Exposed helps ordinary citizens become aware of ALEC activities and provides the knowledge needed to combat its influence on our lives.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print
Your concerned about the group ALEC due to the fact they have a hand on policy in civil justice,commerce, insurance,economic development, communications & technology, education, energy, environment, agriculture, health & human services, international relations, public safety, elections, tax & fiscal policy.
And you state that over 516.2 million have been donated to this group in the last 20 years.
Well, I think our president is in charge of ALL those departments currently and it is said that he will received over 1 billion in campaign donations that he plans on spending in the next 8 months, well short of 20 years. This administration is the one I’m concerned about.
Personally I think our prez is failing on all these issues and more. Let’s just say I’m afraid of the big bad wolf.
In 1974, Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors co-founded the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. It evolved by 1978 into the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich basically abandoned the Heritage Foundation because it became too mainstream for him. Weyrich was also an executive committee member and secretary/treasurer of the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981.
ALEC transformed the principles and agendas of these influential right-wing, conservative, Christian groups like the American Enterprise Institute, founded in 1943, and ALEC’s little brother, Free Congress Foundation, and the Council for National Policy into a turn key legislation mill. The respectable sounding names all start sounding alike after awhile.
You mentioned the Heritage Foundation but Weyrich also had ties to other hate groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, not to mention the Koch Industries.
All of these groups are connected to each other and funded by nearly the same core groups and people. They also all have ties to racist, anti-semitic, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-you-name-it people and organizations because of those connections. In a nutshell, they all operate out of radical, conservative Christian values, and if it ain’t Christian, as defined by the likes of say the Moral Majority, they are against it.
The biggest “contribution” ALEC and these other incestuous organizations make is spinning lies, distortions and misrepresentations into perfectly legal and quasi-reasonable sounding laws.
JHorton- President Obama may be able to veto some of these laws that ALEC spits out and influences but he can’t veto all of them and expect to run a country. Regarding the legislation President Obama inspired, supported or influenced that might have made huge impacts into changing the nearly unethical way our government is presently operating because of campaign financing, he has to compromise, and sometimes to such a degree that the original intent of for example saving money while still accomplishing goals has to be abandoned to the whims of the corporate run legislators’ agenda – which is to save the corporations money and make them money at the public’s expense, and don’t forget the other part of their agenda – KIC (Keep It Christian) ass. They may not be happy until this last part of the mission is complete and if they ever do get happy it will be the end of religious freedom in America.
You actually have me speechless, and trust me I am never speechless. After reading what you wrote 2 or 3 times and taking several deep breaths it came to me.
I am conservative, but I certainly have had conversations with left winged liberals in the past. I will even admit that sometimes they can teach me a thing or two, but you my friend are way out there. If you cannot even admit to yourself that it is the energy dept and the epa that is responsible for at least an extra dollar on a gallon of gas right now, and who do you think that put those czar’s in charge of those dept’s in place? I could go on and make an argument for every single dept. mentioned above. Mr. Obama has financially bankrupted this country, now I will admit he had some help.
Please, just be honest. It is not a left thing or a right thing, it is a how do you balance your check book thing!
Indeed Mr. Horton lets be honest: two wars paid on credit, tax breaks for the wealthiest paid on credit, not to mention the Great Recession. All happened on former President Bush’s watch, but lets just blame President Obama for everything…it’s easier than thinking.
I am thinking none of you were ever required to study history. The great recession might have started under Bush, and I will concede that. But for the first time in history we have had a recession last this long, even the great depression did not last this long. There are reasons for that my friends.
Now if you would be as honest as I just was, the “great recession” was started at the heart of the mortgage business. If you choose to actually look back at when and where our current laws and regulations came from for this industry you would learn that ALL of them were written and passed by a democratic house and senate.
If you are going to call me on the carpet, please be honest with yourself then go find the facts.
It is generally agreed that the Great Depression in the United States started with the Stock Market crash of 1929 and didn’t abate till the advent of WW II over a decade later. Perhaps time moved at a different pace back then but the Great Recsssion of 2007 hasn’t lasted half as long.
As for the causes of the Great Recession, it is debatabled (I will grant) as to any single cause but deregulation in the private financial sector is generally accepted as the root cause. As a, “Conservative”, I am sure you would agree that de-regulation is not a Liberal but rather a Conservative policy position. Point in fact, deregulation in the sector you point out occurred when both houses of Congress were controlled by Repulicans.
Ok, your turn on the carpet.
to you mr. conservative and mr. liberal.
“divide and conquer”. is this the hidden policy of ALEC ?
while you argue about your ideologies, corporations and their board members keep making money and rape our land.
Mr. Horton, you exude of religious fervor for your ideology. You know nothing of history. To blame a current president as you do just shows your ignorence of the way government works.
I feel your frustrations but Mr.Obama’s main campaign donors are the nuclear industry, not exactly clean people. and do not tell me this energy is indispensable for the security and prosperity of our culture. It is not worth the cost. Mr. Obama is a very smart person but he needs to come back down to earth and start hanging out with a better crowd. the healhcare issue or the energy issues cannot be solved by being boxed in, we truly are one world.
find a way to rain in the richest industries on the planet: american insurance, american banking, american oil, american weapon manufacturing. Are we afraid that if we do we will be crushed by other cultures of the world? are we so insecure ? refuse to contribute to their capital gain however you can.
I applaud you Mr.hankins for bringing up key facts of our society and opening these debates. And I applaud the Mercury for being such a public forum.
Thanks for the reporting on ALEC.