Advocates and researchers converged this week in Rhode Island to talk about work exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The group, including the Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director Lisa Graves, was gathered for a panel at Netroots Nation, a conference which brings together bloggers, social justice advocates, labor and organizational leaders, grassroots organizers, and others. Each in their own way, the panelists talked about how through ALEC corporations are unduly influencing and corrupting American democracy. CMD launched ALECexposed last July after a whistleblower gave Graves "model" bills that had been voted on by ALEC corporations and legislators behind closed doors on ALEC task forces.
Graves was joined by Color of Change's Rashad Robinson, Progress Now's Aniello Alioto, the National Education Association's Kim Anderson, People for the American Way's Marge Baker, and the National Public Pension Coalition's John Carey. Each of these organizations and others have been working to expose the ALEC agenda in a variety of ways.
Robinson discussed the successful corporate accountability campaign his organization has pursued with help from allies to make it clear to corporations that there are not two sides to the issue of African Americans being able to vote. He also talked about the efforts by Color of Change in discussing this issue and deep concerns about how ALEC has spread the NRA's agenda with corporate diversity and ethics officers.
Graves gave an overview of ALEC and introduced a video. She also noted that the ALECexposed effort had its origins in reports by numerous groups over the years as well as the first public protests of ALEC last spring.
Baker discussed the vision of one of ALEC's co-founder's Paul Weyrich opposing more people voting and noted how that vision has been reinforced by ALEC's template to make it more difficult for Americans to vote through restrictive voter ID legislation. She also discussed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which increases the role of corporate entities in elections and our policies, and which ALEC has endorsed while also opposing new disclosure rules.
One of the issues on the extensive ALEC agenda that the panelists focused on is privatizing public education, which Rupert Murdoch has recently become more involved in and which Murdoch described as a multi-billion dollar market. ALEC has spent decades opposing public education through various measures which seek to redirect taxpayer dollars to private schools and for-profit education corporations while also giving corporations and others tax write-offs for donating to private schools.
As CMD has documented, ALEC's Education Task Force is co-chaired by a virtual school company and one of the ALEC bills is a proposal to pay virtual schools the same per-pupil amounts as a public school that has bricks and mortar and related expenses, as the NEA emphasized. Anderson noted that the ALEC agenda includes efforts to push school voucher systems, which divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools to private schools, and create private charter schools with public funds, even private online schools, and other schemes.
"On ALEC's education agenda kids really come last," Anderson said.
Another ALEC objective discussed is the effort to privatize public pensions. ALEC's plan for this is to transfer the management of pension funds from the public sector to for-profit Wall Street firms through 401(k) programs. The argument that this is financially beneficial to taxpayers is not true, Carey said. "ALEC preys on legislators who don't have knowledge on the issue and ALEC spreads misleading information."
Alioto added that a central topic at the recent ALEC meeting in Charlotte was efforts to limit the State Attorney General's power to sue corporations. "This has become a big ALEC initiative," he said.
"Every American ought to be deeply concerned by ALEC," added Graves.
CMD urged the audience to help spread the word about ALEC politicians, corporations, and think tanks, and to help expose the gifts ALEC legislators are accepting that are funded by ALEC corporations.
Making the Voices of Citizens Louder than the Voices of Corporations
The panelists also discussed the success of grassroots organizing in making the name ALEC better known and suspect. Over the past few months groups like Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Credo Mobile, Progress Now! and the Center for Media and Democracy have been urging corporations and legislators to cut ties with ALEC. So far 22 private sector members of ALEC have left, and over 50 legislators from both parties have severed their ties with ALEC. "State legislators are dropping out without us even asking ..." Alioto said.
In closing, Robinson reiterated the need to keep shining a light on ALEC: "When the voices of people become louder than the voices of corporations, that's when we make democracy work."