In an ideal world, the legislators who represent us in our state and national governments are also representing our interests and needs when they’re drafting legislation.
Yet on numerous occasions, the drive behind proposed legislation comes courtesy of big corporations who donate to powerful lobbying groups in an attempt to influence state policy. Corporations and their lobbyists will try to weaken regulations, earn favorable tax exemptions and privatize public institutions so that their industries can scoop up business opportunities and grow profits – often at public expense.
If a bill is pro fossil fuels, guns, or private prisons, there’s a good chance The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind it.
While ALEC claims to be the largest ‘nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators’, only just over ten percent of ALEC’s funding comes from membership dues, according to PR Watch. The rest comes from some of biggest corporations in the world, trade associations, and corporate foundations, all of whom have their own agendas for bankrolling ALEC’s members.
In 2011, a website called ALEC Exposed went live, highlighting a shocking amount of model bills created by the organization. It exposed how these sample pieces of legislation were then relabeled with the names of friendly politicians with the pro-business agendas and introduced across different states.
One of the most brazen examples came in 2012, when Florida Republican representative Rachel Burgin introduced a resolution that would officially call on the federal government to reduce corporate taxes. However, she failed to remove ALEC’s mission statement from the top of the bill, exposing how the proposal was essentially cut and pasted.
“If it’s voter ID, it’s ALEC,” observed Doug Clopp, deputy director of programs at Common Cause in this investigative article by The Atlantic. “If it’s anti-immigration bills written hand-in-glove with private prison corporations, it’s ALEC. If it’s working with the NRA on ‘Shoot to Kill’ laws, it’s ALEC.”
Indeed, ALEC has helped create some of the toughest sentencing and gun rights laws. The organization’s influence even took the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which controversially helped acquit George Zimmerman for fatally shooting teenager Trayvon Martin, to a national level.
In recent years tech giants Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Yelp have abandoned the organization due to concerns over climate-change denial policies. Just last month, ExxonMobil dropped its support, as the lobbying group’s climate change denial stance was too strong, even for the gas and oil company. Yet ALEC is still receiving sizeable monetary ‘gifts’ from the likes of the Koch Brothers, who have an unrelenting pro-fossil fuels agenda.
As a result, the organization continues to hold much sway. In February of this year, The Intercept reported how eight states were considering anti-protest bills aimed at pipeline opponents less than a week after ALEC completed its model policy ‘Critical Infrastructure Protection Act,’ calling for harsher punishments for those who trespass on industry facilities. As we know, activists (and especially Native activists) are crucial in the fight to reduce unnecessary fossil fuel flow through trans-American pipelines – and they’re already facing deep injustices from the frontlines.
Troublingly, as ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists meet this week for the organization’s 45th annual meeting in New Orleans, it is reported that union-busting, gerrymandering, pro-fossil fuels, and school privatization proposals will all be on the agenda.