Friday, November 11, 2011

ALEC; A Threat to Democracy

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An organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is threatening to undermine our democracy. Their membership includes current legislators at the state and federal levels along with corporations. While the website claims they are nonpartisan, they are almost dominated by Republicans with only a couple of Democrats.

The group meets and draws up "model" bills to be introduced in state houses across the country and even in Congress. Their most recent conference was held in New Orleans at which all 2000 legislators and 300 corporate members were present. Most disturbing is the fact that corporations have a direct role in drafting these bills that suit their agendas, and they vote with equal voice with the legislators, even having veto powers.

We have seen the similarity of laws being passed, or attempted, in many states over the past year, including here in Texas. ALEC is behind the voter restriction laws, anti-union efforts, and privatization of schools and prisons. Their agenda items include:

~ granting tax breaks to corporations, rules limiting state taxing powers in an attempt to turn government programs into profit-making enterprises ~ privatize public schools through expanding school voucher systems ~ privatize public pension funds ~ turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs ~ privatize all aspects of social services delivery including prisons and prison labor ~ repeal state and local laws that boost wages such as "living wage" ~ bills that call starting minimum wage an unfunded mandate ~ support for radical free trade agendas that send US manufacturing overseas ~ voter ID legislation that target college students, the elderly, the poor and other Democratic leaning constituents ~ preempting of any policy that raises wages, expands healthcare or consumer protections ~ bills to defund the public sector unions ~ bills to make it harder for trial lawyers to bring cases when consumers are injured or killed by dangerous products

Materials were leaked to The Center for Media and Democracy, including 800 "model" bills that can be compared to bills that have been passed in the states. There is an abundance of information at one of their websites, including lists of legislators and corporations, as well as these bills. It might be surprising to see who is or has been associated with ALEC including Governors Rick Perry and Scott Walker of Wisconsin and other well known congressmen such as Speaker John Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor. Corporations involved include Koch, WalMart, Johnson and Johnson, Coca Cola and pharmaceutical companies.

ALEC was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich who has said "I don't want everybody to vote...Our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populous goes down". With the Republican sweep in the last election they felt their time had finally come to more agressively pursue their agendas.
As John Nichols reports in The Nation magazine, "ALEC is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics". "Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest," says Bob Egar of Common Cause. "This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic process."

Revenue bills include: Capital Gains Tax Elimination Act, Use Tax Eliminations Act, Super Majority Act, Taxpayer Protection Act, Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act.

Privatization bills introduced include: Competitive Contracting of the Motor Vehicles Act, Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act, Public-Private Fair Competition Act, Competitive Contracting of Public Services Act.

Union suppression bills: Public Employee Freedom Act, Public Employer Payroll Deduction Act, Voluntary Contributions Act.

One of their health care bills is the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act. A wish list for insurers has been in the works for over a decade to turn over Medicare and Medicaid to them for a source of revenue. The Paul Ryan plan which replaces Medicaid with block grants is an extention of ALEC's agenda. The Resolution on Medicaid Funding Through a Federal Block Grant was adopted in 2008. Other health related legislation includes The Health Care Choice Act for States was adopted in 2007.
ALEC's plan for public schools consists of vouchers with the intention of redesigning and defunding public schools. Their desire is to transform schools into a profit-driven system in which schools do not serve everyone. Julie Underwood, JD, PhD and dean of the School of Education and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, also a contributor to The Nation, poses, "What happens to our democracy when we return to an educational system whose access is defined by corporate interests and divided by class, language, ability, race and religion? In a push to free-market education, who pays in the end?"

In Wisconsin, a state representative pursued a voter restriction law that makes it harder for seniors, students and low-income citizens to vote. As stated earlier, this has been a goal of ALEC since its inception. Their desires are to let big money infuse campaigns and obstruct direct democracy. You are most likely aware of voter restriction laws that have been introduced in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and here in Texas. It appears that ALEC wants to ensure that citizens do not determine who is elected president. Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan states, "Once they set the rules for elections and campaigns, ALEC will pretty much call the shots.

Koch's involvement includes infusing ALEC with possibly over $1 million as well as a half-million loan at a time when ALEC was struggling. They have been a part of the corporate board for over 20 years. In addition to shaping legislation that has involved every state they have "tutored" judges about the "free market" import of their rulings. "Ordinary citizens rely on our elected representatives' efforts to restore what's left of the American Dream. But through ALEC, billionaire industrialists are purchasing a version that seems like a real nightmare for most Americans" Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

As an American citizen, this secretive group concerns me a great deal with its far reaching power into our democratic process. It would behoove us all to take note and demand that our voices not be silenced., The Nation, Center for Media and Democracy

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