By Josh Harkinson
Today, occupiers in 80 American cities will hold the movement's largest coordinated demonstration since fall: a huge protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Never heard of it? That's the point.
"It's an extremely secretive organization," says David Osborn, an organizer with Occupy Portland's Portland Action Lab, which is spearheading the national protest (known on Twitter as #F29 and #ShutDownTheCorporations). "Our goal is to expose the destructive role that it plays in our society."
Founded in 1973 as a "nonpartisan membership organization for conservative state lawmakers," ALEC brings together elected officials and corporations like Walmart, Bank of America, and McDonald's to draft model legislation that often promotes a right-wing agenda. It claims to be behind 10 percent of bills introduced in state legislatures.
Though Mother Jones broke the story on ALEC in 2002, the group began gaining more attention from progressive activists in July, when the Center for Media and Democracy obtained and published a trove of more than 800 "model bills" crafted and voted upon by ALEC's members. Since then, the Center's website, ALEC Exposed, has drawn attention to ALEC's conservative agenda and funders, which include ExxonMobil, the Olin and Scaife families, and foundations tied to Koch Industries. "ALEC is like a speed-dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives," says Mark Pocan, a Democratic state assemblyman in Wisconsin, where ALEC played a role in last year's efforts to cripple public-sector unions. "The corporations write the bills and the legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we're stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from."