A voter inserts his paper ballot at the Belvedere Park polling booth in East Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The American Legislative Exchange Council operated for almost forty years with scant notice, quietly connecting corporate interests with conservative legislators to impose one-size-fits-all “model legislation” on the states. Since ALEC’s secrets began leaking last year, however, its corporate members have been subjected to the sort of scrutiny—and antipathy—that CEOs and investors find most unsettling.
Some, like Pepsi, quietly left ALEC earlier this year, as Color of Change, the Urban League, NAACP, People for the American Way and other groups raised a ruckus over ALEC’s push for harsh voter ID laws and related voter-suppression initiatives. But after the Trayvon Martin shooting focused attention on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—and on ALEC’s role in passing similar laws nationwide—the exodus truly began. Prodded by a coalition including Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that they would drop their memberships.
The campaign worked: on April 17 ALEC announced it would shut down the Public Safety and Elections task force, which had spawned “shoot first” laws, voter ID rules, prison privatization schemes and measures to crack down on immigrants.
This is a big deal. A year ago most Americans had never heard of ALEC. But after the leaking of hundreds of its documents to the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation last summer and the digital campaign of the past several weeks (ALEC’s director of external affairs admitted that the group is “getting absolutely killed in social media venues”), ALEC is no longer the shadowy figure it once was.
ALEC will survive, of course, kept afloat largely by the billionaire Koch brothers and their corporate allies. But as activists keep up the pressure, they must not lose sight of the worst culprits, who must be identified and targeted: the more than 2,000 legislative members of ALEC. The Center for Media and Democracy maintains a list of lawmakers allied with ALEC at ALECexposed.org. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has begun to pressure dozens of Democrats involved with the overwhelmingly Republican group to quit. Their exit from ALEC would put the lie to the claim that ALEC is nonpartisan.
Common Cause argues that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status by lobbying, and Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan has introduced a bill requiring ALEC to register as a lobbyist in that state. But especially as November approaches, the Exit ALEC movement must go beyond the group to confront some of the damage it has done. In the past two years, thirty-four states have introduced bills to restrict voting for some 5 million eligible voters; nine have passed voter ID laws; dozens of other states have gotten rid of early voting or tried to hobble voter registration drives. In Florida get-out-the-vote efforts by the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have been sabotaged. The most affected are blacks, Latinos and other groups that skew Democratic.
For this reason, The Nation has teamed up with Colorlines.com to cast a vigilant eye on such anti-democratic efforts in the coming months, while also campaigning for universal voter registration. The best way to undo the damage done by ALEC is to replace voter suppression laws with voter engagement laws, which give power to the people—and remove it from ALEC’s backroom dealers.