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Time to Undo ALEC's Damage | The Nation

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Voting Rights Watch

Voting Rights Watch

In-depth coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide, in partnership with Colorlines.com.

Time to Undo ALEC's Damage

No longer able to defend themselves on Voter ID and “Kill at Will” legislation they helped popularize—as much as they tried—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is finally dropping both from their agenda, announcing today that they will focus on free market, anti-regulation policies. In a statement from Indiana state Representative David Frizzell, also ALEC’s national chairman:

“Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades. Fostering the exchange of pro-growth, solutions-oriented ideas is precisely why ALEC exists.
“To that end, our legislative board last week unanimously agreed to further our work on policies that will help spur innovation and competitiveness across the country.

“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.

“We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned.

“While we recognize there are other critical, non-economic issues that are vitally important to millions of Americans, we believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.

“Our free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies are the reason ALEC enjoys the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle and in all 50 states. ALEC members are interested in solutions that put the American economy back on track. This is our mission, and it is what distinguishes us.”

Check for a full explainer from John Nichols, but a few things here: I wrote earlier this month about corporations pulling out of ALEC—unofficially in response to the Voter ID and Kill at Will (“Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground”) laws that respectively place barriers to voting rights and led to the death of Trayvon Martin and many others. At the time it was just Kraft, Pepsi and Coke, but since then at least eight other companies involved with ALEC have dropped out. Not all of the companies cited Voter ID or Kill at Will as reasons for their ALEC divorce, but whatever. The fact that ALEC is dropping the killer agendas altogether is an ending I think we can all live with.

ALEC didn’t go down without a fight. They were defensive until this moment, and just a week ago they called the efforts to have companies part ways with them an “intimidation campaign.” ALEC executive director Ron Scheberle said:

ALEC is an organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and the vigorous exchange of ideas between the public and private sector to develop state based solutions. Today, we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.

At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential priorities. We are not and will not be defined by ideological special interests who would like to eliminate discourse that leads to economic vitality, jobs and fiscal stability for the states.

This was, of course, a cop-out. They seem to be confused about their identity, thinking their role in spreading restrictive voter and loose-hand-cannon laws don’t qualify as “ideological special interests.” They must think that only groups like the NAACP and Color of Change, who were at the forefront of getting the divorce papers signed by ALEC’s member corporations, are special interests because they deal with race. But because ALEC chose to ignore the racial implications of the legislation they were hustling doesn’t mean they don’t have ideological slants, or that they’re not a special interest group. And as I pointed out before, their claim that their real focus is on “economic vitality” is tantamount to Citizen’s Councils saying that their real mission is to improve neighborhood real estate values.

If it’s just about economic decisions, then why did ALEC take a gun law crafted in Florida to model and peddle to other states? While ALEC’s announcement today is a welcome victory, the bitter part of it is that a lot of damage has already been done. Over half the states in the nation have “Stand Your Ground” laws or some version of it; every state in the nation except Illinois has a law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes. And as Jill Lepore reported in The New Yorker this week, there are now as many guns as there are people in the United States. ALEC is also culpable in the nine states that passed strict photo voter laws, and most of the twenty-one other states that have other versions of voter ID legislation.

The “Public Safety and Elections” task force may be scrapped, but the integrity of that decision would be enhanced if they convinced the state legislators they have such tremendous influence over to reverse course on these deadly laws they helped pass.

Lisa Graves, executive director of The Center for Media and Democracy, which also played a central role in pushing corporations to part ways with ALEC, echoes the same:

“ALEC’s announcement is a partial victory for the power of grassroots citizen action, but for Americans concerned about brand-name corporations underwriting ALEC’s extreme agenda to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote and to protect armed vigilantes, ALEC’s PR maneuver to try to distance itself from its record of extremism is an empty gesture unless it and the corporations that have bankrolled its operations work to repeal ALEC-backed laws that have advanced the NRA’s agenda and that will impede citizens from voting in the coming elections.”

And from Color of Change:

“ALEC has spent years promoting voter suppression laws, Kill at Will bills, and other policies that hurt Black and other marginalized communities. They have have done this with the support of some of America’s biggest corporations, including AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and State Farm.

“ALEC’s latest statement is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from its agenda, which has done serious damage to our communities. To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers. It’s clear that major corporations were in bed with an institution that has worked against basic American values such as the right to vote. Now that these companies are aware of what they’ve supported, what will they do about it? If ALEC’s corporate supporters will not hold the institution accountable for the damage it has caused nationwide, then the ColorOfChange community will hold them accountable.”

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