What’s happening with ALEC is good. But not good enough.
Pressured by a coalition of civil rights, clean government and religious groups to quit their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, multinational corporations are indeed exiting ALEC. Now, it’s time to demand that the 2,000 legislators who have joined ALEC do the same.
Coca-Cola quit ALEC Wednesday. PepsiCo revealed the same day that it had quietly decided to let its membership lapse. Intuit Inc. confirmed that it is exiting ALEC. And Kraft Foods has announced that: “Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.”
Translation: Kraft—like other corporations that produce consumer products and, thus, must appeal to the great mass of Americans—no longer wants to be associated with a shadowy group that links corporations and legislators in order to advance extreme (and extremely unpopular) agendas.
Since the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed“ project was developed last summer in cooperation with The Nation, millions of Americans have become aware that ALEC uses corporate money to craft one-size-fits-all “model legislation” that its member legislators then propose and pass in the states.
The “ALEC Exposed” project revealed the backstory of how this forty-year-old group uses an elaborate system of corporate-guided “task forces” to promote:
* Restrictive voter ID laws and an array of related initiatives that threaten to suppress voting by residents of rural regions, students, senior citizens and people of color.
* Anti-labor laws designed to limit the ability of Americans to organize and have a voice in their workplaces and the public life of their communities, states and nation.
* Tort “reform,” deregulation and corporate tax-slashing schemes that eliminate tools to assure multinational corporations act responsibly and contribute to the communities and states where they operate.
* Money-in-politics initiatives that seek to remove barriers to domination of elections by corporations and billionaire right-wing donors—such as longtime ALEC supporters Charles and David Koch.
* Privatization schemes that undermine public education and public services, posing particular threats to rural communities and urban neighborhoods that rely on strong public institutions.
* Kill-at-will laws that prevent police and prosecutors from effectively investigating shootings such as that of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Bo Morrison in Wisconsin and others who have been killed since states began to enact so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws.
The response to revelations regarding the role ALEC has played in warping the legislative processes of the states has been remarkable.
Civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League have focused on concerns about the damage done with regard to voting rights issues, unions have focused on concerns about attacks on labor rights and threats to economic fairness, immigrant rights groups have raised issues. And, following the Trayvon Martin shooting, ColorofChange began to challenge corporations to reconsider their association with ALEC.
Responsible corporations—or, at the very least, corporations that do not want to lose market share in the face of consumer boycotts—are exiting ALEC.
But the group’s most extreme backers are doubling down. A representative of the Koch Companies announced that, “Yes, we plan to continue our membership in and support of ALEC.” That decision, along with indications from tobacco and drug companies that they will stick with ALEC for now, have the potential to keep the group going.
But ALEC will loose a good deal of infuence if major companies continue to respond to the call from groups such as ColorofChange to “stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which has worked to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled and the poor.”
That’s vital to challenging the one-size-fits-all assault on lawmaking in the states. But just as the challenges to the corporate sponsors of ALEC are essential, so too are challenges to the legislators who maintain membership in the groups.
These legislators are not thinking for themselves. They are taking their cues from an inside-the-Beltway, corporate-sponsored group that effectively demands that they dismiss the will of their constituents in favor of the demands of those corporations. It’s a dangerous calculus for democracy. And it is time to start asking legislators why they are answering to multinational corporations rather than hometown voters.
The Maine’s Majority movement has asked legislators in that state to give up their American Legislative Exchange Council memberships: “Given what we now know about ALEC and its detrimental effect on Maine’s public policy, there’s no excuse for Maine legislators to continue their involvement in the organization,” says Maine’s Majority executive director Chris Korzen. “The fact that Coke, Pepsi and Kraft have left ALEC speaks volumes to how toxic the group has become. It’s time for Maine’s ALEC members to follow suit.”
Maine Majority is naming and shaming Maine legislators who are allied with ALEC—identifying “known ALEC members” and urging them to “terminate their ALEC memberships.”
Activists in other states can be just as bold.
Now that multinational corporations have begun to bow to grassroots pressure and agreed to end their affiliations with the American Legislative Exchange Council, it’s time to demand that elected legislators Exit ALEC.