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ALEC Retreats, Sort Of

Following activist pressure and corporate defections, ALEC says it’s dropping its Stand Your Ground and voter ID efforts. So what comes next?
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Occupy ALEC, photo by Mark Haller

A protest sign from the February 29 day of action.

Photo by Mark Haller

When its corporate members began to announce their plans to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, as the group is better known, reacted defensively. The exodus, ALEC charged in a press release, was the result of an “intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists.”

[Click here for more on ALEC and what prompted the corporate defections.]

Just a few days later, ALEC is singing a very different tune. The group is shutting down the task force that worked on Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws, the two types of legislation that prompted progressive groups to pressure corporations to leave ALEC.

The transparency of this turnabout is almost funny. Who exactly does ALEC think it’s fooling?

In announcing the decision, though, ALEC failed to mention the controversy, framing the move as a simple re-prioritization of resources: “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,” a press release stated.

The transparency of this turnabout is almost funny. Who exactly does ALEC think it’s fooling? The move is a clear reaction to the increasing toxicity of its brand (with yesterday’s departure by Blue Cross Blue Shield, 11 companies have now publicly left the ALEC fold). The real question is how sincere a change ALEC is making.

Bob Edgars, president of advocacy group Common Cause, one of the groups that led the boycott, calls the latest news a victory for public pressure: “The American public has wised up to ALEC’s misguided and secretive attempts to co-opt state legislators for corporate profit. In folding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, ALEC is abandoning under pressure the most controversial part of its agenda.”

Rasad Robinson, executive director of boycott leader ColorOfChange.org, is more cautious, calling the move “nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from [ALEC’s] agenda.”

Even if ALEC truly does drop its focus on the controversial laws that started the defections, though, it’s not quitting its economic agenda, which includes bills that take away the unionization rights of workers, privatize schools, protect corporations from environmental regulation, and more. These bills—as well as their corporate origins and their cookie-cutter dissemination—are also controversial, and ALEC is unlikely to find that closing one task force will save it from scrutiny.

The last few months have seen a surge in coverage of ALEC’s activities; the corporate departures kept it in mainstream news, and now groups in a number of states are conducting reviews of how ALEC has influenced their laws. Scrutiny is the new norm for ALEC, which, as Brendan Greeley of Bloomberg Businessweek points out, is very bad news for its future functioning:

"If the American Legislative Exchange Council operated with complete openness, it couldn't operate at all. ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters precisely because it does its real work in a black box. Membership lists are secret. The origins of the model bills are secret. Deliberations and votes on model bills are secret. The model bills themselves are secret. The council has designed its entire structure to disguise industry-backed legislation as grassroots work from state legislators. If this becomes clear to everyone, there's no reason for corporations to use it.”


Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Brooke is YES! Magazine's web editor.

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