Young Cincinnati Activists Help Spark International Exposé

by Mark Grauhuis & Bem Stockwell

In April, hundreds of mostly young activists converged on Fountain Square in Cincinnati to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, whose members were meeting in the Netherland Plaza Hotel downtown, is a group consisting of think tanks and corporate members who produce model legislation to be introduced in local, state and federal government.

The protest was the first of its kind, even though ALEC has been around as a powerful right-wing front-group since 1973 (when it was founded by rabid capitalist-conservative Paul Weyrich) and on its Corporate Enterprise board sit representatives from some of the largest corporations in the world; EXXON, Peabody Coal, Glaxo Smith Kline, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Altria (Phillip Morris), Pfizer and Koch among others (many are still undisclosed).

ALEC sees thousands of its pieces of model legislation introduced in statehouses around the country each year, and sometimes entire bills. ALEC model legislation was used in Arizona’s SB1070 “show me your papers” law. Closer to home, Governor John Kasich is one of the founding members of ALEC and it is believed that SB5’s anti-union provisions, like Wisconsin’s recently-enacted State Act 10, were straight out of the organization’s playbook.

Though the public can view the names of many model bills on ALEC’s website, the actual language in the bills is behind password protection, available only to high-paying members.

That all changed when, after the April protest, Aliya Rahman, one of the organizers, leaked over 800 of the previously unavailable documents. On Wednesday, they were released by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) at ALECexposed.org. Later in the day, The Nation was the first media outlet to provide in-depth analysis.

One bill that could prove influential in Ohio is the “Education Accountability Act”. This would mean school districts deemed underperforming could be declared “Educationally Bankrupt” and taxpayer-subsidized vouchers provided for parents to enroll their children in private schools, rather than providing funding and other assistance to the district. One owner of a for-profit online school who would benefit from the voucher program is an ALEC corporate Co-chair for 2011.

ALEC model legislation like HB 1021, introduced by Rep. Chris Dorworth (an ALEC member) in Florida in February, directly attacks public workers’ last bastions of defense, union representation, denies them the right to political activity, and seeks to further privatize local and federal government in the interests of a business takeover of public policy.

ALEC openly advocates privatizing transportation and deregulating public health, consumer safety and environmental quality, including bringing in corporations to administer: foster care, adoption services and child support payment processing, highway systems (through heavy tolls resistant to green energy), drinking water, and solid waste services and facilities, etc.

ALEC has a long history of regressive environmental policies that hinder the effectiveness of regulation, protect big business polluters, promote climate change denial, and also threaten the ability of environmental activists to speak out.

“The Groundwater Protection Act,” for example, would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to stop polluters.

“The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” would establish an “eco-terrorist” registry that would include activists who have committed, among other things, the new crime of taking photographs of factory farms.

The “Targeted Contracting for Certain Correctional Facilities and Services Act” allow states to contract prisons out to private corporations. Along with other bills that would ‘reform’ the prison industry, it wouldreduce regulation on private prisons and allow for the expansion of slave labor, particularly using immigrants and detainees processed as part of Homeland Security’s increased power, and the exploitation of prisoners.

The leaked documents help us understand how corporations like Koch Industries (who have given well over $1 million to ALEC) can make billions by demanding bailouts and taxpayer subsidies while corrupting government and polluting for free. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman.

The scope of the model legislation is large, ranging from concerted efforts to remove the public option on health care to voting rights, from corporate tax code to public services funding, and from workers’ rights to gun control. ALEC even wrote a resolution
in support of the horrendous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in our elections, and helped ensure that a socialized health care system was never considered.

In essence, ALEC has created a deceptive web of lawmakers and public employees who act as lobbyists/agents on their behalf and on behalf of their corporate and special interest members. The laws and the way in which they are written are entirely undemocratic and are an attack on our ability to work toward a more equal future during a time of financial crisis.

In recent years, ALEC has taken in about $6.5 million in tax-deductible donations, and reported $54,504,702 in “gifts,” “grants” and other contributions from its corporate and special interest members. Common Cause calculated that 22 of ALEC’s key member companies had contributed more than $317 million to state election campaigns over the last decade. It is time for ALEC to stop masquerading as a nonpartisan public interest group and receive a full investigation by the IRS.

Currently, their corporate backers can take a tax deduction by giving money to ALEC to push for more tax breaks and less regulation for their companies. The young folks behind the Cincinnati action are now working with organisations and public advocates across the country to organize a protest action at the ALEC August meeting at a luxury hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Show up, send money, spread information, and ask the media to cover this event. You can make a difference. For more information, visit http://protestalec.org/

ALEC refused to comment on any aspect of the material covered here. Learn more at www.truth-out.org and www.greenpeace.org.

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