Littwin: ALEC nation
It’s not a lobbying group, it just demands lawmaker allegiance on the part of corporations, and gets it
The news is out: ALEC has been officially Snowdened.
Thanks to the Guardian (the British paper with the digital-first ethos and the hungry New York office), we’ve got leaked secret documents about the political powerhouse that, along with its corporate sponsors, sets the agenda (i.e. writes the laws) for conservative state legislators who couldn’t figure out how to do it themselves.
You probably don’t know much about ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — unless you’re a political junkie or a Republican state legislator. But you should.
It’s the Koch-brothers-paid-for group that pushes the movement politics that all those states tend to pass en masse — sort of a Common Core legislative curriculum. Think stand-your-ground laws and voter ID laws and public-sector union-busting laws and guns-are-good-in-all-circumstances laws and you get the idea.
ALEC is holding its annual convention in Washington, but that’s not the news. The news is the revelations from the leaked documents, that 1) many mainstream companies have opted out of ALEC, in reaction to the Trayvon-Martin-killed-for-frequenting-convenience-store story 2) lots of legislators have dropped their association with ALEC, too, 3) ALEC has had a significant revenue shortfall and 4) ALEC, for some reason, drafted a loyalty oath for its state chairs.
I’m not sure how the Guardian got all this stuff, but it must have been either from some disgruntled legislator or maybe the latest NSA intelligence dump. But, however it came to light, the loyalty oath bit is a stunner. It not only sounds vaguely un-American, it is vaguely un-American. And if it doesn’t make you wonder about these people, then you’re not paying attention.
Here’s the wording ALEC drafted for state chairs (which apparently was never ratified, because once you say it out loud, you can’t help but hear how off-key it sounds): “I am morally responsible for the health and well-being of this organization. I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”
Yes, put the interests of the organization first. You know, like ahead of the people you represent. With care and loyalty not exactly for all – but for the ALEC power players who run the “organization,” which sounds a lot like what we used to call the “syndicate.”
Sen. Bill Cadman and Rep. Libby Szabo are listed as Colorado chairs. John Tomasic, of our very own Colorado Independent, asked their offices for comment on the secret oath. He didn’t hear back. You have to admire the loyalty in that.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post tried to enter what he called the belly of the beast, located in a Washington hotel. He was turned away from the meetings, which he described thusly:
“The environment and energy task force, led by private-sector American Electric Power. The tax and fiscal policy task force, headed by Altria. The international relations task force, run by Philip Morris. The commerce and insurance task force, by State Farm. And the health and human services task force, by Guarantee Trust Life Insurance.”
According to the documents leaked to the Guardian, ALEC’s problems can be traced to the Stand Your Ground laws, which basically allow people to shoot anyone they think is threatening them, even if there is no actual threat and the real problem is too many guns combined with too much paranoia. And so neighborhood super-watchman George Zimmerman can shoot an unarmed teenager in a hoodie who Zimmerman thinks may not belong in the neighborhood. And we know how the story has gone from there.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. In the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, a man shoots a young woman who comes to his door in the middle of the night. The story is, to put it mildly, unclear, but what we basically know is that Renisha McBride, 19, came to a locked screen door, either banging on it for help or banging on it to get inside, and a man, Theodore Wafer, comes to the door with a shotgun and shoots her in the face, killing her. Wafer has been charged with second-degree murder. Could his reaction conceivably be defensible? Well, Michigan is a stand-your-ground state, so we’ll see.
Meanwhile, in Chickamauga, Ga., Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s, wanders three miles from home, carrying a handful of mail he had collected from mailboxes along the way, and tries the doorknob of a stranger’s house in the middle of the night. Joe Hendrix, an Iraq veteran, comes out to the porch with his Glock pistol in hand and sees Westbrook approaching the house. As Hendrix’s fiancee is calling 911 from inside, Hendrix calls out to Westbrook to identify himself. But when Westbrook keeps approaching, Hendrix shoots him four times, killing him. In the first two instances, the shooter was white and the victim black. In this case, both were white. Tragedies come in all colors. And the police, they say, were only six minutes away. The district attorney is deciding whether to charge Hendrix.
The leaked report says that 60 corporations and 400 state legislators have left ALEC over the past two years. The corporations, it seems, didn’t want to be identified with the death of Trayvon Martin. You’d have to hope that some of the legislators were similarly moved. You’d like to think, too, that these unnecessary deaths might move legislatures to change the laws.
But, whatever happens, you don’t have to fear for ALEC. It is now in the process of setting up what it calls the Jeffersonian Project, which is a 501 (c) (4) organization, meaning that it can legally lobby – which has been an issue for ALEC, which isn’t allowed to lobby as constituted — and that its donors do not have to be disclosed. In these cases, donors prefer anonymity, and you can see why. Of course, they’d still be taking the chance that someone will leak the donor list to the Guardian.
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