In The News
At last! But what inspired media heat on ALEC?
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 18, 2011
From the Nation magazine to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, from In These Times on the Internet to MSNBC on cable, there are suddenly reporting teams doing thorough investigations of how the Koch funded and corporate backed right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has more than influenced - it has flat-out funded and motivated elected officials to introduce and pass state legislation long sought-for by rabid conservatives, legislation that if voters of all stripes had known about in advance would have been violently rejected as vulgar rewards to the very rich.
It's all fascinating to many of us who wrote about ALEC before this new wave of investigative reporting. But we would all be remiss to not remember the nonpartisan warning shot that started it all.
It came from a pointed but mildly inquisitive blog by noted University of Wisconsin historian William Cronan last winter, who simply suggested in a scholarly way that the public should know more about ALEC and its role in Scott Walker's suddenly sophisticated legislative blitz.
It has long been obvious to some Wisconsin reporters that all this detailed, anticipatory and vetted legislation was pouring out of a governor hardly known previously for any ability to multi-task. But that was suspicion without tools and legal recourse to probe the protective depths around ALEC.
It was the excessive right-wing reaction to Cronan that made all the difference. His simple inquiry produced an alarmingly passionate partisan over-response - a demand from a high-placed GOP operative for his academic emails. It shocked anyone who understands academic research and doubly shocked those who know Cronan's unassailable credentials for balanced curiosity.
Looking back, it was all this that woke up the media. The Center for Media and Democracy created an ALEC Exposed website -- doing something close to what Cronan gently suggested for scholarship. It found a whistleblower to release more than 800 bills in the hidden ALEC database and started analyzing them and comparing them to what happened when Republicans took control of so many states’ legislatures.
The leaked bills reflect concepts the lobbyists and foundation mavens of ALEC had been researching, checking with conservative lawyers and readying for the last decade of the organization's forty years, when it was started by angry, frustrated extremists of the conservative movement.
The Expose website and now the media took notice of a funding mechanism that has allowed ALEC to get so many bills through. It charges $50 for legislators of the right ilk to join, and they often pay that entry fee with taxpayer money. Corporations -- the main beneficiaries - pay many thousands of dollars in contrast, thus providing both the money to operate and the influence in state houses.
The lavish ALEC gatherings further offer an eager unknown state politician ways to connect with sources of corporate donors outside his own state and with lobbyists from the bail, oil, tobacco, pharma and other corporate industries.
The Journal Sentinel, a newspaper that actually supported Walker for governor and now must be rethinking that lapse in judgment, just this month examined new information and reported that even though Walker and Republican lawmakers (such as joint finance co-chair Robin Voss, who is the ALEC whip in Wisconsin and even introduced several ALECy concepts), downplayed connections between ALEC's agenda and their legislative efforts, but the connections were there, Said the newspaper with understatement, "The similarities between some Wisconsin legislation and ALEC draft bills are striking."
The Nation published a trio of articles outlining ALEC's ties to the Koch Brothers, the drive to block and then repeal health care reform and its efforts to turn over state services to its private corporate membership.
This newest downloadable information on ALEC should spur all levels of citizens and justice departments to take a closer look at what's happening in state legislatures.
This very radical agenda led the AFL-CIO news blog to ask: Why is Wal-Mart involved with an organization that wants to turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher plans? Why is Kraft working with a group that wants to privatize the public school system? Why is Coca-Cola going along with efforts to take away voting rights from college students? Why are Bayer and Pfizer in bed with big tobacco?
Then again, all these firms are on ALEC's corporate board.