ALEC Disbands Controversial Task Force–But Continues Attack on Labor and Environment

Lindsey Kratochwill

The Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil, the now-infa­mous orga­ni­za­tion that advances mod­el leg­is­la­tion” through a net­work of con­ser­v­a­tive leg­is­la­tors, announced on Tues­day that it would be dis­band­ing the Pub­lic Safe­ty and Elec­tions” task­force respon­si­ble for push­ing Stand Your Grand” and Vot­er ID laws.In a press release on its web­site, the orga­ni­za­tion said that it was dis­man­tling the task force in order to sharp­en its focus on the econ­o­my: 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. The remain­ing bud­getary and eco­nom­ic issues will be reas­signed.But ALEC’s deci­sion is clear­ly an attempt to stem the tide of pub­lic scruti­ny that has result­ed in a mass depar­ture of its cor­po­rate spon­sors over the past week and a half. As pub­lic anger grew over the death of Flori­da teen Trayvon Mar­tin and the fail­ure to arrest his killer, nation­al atten­tion turned to the role of ALEC and the NRA in push­ing the law that had pro­tect­ed Zim­mer­man. Due in part to their inter­ven­tions, 25 oth­er states now have sim­i­lar laws. Eleven cor­po­rate spon­sors, includ­ing Coca-Cola, Pep­si­Co and Kraft, have now decid­ed to pull out of ALEC. In an inter­view with Democ­ra­cy Now, Lisa Graves of the Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy said of the move by ALEC: It shows the poten­cy of the tremen­dous grass­roots out­pour­ing of objec­tion to ALEC’s agen­da and ALEC’s pro­ce­dures, where cor­po­rate lob­by­ists and politi­cians actu­al­ly vote behind closed doors on these pro­posed mod­el leg­is­la­tion with­out the press or pub­lic present on this extreme agen­da.ALEC is com­prised of 10 task forces that pro­duce mod­el leg­is­la­tion,” which is then intro­duced and spon­sored by ALEC mem­ber law­mak­ers in their home states—despite the fact that fed­er­al tax law for­bids 501(c)(3) orga­ni­za­tions such as ALEC from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the for­ma­tion of legislation.
Fol­low­ing a report by Beau Hodai for In These Times detail­ing how ALEC, on behalf of the pri­vate prison indus­try, helped shape Ari­zon­a’s anti-immi­grant law, the ALEC Exposed” project cast light on more than 800 pieces of mod­el leg­is­la­tion” advanced by ALEC. (For all of Hodai’s ALEC cov­er­age, go here.)Buoyed by the nation­al atten­tion to Mar­t­in’s death, pub­lic out­cry about the orga­ni­za­tion has tak­en to social media through the Twit­ter hash­tags  #ALE­C­ex­posed and #dumpALEC. There’s even a Pin­ter­est board devot­ed to anti-ALEC com­ments that have been delet­ed from ALEC’s Face­book page. The neg­a­tive response around the web has got­ten so heat­ed that ALEC is try­ing to ral­ly their own troops through a Her­itage Foun­da­tion Blog­ger’s Brief­ing, where yes­ter­day, Cait­lyn Korb, ALEC direc­tor of exter­nal rela­tions appealed to blog­gers to get the word out about what ALEC real­ly does.” As PR Watch reports, Korb said: We’re get­ting absolute­ly killed in social media venues—Twitter, Face­book, Pin­ter­est (I did­n’t even know Pin­ter­est was a forum for a lot of polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion, but now it is)—so any and all new media sup­port you guys can pro­vide would be so help­ful, not just to us but to aver­age peo­ple who don’t know much about this fight but are see­ing us get real­ly heav­i­ly attacked with very lit­tle oppo­si­tion.Graves and oth­er anti-ALEC cam­paign­ers are skep­ti­cal that the clo­sure of one task force will sig­nif­i­cant­ly change the orga­ni­za­tion’s shad­owy prac­tices.Col­o­rOfChange exec­u­tive direc­tor Rashad Robin­son, whose group has been fight­ing against the racial­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry vot­er ID leg­is­la­tion pushed by ALEC, told the New Repub­lic: ALEC’s lat­est state­ment is noth­ing more than a PR stunt aimed at divert­ing atten­tion from its agen­da, which has done seri­ous dam­age to our com­mu­ni­ties. To sim­ply say they are stop­ping non-eco­nom­ic work does not pro­vide jus­tice to the mil­lions of Amer­i­c­as whose lives are impact­ed by these dan­ger­ous and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry laws cour­tesy of ALEC and its cor­po­rate back­ers.As Nan­cy Sco­la writes in The Atlantic, the announce­ment is both a big deal—and not.” The task forces that still make up ALEC con­tin­ue to push leg­is­la­tion like a law in Ten­nessee that encour­ages the teach­ing of alter­nate hypothe­ses to cli­mate change and evo­lu­tion, and the ALEC mod­el bill known as the Pub­lic Employ­ee Free­dom Act,” which has been used to attack col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights in Ohio, Ari­zona and Wis­con­sin. Blue Cross Blue Shield­’s Tues­day announce­ment that it too will sev­er ties with ALEC brings the total num­ber of dis­band­ed cor­po­rate spon­sors up to 11. Grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions aren’t stop­ping there, and are con­tin­u­ing to talk to com­pa­nies, whose dues pro­vide about 98 per­cent of ALEC’s $7 mil­lion annu­al bud­get. Update: The con­ser­v­a­tive Nation­al Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Research announced on Wednes­day that it will take the reins of ALEC’s vot­er integri­ty” pro­grams, demon­strat­ing beyond doubt that the forces behind the vot­er sup­pres­sion agen­da are still at work. In a press release, Amy Ride­nour, chair­man of NCP­PR, crit­i­cized efforts to erode sup­port for ALEC – Yum Brands has now become the twelfth spon­sor to sev­er ties. The NCP­PR has even set up an email address, wearenotyellow@​nationalcenter.​org, for any cor­po­ra­tions that with­drew spon­sor­ship to dis­avow the claims … that they helped pres­sure a con­ser­v­a­tive/free-mar­ket group to stop work­ing for bal­lot integri­ty.” Ride­nour also put out a warn­ing and call to action:  Con­ser­v­a­tives will kick up our sup­port for vot­er integri­ty pro­grams. We’re putting the left on notice: you take out a con­ser­v­a­tive pro­gram oper­at­ing in one area, we’ll kick it up a notch some­where else. You will not win. We out­num­ber you and we out­think you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to vic­to­ry.Though lit­tle known to the pub­lic, the group has had a few legal blun­ders in the past. More than 10 years ago, NCP­PR came under fire for send­ing senior cit­i­zens fright mail” to help raise mon­ey for right-wing politi­cians and groups. The San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle high­light­ed one such sto­ry of 86-year old Faye Shel­by, who recieved 700 mail­ings in a four-month peri­od warn­ing of the impend­ing col­lapse of Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare, marked with mes­sages like Urgent” or Per­son­al.” Such mail­ings have drained the bank accounts of senior cit­i­zens, syphon­ing the funds into right-wing groups like NCP­PR. Ride­nour was unapolo­getic, say­ing that it was a nec­es­sary tac­tic to keep up with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions request­ing dona­tions.  More recent­ly, NCP­PR was entan­gled finan­cial­ly with Jack Abramoff, the for­mer super­lob­by­ist and now-con­vict­ed felon.The NCP­PR press release end­ed on an increas­ing­ly strange and unset­tling note, threat­en­ing those who are fight­ing against the efforts of ALEC and now NCP­PR:We are, how­ev­er, inspired by a par­tic­u­lar pas­sage in the 1987 movie The Untouch­ables: They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hos­pi­tal, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chica­go way.” Indeed.
Lind­sey Kra­tochwill, an In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern, is stu­dent at North­west­ern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
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