Conservative Political Group ALEC Is Coming to Town (UPDATED)
Corporate group hosts mid-August legislative confab
By Michael King,
7:00AM, Mon. Aug. 5, 2019
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate group that drafts “model policies” in collaboration with conservative state legislators, is holding its 46th annual meeting in Austin, Aug. 13th-16th, at the JW Marriott, Downtown.
ALEC describes itself as “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” That’s about one-half the story. The other half, as the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, is that ALEC is a legislative bill-mill where “global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights.”
As even its name suggests, ALEC specializes in anodyne language intended to sound non-partisan and professional, but the masquerade is generally easy to translate. The group’s motto reiterates “limited government, free markets, and federalism,” but might as well read “privatization, profits, and states’ rights.” ALEC conferences are devoted to drafting and promoting corporate-friendly legislation that then surfaces in state government committees for adoption. In ALEC language: “Job creators and state legislators alike come to ALEC to offer important policy perspectives to ensure economic security and opportunity in their communities.”
What kind of bills? Most notoriously, a decade ago ALEC promoted “Stand Your Ground” laws like the Florida one that sparked controversy after George Zimmerman escaped punishment for killing unarmed Trayvon Martin. ALEC was embarrassed by the consequent bad publicity, and lost several of its corporate sponsors. Henceforth, it vowed to re-focus on the group's bread-and-butter “economic issues.” That generally means privatization of public services (education, healthcare, prisons), corporate tax cuts (“tax reform”), and suppression of workers’ rights (especially union organizing rights).
Here’s a 2013 summary: “ALEC-developed laws run the gamut of conservative, corporate wish lists: voter ID, limits on union organizing, undermining environmental regulation, and of course, anything that would lower corporate tax liabilities and limit progressive taxation. All of this legislating by proxy is accomplished mostly under the radar, in periodic ‘bipartisan’ conferences that are one-stop-shop lobbying sessions, underwritten by corporations meeting privately with their legislative collaborators to draft the bills those legislators will carry in upcoming sessions.” (“Standing Our Ground Against ALEC,” July 26, 2013)
What did ALEC and friends accomplish at this year’s 86th session of the Texas Legislature? Among their most noxious successes was the passage of HB 3557, which imposed new state jail felonies for "impairing or interrupting” operations of “critical infrastructure” (i.e., as a means of protest) like oil and gas pipelines. Opposing stronger environmental regulations is reflexive for ALEC; and the organization (with its local allies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation) has worked hard to undermine workers rights across the country, undermining unionizing and steps toward equity like paid sick leave.
Although the August conference agenda is predictably vague, the overall ALEC program remains clear. There are sessions on “K-12 Education” (i.e., how to further privatize public schools and promote private charters); “Worker Freedom” (i.e., freedom from unions, right-to-work-for-less); the self-explanatory “How Local Government Lawsuits Supersede State Legislative Authority: What To Do About It”; “Supporting Energy Freedom" (first principle: Reject the Green New Deal).
It’s worth noting that at least some ALEC initiatives suggest a helpful direction on a few issues: agenda sessions, for example, address the “collateral consequences” of imprisonment – meaning there should fewer restrictions (like professional licensing requirements) on former inmates trying to return to the workforce. (That is, of course, a question that can cut more than one way.)
Local labor and environmental groups are likely to take a sharp look at the ALEC conference. Those that have opposed ALEC in the past include the Texas AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and others. Expect to hear more from them in the days leading up to ALEC’s arrival.
Editor's note: After this piece was initially posted, we received a response from ALEC challenging several of its claims on factual grounds. While we stand by our reporting and analysis, we have made edits to clarify some of these points of fact. ALEC is not a "lobbying" organization in the strict sense of the term used in federal tax code. We have removed language describing ALEC's procedures that the group feels is inaccurate and that to us is unimportant. And we have recharacterized our description of Stand Your Ground as it applies to the Trayvon Martin case.