The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has created damage-control web site, “I Stand With ALEC,” asking people to submit a letter to members of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board and member legislators in support of the ultra-conservative, secretive organization. The form letter is here:
Stand With ALEC
Dear [Decision Maker],
As our economy continues to struggle, the need for strong leadership that promotes free markets and free enterprise is more crucial than ever. It's through limited government and a stronger private sector that we can create jobs and grow our economy. As a member of ALEC, I expect you to work on these types of solutions.
But I've seen in the news that these values, and groups that support them, are under attack by extremists. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are important defenders of these free market ideals. You should know that this is exactly the kind of organization I expect you to work with. Don't let extremists sway you any other way.
It is through free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles that we can get the states and whole nation back on the right track. As a customer, I'll be watching closely to ensure that you represent those views in your decisions.
[City, State ZIP]
After the massive outrage sparked by revelations that ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force was responsible for the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC tried to disavow that committee and claimed that it was “refocusing [its] commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles.”
ALEC’s portfolio of harmful policies goes much farther than that, including model bills that disenfranchise voters, destroy public education, block access to healthcare, damage the environment, weaken public safety and harm working families. So far, 19 corporations, 4 non profit organizations and 54 state legislators have left the organization for these reasons.
If ALEC thinks it can repair its reputation by asking the American people to send reassuring letters to its members, it should think again. A petition drive and phone campaign led by People For the American Way Fundation, Color of Change and other organizations has already directed over 500,000 signatures and calls to ALEC’s corporate members demanding that those companies end their ALEC memberships immediately. The American people have already spoken on this one, and they don’t stand with ALEC.
This afternoon, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would discontinue its membership in ALEC, making it the 19th corporation to do so.
The running tally of organizations and legislators leaving the American Legislative Exchange Council, as of today:
• Corporations: 19
• Non-profits: 4
• State Legislators: 54
ALEC’s agenda is as secretive as it is extreme, but the American people are sending a loud and clear message that legislation drafted by corporate lobbyists has no place in our statehouses.
PFAW President Michael Keegan said the following after Johnson & Johnson’s announcement:
“The extreme ALEC agenda harms all of us on a daily basis. It’s disturbing that so many American companies still have a hand in advancing legislation that suppresses the right to vote, impedes access to health care, weakens public education and jeopardizes public safety. I commend the persistence of the hundreds of thousands of activists who have demanded accountability from corporations supporting the ALEC agenda. Johnson & Johnson’s departure from ALEC is a big victory, and the other corporate funders who have yet to leave ALEC should take note.”
Wal-mart announced yesterday that it is ending their membership in ALEC, making it the 18th corporation to do so. The company also joins 4 nonprofits and 54 state legislators who have severed their ties to the organization.
Wal-Mart had been a member of ALEC since 1993, was a member of ALEC’s Corporate Board and was the co-chair of the recently-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force – the committee responsible for advancing dangerous gun legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law around the country. Even as the nation’s largest seller of guns, Wal-Mart decided that the ALEC agenda is too extreme, going far beyond the free-market principles the organization claims to focus on:
"Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC's decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission 'to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets," Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC's national chairman and executive director.
"We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC."
Wal-Mart’s task force participation also included Health and Human Services, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, and Tax and Fiscal Policy, according to documents obtained and released by Common Cause. These committees are responsible for developing model bills that undermine workers rights, insurance mandates, capital gains taxes for the wealthy and deregulating certain industries.
People For the American Way’s President and Director of African American Religious Affairs spoke out about Wal-mart’s decision in a statement released this morning:
“Wal-Mart’s decision confirms the growing consensus in the business community that ALEC does far more harm than good,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “The 18 corporations that have stopped supporting ALEC’s dangerous agenda have made the right choice. Customers don’t want their paychecks going to support laws that disenfranchise and endanger their families and communities.”
“I commend Wal-Mart’s decision to listen to the thousands upon thousands of American voices who believe Wal-Mart had no place in an organization that tries to suppress the right to vote, promote discrimination and presents dangerous gun laws that are harmful to all,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action. “When we stand together to make our voices heard, the movement we build cannot be ignored. ALEC’s extreme and undemocratic agenda has motivated a diverse movement that is growing stronger every day. One by one, our efforts are helping make our communities better for all families and especially those most vulnerable – those with special needs, our children and our elders.”
The most recent spate of companies fleeing from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been from the education and retail sectors, but yesterday ALEC got a rebuke from the healthcare industry as well. Medtronic, the medical technology company, has informed the Center for Media and Democracy that they did not renew their ALEC membership. Medtronic is the 17th corporation to leave the organization.
ALEC’s “healthcare” agenda is much less about helping sick people than about enriching healthcare corporations. To do so, ALEC advocates for policies that put quality care out of reach for many people by privatizing Medicare and Medicaid and repealing important laws that expand public access to care, including ObamaCare. They also push for the deregulation of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and seek to limit accountability for drug companies that produce faulty medications that can cause injury or death.
The ALEC agenda is extreme, and when it comes to public health, it’s downright dangerous. Medtronic now joins Blue Cross Blue Shield in doing right by their customers and patients by getting out of ALEC.
Two more educational organizations, the for-profit Scantron Corporation and the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, have ended their association with the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
Scantron, the educational testing company that produces standardized test forms (those ubiquitous bubble sheets), is the 15th corporation to sever ties with ALEC. The company was a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force, having first joined ALEC in late 2010. Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit foundation claiming to have invested assets in excess of $1 billion, makes grants to think tanks and other organizations with the goal of enrolling more Americans in college.
Scantron and Lumina join the growing list of educational organizations distancing themselves from ALEC’s education policies – an agenda that consistently prioritizes corporate profits over the needs of kids and communities. Other educational organizations to cut ties with ALEC include the for-profit Kaplan and the non-profit National Association of Charter School Organizers and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Transferring public resources to private hands is a major component of the conservative agenda. An extensive profile of the push to weaken public schools and transfer wealth to private academies through tax credit programs is the subject of an extensive profile in today’s New York Times, which highlights how conservative legislators, school privatization advocates and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council are helping secure tax dollars to bolster private school systems. Disguised as programs to help needy children gain access quality education, in reality these programs simply channel money to individuals who don’t need the assistance and boost profits for private schools, often at great cost to students and communities.
Across the country, state legislatures are adopting tax credit programs, which allow individuals and corporations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax refund for donations to private school “scholarship funds.” In Georgia, for example, a couple can donate up to $2,500 to a nonprofit scholarship fund to be used to send a needy child to a private school. In turn, the donors can subtract their donation from their Georgia tax bill. But according to school administrators, needy children hardly benefit from the practice, with the majority of the funding benefitting children that already attend private schools:
“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”
The result is a system in which gives selected students a taxpayer-funded education at a private school. Around the country, the Times notes, similar programs have redirected nearly $350 million from public budgets. This “tuition” money may go to the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups or even to recruit star athletes – only a small portion goes to needy kids. Politics pervades the entire process, and it is glaringly evident that tax credit programs are more about making money than educating children:
Some of the programs have also become enmeshed in politics, including in Pennsylvania, where more than 200 organizations distribute more than $40 million a year donated by corporations. Two of the state’s largest scholarship organizations are controlled by lobbyists, and they frequently ask lawmakers to help decide which schools get the money, according to interviews. The arrangement provides a potential opportunity for corporate donors seeking to influence legislators and also gives the lobbying firms access to both lawmakers and potential new clients.
Organizations such as ALEC have been instrumental in spreading such programs around the country:
“ALEC is a huge player in pushing forward a conservative agenda based on the premise that the free market and private sectors address social problems better than the government,” said Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has been critical of ALEC’s education agenda.
ALEC promotes a “Family Education Tax Credit Program” similar to the program adopted in Georgia. The organization promotes a number of other methods of transferring public education dollars to private hands. In addition to numerous voucher and scholarship programs, ALEC promotes its “Education Accountability Act,” which allows a state to override the elected school board and declare schools to be “educationally bankrupt” and divert funds to private schools. Perhaps the boldest plan is the “Virtual Public Schools Act,” which permits online education companies to receive the same per-pupil funding as a brick-and mortar school providing classrooms, athletic facilities, lunch and transportation services.
Politics also makes its way into the classroom. Because the tax credit system allows the money to stay in private accounts – from donors to scholarship funds to schools – the effect is a loophole that creates a legal fiction that they are not being supported with government funds. So state governments are funneling taxpayer money to religious education and political indoctrination of children, insulated from court review. Republican Arizona Representative Trent Franks, who is credited with the idea to insulate private schools from court challenges for constitutional violations this way, bragged that the teachers’ union called the scheme “fiendishly clever.” As a result, the public is forced to foot the bill for a curriculum that would be unacceptable for a public school:
Frances Paterson, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia who has studied the books, said they “frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools.”
Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.
“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”
ALEC, corporate lobbyists and conservative activists are pulling the rug out from beneath American kids and communities. Tax credit programs, vouchers and other “scholarships” are being used to promote profits and politics above education. All children deserve access to a quality education – instead of taking money out of public schools, we should make sure they work for everyone.
A major component of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s agenda is shielding corporations from liability by removing consumer protections and limiting the people’s ability to seek justice in a court of law. At their meeting last week in Charlotte, N.C., ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force considered legislation that would hamstring some of the mosteffective consumer advocates: state attorneys general.
Common Cause recently released some 4,000 of ALEC’s internal documents, including task force agendas, participants and model legislation. The documents revealed ALEC’s “Attorney General Authority Act” under consideration at the task force meeting, which seeks to limit state AGs from bringing suits against corporations. ALEC’s explanation of the bill reads in part:
Just as a private attorney cannot bring a suit on behalf of a client without the client agreeing and authorizing such action, and then only within the guidelines allowed by the client, so it should be with the attorney general. Rather than an attorney general deciding on his or her own what authority the office may have to bring a lawsuit, the authority should be defined by the state as reflected by the specific decisions of the legislature via statute. The legislature, not the attorney general, is best positioned to balance the competing concerns that go into the decision of whether to allow a cause of action and under what circumstances.
Put simply: this act would prohibit the attorney general from bringing a suit in the public’s interest unless the state legislature specifically authorizes it.
As the Minnesota Post astutely points out, a legislature that enacts such a provision to protect corporations is unlikely to subsequently grant the attorney general the authority to prosecute them. The consequences are significant: "This legislation would have prevented [an attorney general] from suing tobacco manufacturers in the ‘90s for tobacco-related health costs associated with the Medicaid program,” said Mike Dean, head of Common Cause of Minnesota. “It is easy to see why corporations would want to stop these types of lawsuits because tobacco manufacturer were forced to pay $6.1 billion in a settlement to the state of Minnesota."
This law doesn't just help ALEC-member corporations, it helps ALEC. After recently filing a whistleblower complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC abused its tax-exempt status by failing to report lobbying activities, Common Cause is calling on state attorney generals to investigate ALEC for tax fraud in all 50 states. What better way to derail investigations into ALEC than by advocating for legislation that removes the attorney general’s ability to investigate ALEC?
The Center for Media and Democracy released a new report today detailing the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in Wisconsin’s laws. At a time when ALEC members are jumping ship thanks to increased exposure of the ALEC agenda – 14 corporate members and 45 legislative members so far – this report serves as yet another window into ALEC’s shadowy, undemocratic method of ushering an extreme, pro-corporate agenda into law.
With the loyal help of Governor Scott Walker and a slew of complicit state legislators, ALEC has successfully implemented much of its corporate wish list in the state, including union-busting and corporate tax giveaways. According to the report, in Wisconsin:
• 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin's 2011-2012 legislative session;
• 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;
• More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;
• More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;
• At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and
• At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).
People For the American Way Foundation has contributed to similar reports covering ALEC’s influence in Ohio and Arizona, and work continues to shine light on how ALEC paves the way for a state-by-state corporate takeover of our democracy.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization said in a statement released on Tuesday. NACSA is the third major educational organization to drop their association with ALEC, joining Kaplan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Both ALEC and NACSA support charter schools, but NACSA appears to have decided that ALEC’s extreme vision for charter school systems – which place corporate profitmaking above the needs of students, parents and communities – is out of touch with its mission to “advance excellence in public charters schools as a way to improve public education for all children.”
Rather than proposals designed to improve our public education system, ALEC’s model bills instead transfer public education funds into the hands of private corporations. Such proposals include voucher programs and publicly funded subsidies for religious and other private schools. ALEC’s Education Accountability Act would allow a state to override the elected school board and declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” then divert its funds to private schools. Of course, ALEC’s assault on public education wouldn’t be complete without attacks on teachers, school personnel and basic educational standards.
Just as important, there was never a legitimate reason for NACSA to support an organization that promotes legislation that attacks working families, rolls back consumer rights, blocks access to courts of law and disenfranchises thousands of eligible voters.
It’s not surprising that NACSA and other educators have concluded that ALEC is far more trouble than it’s worth.