Why ALEC is An Outrage

In August 2013, the city of Chicago was filled with workers and students protesting the 40th anniversary celebration of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Despite the mass outrage and anger that ALEC has created among many layers, there are still many people who have either never heard of ALEC, or do not know what the organization is.

ALEC is a nonprofit organization that creates model policies and bills for state legislatures. This may sound innocuous enough, however, the policies drafted by ALEC all promote and support the ideas of a “free market” and “small government.” In other words, this organization’s ultimate goal is to put all of the power and control of this country’s government and vital industries in the hands of the owners of private corporations.

If you visit ALEC’s webpage, you can find the following paragraph in which their mission statement is explained: “The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.”

One of the most ludicrous aspects of this organization is that they have the gall to identify themselves as “nonpartisan.” This claim is certainly hard to believe due to the fact that their mission statement contains almost every single politically conservative, right-wing buzzword in existence. Such a claim becomes even more unbelievable once you take a look at its membership and sources of funding.

ALEC is organized into nine task forces: (1) Civil Justice; (2) Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development; (3) Communications and Technology; (4) Education; (5) Energy, Environment, and Agriculture; (6) Health and Human Services; (7) International Relations; (8) Justice Performance Project; and (9) Tax and Fiscal Policy. Major corporations and Republican legislators sit on all nine of these task forces and are responsible for voting on the model bills that are drafted. Due to the fact that ALEC’s membership is overwhelmingly pro–big business and conservative, it is not surprising that the organization receives 98% of its revenues from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations.

The private prison industry also has a hand in pumping funds into ALEC in exchange for the drafting of model bills that expand private prisons and propose longer, tougher sentences for convicts. Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, two large for-profit prison companies, have made significant contributions to the organization.

ALEC was designed to do the bidding of big business and of the politicians who depend on them to get elected to office. In fact, when ALEC was initiated in Chicago, in 1975, its original name was going to be the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators. However, the Vietnam War, and the Republican Party’s disastrous and bumbling attempts to cover up the Watergate scandal during the Nixon Presidency, were fresh in people’s minds. Many Americans who once supported the Republican Party began cultivating a strong distrust towards it, and words such as “conservative” were largely associated with greed and ignorance. The Republican legislatures and corporations starting this new nonprofit did not want to stoke the fire of class struggle by coming off as overtly conservative. In fact, they wanted (and still want) to appear as unbiased as possible. Thus, the name was changed to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The most important aspect of ALEC is not its unapologetically conservative agenda—it is the fact that they are actually significantly effective in getting their blatantly anti-worker bills passed. According to research conducted by the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC drafted approximately 466 model bills in the first half of 2013 alone; 84 of them have passed and been signed into law.

ALEC is also quite thorough when it comes to dispersing their bills. In 2013, ALEC bills were introduced and proposed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. ALEC also seems to have its hand in almost every industry in the US. The Center for Media and Democracy has issued a report entitled, ALEC at 40: Turning Back the Clock on Prosperity and Progress. Here are just a few key pieces of information that this research compiled. In the first half of 2013 alone, ALEC:

  • Drafted and assisted in passing 10 Stand Your Ground bills (the bill that was responsible for legally protecting and justifying the actions of Trayvon Martin’s cold-blooded murderer, George Zimmerman.)
  • Drafted 117 bills aimed directly at the labor movement, including so-called “Right to Work” legislation. Fourteen of these bills became laws and they were implemented in 15 states.
  • Drafted 139 bills, 31 of which became laws, which threaten public education by using taxpayers money to finance and expand for-profit private schools and charter schools.
  • Assisted in the passing of legislation that gives tax breaks to Altria Group—the world’s largest tobacco company.
  • Passed anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona that requires harsher sentencing and incarceration of immigrants, thus benefiting the Corrections Corporation of America.

The list goes on and on. Needless to say, when ALEC returned to its “hometown” of Chicago to celebrate its 40th anniversary, it did not receive a warm welcome from the workers and unions who are carrying the economic and social burden that ALEC legislation helps pile onto their backs.

Several unions were present at the protests to voice their strong resentment towards ALEC’s attempts to infiltrate their industries. The Chicago Teachers Union had a very strong presence at the rallies, drawing out huge crowds of unionized teachers and using their Facebook page to get the word out about what ALEC is, what it stands for, and why it is so important for the working class to voice its disapproval of it.

Like any other effort where the workers organize to defend and fight for their rights, the police were on hand and quick to use physical force to disperse and frighten the crowd. Several videos surfaced on YouTube showing the Chicago PD using excessive force against innocent protestors, and making several unnecessary arrests. This footage of police brutality against protesters is yet another confirmation and illustration that the police force’s primary role is to defend the ruling class and its system.

ALEC has elicited a growing resentment amongst the working class towards right-wing politics. However, one must not convert this resentment for the Republican Party into illusions in the Democratic Party. Several Democratic legislators and lawmakers have spoken out against ALEC in an attempt to maintain the false illusion that the Democratic Party is in some way the party of and for the working class. A political party controlled, financed, and run by the bourgeoisie cannot and never will be a party that defends the working class. For decades, Democratic presidential candidates have preached that they offer “hope,” “change,” and “progress.” However, history has shown us that Democratic presidents have pursued policies not very unlike their Republican counterparts.

For example, when Bill Clinton succeeded George Bush as the 42nd President of the United States, countless wishful thinking citizens were relieved. The Gulf War under the Bush administration had made many in the US skeptical of the Republican Party, and they yearned for a more humanitarian leader. Unfortunately, they did not find this leader in Bill Clinton. As soon as Clinton was elected, he did what every Democrat (and Republican) does best—he turned his back on all of the lofty promises he had made during his campaign and conceded to the wishes of big business and the Republican Party. Clinton’s two terms as president were riddled with disastrous “reforms” that cut welfare, education, and social services and expanded an already bloated military budget. All this while millions of pensions were eliminated in favor of 401ks. It was also Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act and who directly attacked the labor movement with the ratification of NAFTA.

In the 2008 election, many Americans viewed Obama as the Democratic hero who was going to save America from George W. Bush and his disastrous, drawn-out war for oil. After Obama’s unsurprisingly disappointing first term, disillusioned voters returned to the polls in 2012 to reelect the “lesser-evil”—not out of any genuine enthusiasm, but for the lack of an alternative.

The lesson we can draw from all of this is clear: capitalism does not work. A system that once liberated people from the fetters of feudalism and opened mankind to industrial, technological, and scientific progress, has now become a hindrance and an obstacle to the further development of humanity. Tons of food is thrown away as children all over the word die of malnutrition; factories lay idle and locked up as intelligent and capable workers are forced into unemployment; scientific and medical research projects are halted because they are not financially profitable; countless people are dying of curable diseases as health costs skyrocket.

All of these things and more are clear signs of the crisis of capitalism, and as long as we have capitalism we will have organizations like ALEC that endlessly try to keep a failing economic system afloat and exploiting the majority, like a doctor desperately trying to revive a patient that is already in a terminal decline. However, in the doctor’s case, he is not hurting anyone. In ALEC’s case, they are continually contributing to the further impoverishment and oppression of the working class.

Only a nationalized planned economy that is run under democratic workers’ control can lead the way to a degree of human progress that is completely unreachable under capitalism. International socialism, a system where the means of production are nationalized and democratically controlled by the workers themselves, not by a handful of wealthy capitalists, is the only way forward.

Fred Hampton, a prominent socialist and leader of the Black Panthers who was brutally murdered by the FBI, once said, “Socialism is the people. If you are afraid of socialism, you’re afraid of yourself.” Capitalism is in a state of utter decay and the material conditions have ripened for socialism. It is time for the working class to claim control over our lives and to ensure the continued forward march of human progress.

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