There's a gun pointed at the heart of representative democracy, and your Congressperson has their finger on the trigger.
It's called the American Legislative Exchange Council-or ALEC for short.
And while its name may sound perfectly harmless, it's the single reason why your vote no longer matters.
You see, due to the influence wielded by this mysterious group, elected officials have become little more than high-paid rubber stamps.
As for representation, thanks to ALEC, you don't really have any.
So what is ALEC?
It's a secret hidden in plain sight. It's an organization composed of state legislators, business figures, and advocacy groups who "meet in the spirit of exchanging id eas."
Nearly one-third of all state legislators are members– as are 85 Congressmen and 14 current or former state Governors. In all, ALEC's We bsite boasts that it has about 2,000 legislative members.
Selling themselves being closer to "the people", their stated purpose is to craft "model legislation."
So what could possibly be wrong with that?
Quite a lot, it turns out. In practice, this "partnership" is completely subverting representative democracy at its most fundamental level.
Because all it really amounts to is huge multinational corporations literally writing laws that work just for them – not for you, and not for me.
And this farce is going on in every state in the Union.
How ALEC Operates
Here's how it all works.
The corporate members of ALEC gather with the legislative members. Together, they write "model legislation" or laws that they would like to see passed.
The legislative side then takes the "models" back to their respective state houses, and advocates for their passage.
As you might have guessed, in practice it works something like this: The man from, say, Pfizer meets with the state Senator from, say, Illinois about a pesky environmental regulation.
Apparently there's a rule about how many chemicals you can dump into the Mississippi and the man from Pfizer would like to see changed.
He works with the state Senator and – voilà! – they create a "model bill" for loosening drinking water standards; the Fair Drinking Water Standards Act, because fairness in public safety issues is critically important.
After this "a free exchange of ideas", the Senator takes the bill back home with him and actually introduces it on the floor. Believe it or not, with ALEC that's all it takes.
The beauty is no one even has to be bribed. Think of it as democracy at work. And, as we've seen, it's an alarmingly short trip from the state house to the U.S. Capitol Building.
So you don't want that stuff in your drinking water? Sorry about your luck. So long as an ALEC member has unlimited access to your state legislature, that's ever the way it shall be.
My illustrative example is simplistic, over the top. It might even be ridiculous. Or is it?
Businessweek has found that some 200 of these "model bills" actually become real-world laws each year. Meanwhile, NPR reported that corporations paid $6 million to ALEC each year, about 98% of its total funding.
The laws, as written, naturally serve business interests. The laws include "tax reform," which slashes corporate tax rates, redefining environmental regulations, controversial "Voter ID" laws, and most of the various "Stand Your Ground" laws around the country. This diverse set of legislation is the product of nine ALEC "task forces, "each focused on one policy arena or another.
Of course, it's difficult to determine what, if any, role the legislative members have in actually crafting the legislation.
But here's how ridiculous it's gotten: Representatives are bringing legislation to the floor which still has the ALEC boilerplate attached. They just forgot to cover it up!
ALEC at Work
Commonblog reported that, In Florida, in 2011, Representative Rachel Burgin (R-56th District) introduced legislation to – surprise – lower corporate tax rates. The legislation, as introduced, still had the ALEC boilerplate and mission statement attached. She forgot to delete it, or didn't bother to, or didn't think anyone would notice.
Burgin's bill actually contained the phrase, ""WHEREAS, it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty…"
It was a full day before Burgin realized her huge blunder and withdrew the language for a re-write. But for that day in Tallahassee, the influence of ALEC was laid bare for anyone interested enough to look. You could peek right behind the curtain and see the Wizard and all, too dumb to try and hide.
Far from being the wish of Representative Burgin's constituents, the Tax Foundation and the billionaire Koch Brothers happened to pen this "model legislation."
Of course, ALEC likes to wrap itself in a cloak of "c onservatism." Its motto is "limited governments, free markets, federalism. " That's the spin but nothing really could be further from the truth.
In reality, free markets only work when they're free: free of deck-stacking, free of undue influence – a level playing field for all players.
In a free market system or a free society, bad ideas, bad companies, and money-losing propositions all should be free to… go away and die. The ALEC way is to privatize gains and socialize the losses. Are those free market principles?
And this is not about federalism, either. Citizens bound together in a free association, sovereign unto themselves, with a central government of their own choosing, and sending representatives to advocate for their interests in the law-making exercise. That's federalism. Unlimited access by corporate interests to elected "representatives" is not.
But the news isn't all grim. Businessweek has reported that Microsoft, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola, among others, have all stopped donating to ALEC and ceased participating in "model legislation" seminars when their association was made public – and when the full extent of ALEC's influence and agenda became clear.
ALEC was forced at that point to disclose all the legislation it backed. Most of it was deeply unpopular; stand-your-ground laws, voter ID, tax, and regulatory "reform."
ALEC, it seems, can't stand the light of day. So perhaps it isn't hopeless after all. The more the public is informed about organizations like ALEC, the harder it will be for them to advance their agenda – an agenda that depends in part on voter apathy and a misinformed electorate. A bright light to shine on ALEC's activities is the most potent weapon that ordinary citizens have in the fight to take back their voice. If the fight goes for ALEC in the end, the result will be something that looks more and more like oligarchy.
ALEC exposed, for 24 hours
- American Legislative Exchange Council:
ALEC's Secrets Revealed; Corporations Flee