“As difficult as it was for me, I’ve come to an inescapable and profoundly disturbing conclusion. I believe that an elite group of people and the corporations they run have gained control over not just our energy, food supply, education, and healthcare, but over virtually every aspect of our lives; and they do it by controlling the world of finance. Not by creating more value, but by actually controlling the source of money.”advertisement - learn more
– Foster Gamble, Heir to Proctor & Gamble (source)
The Big Brother role that corporations and the elite play in society may not come as a surprise to you. However, have you ever asked yourself, “How do they actually control the people within the government?” Do you imagine them as good friends that play golf together, or are their communications more formal? Furthermore, do government officials actually think the legislation the elite creates is beneficial for society or is it all for profit? Interestingly enough, some of these questions can be answered by researching the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
What is ALEC?According to their official website, ALEC is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that “provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.”If you’re scratching your head after reading that definition or thinking, “That doesn’t seem so scary,” allow me to clarify it for you. Simply put, ALEC is a conservative group comprised of state legislators and corporate leaders that allows corporations to help write, or in some cases, just hand over legislation that the “official lawmakers” can then take credit for and formally propose. Though ALEC may have originally been founded with the hope of creating improved legislation, it seems to now be more “for the profit” than “for the people.”My favourite definition of ALEC is from a Huffington Post article:“…ALEC is like the house guest that never leaves. At first you’re glad to see them, but as time progresses you wonder what their motives are for sticking around. They initially provided legislators with some good legal concepts but then over time they became a Trojan Horse working their way into the law-making process with an agenda that isn’t exactly pro-people.”The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) conducted research into ALEC’s funding while looking into Exxon Mobil and the company’s wrongdoings regarding climate change denial. CMD found that 98% of ALEC’s funding comes from private sources other than state legislators. This means that ALEC is basically entirely funded by global corporations, including Exxon Mobil.Legislators pay a yearly membership fee of $50, whereas corporations pay anywhere between $7,000 to $25,000 annually. It’s no surprise that corporations and other special interest groups have paid anywhere from 50 times to 500 times more than lawmakers to guarantee their spot in ALEC, since the ultimate payoff is far greater for them. This fee doesn’t include the additional payments they often make to fund special “ALEC Task Forces” or other workshops and meetings with lawmakers. You can read the official letter from CMD here.
Examples of Legislation ALEC is Responsible ForOne of the more recent examples of legislation ALEC was responsible for creating was exposed in the documentary 13th, which discusses the 13th amendment and how slavery was never truly abolished (check out our article on it here). The documentary shows that some of the legislation ALEC helped develop supports harsher and longer prison sentences as well as the privatization of prisons.It’s important to note that one of the organizations that funds ALEC is Corrections Corporations of America (CCA). This means that the more bodies that are in prisons, the more CCA profits, and thus the more money ALEC gets. The American Bail Coalition (ABC), an organization that profits from the privatization of bail, also holds close ties to ALEC.Another example of legislation influenced by ALEC, perhaps more famous than the former, is the pro-gun law in Florida titled “Stand Your Ground,” which allows people to use deadly force in situations of self-defence. This law is now considered particularly controversial because it essentially allowed police to free George Zimmerman after stalking and murdering a black teenager, Trayvon Martin. ALEC took a lot of heat during that trial and ended up losing many memberships as a result.Plus, there were the 62 bills (backed by ALEC) lawmakers tried to pass in 37 different states between the years of 2011 and 2012. All of these bills proposed forcing voters to show a government photo ID when casting their ballots. Although this seems harmless, the courts were confused because the states proposing the bills didn’t have any issues with voter fraud. This begs the question: Was this a “voter-suppression” bill?Another example that is clearly not “for the people” is the combined 67 laws proposed in 25 different states between 2011 and 2013 that aimed to lower minimum wage. Not surprisingly, ALEC was behind all of these, in hopes of not only reducing minimum wage levels but also weakening overtime protection and halting states’ and cities’ ability to create local minimum wage laws. Sadly, eleven of these bills were actually passed.Lastly, and perhaps the most disturbing, is the ALEC-backed Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America bill, otherwise known as an “ag-gag” bill, a term coined in 2011 that refers to state legislation that forbids the act of undercover filming or photographing activities on farms. It’s not exactly surprising that the people who profit from factory farms would try to prevent people from exposing the cruelty that takes place there, but the statements made in that document are practically humorous.For example, the claim that taking pictures on livestock farms can “defame the facility or its owner” is a little ironic given the fact that they torture and kill animals every day; how great can their reputations really be? Additionally, ALEC proposed that violators be placed on a “terrorist registry.” This seems like a ridiculous and immoral way to spend taxpayers dollars, enforcing a rule that would prevent people from actually doing the “right thing.”
John Oliver Video Exposes ALECEven though there’s nothing funny about corporations creating immoral legislations for profit, John Oliver puts a hilarious spin on a particular incident with a Minnesota lawmaker caught on camera presenting an ALEC bill. The video also addresses the Electricity Freedom Act, an ALEC document that aimed to take down renewable energy standards because they’re “a tax on consumers of electricity.”
Final ThoughtsALEC has the ability to help create incredible bills that could be both “for the people” and “for the profit.” Business doesn’t have to go against people; you can make a profit by serving people’s needs while creating a better world simultaneously.However, ALEC has clearly abused its position of power and used it to manipulate and buy lawmakers into proposing bills. Their actions speak volumes about all of the individuals involved, whether it be lawmakers, special interests groups, or corporate leaders.