Thanks goes to Pancho for submitting this excellent piece on ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council which is one of the most dangerous organizations driving the right wing to destroy America. The GOP is literally selling everything they possibly can to turn a profit including the educational system, police and fire departments, library’s, parks, post offices. You name it, the reason they hate government is because they see something they can profit from!!! Wake the hell up Republicon’s and Teabaggers, your party is destroying everything that made America a wonderful country.
Granted many Democrats are just as bad, but at least the whole damn party hasn’t taken an oath to Grover Norquist. The only oath your representative should be taking is to serve YOUR best interest, not to protect the tax’s of corporations and the wealthy. There’s plenty of information about ALEC on the left under the Rise of Fascism in America category, please educate yourself and wake up to the fact the Republicon party has accomplished nothing but huge deficits, wars and hate. That’s their track record.
If you plan on voting Republican next year you’re insane, because Ron Paul won’t get the nomination. Which leaves nothing but a bunch of game show contestants who are nothing but corporate shills. The really sick thing is you’re so brainwashed to hate Obama you’ll vote against your best interests and the interests of the nation.
Mr. Hodai was considered to be a persona non grata from the (Koch-funded ALEC) conference (management).”
Dec. 18, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.—There’s something rotten in the air. A muggy,
oniony, chemical smell that wafts over the lines of uniformed riot
police, paddy wagons and metal barriers that are holding back a
straggle of protesters waving slapdash placards reading “Shut Down
“Get back ma’am, for your own safety,” a courteous voice warns me.
“They’re gonna start pepper spraying.”
It’s a surreal touch at the lush, sprawling Westin Kierland Resort,
where the air is scented with fragrant flowering bushes and the
aromatic lotions of the spa.
But the protesters are at the gate, and inside, hundreds of state
legislators from all over the U.S., their wives and entourages are
meeting with corporate leaders for a three-day annual policy summit.
Or, to their banner-bearing foes, a cradle of “corporate profiteering
at the expense of our communities.”
“Today only,” blazons a sign hoisted by a silver-haired protester,
“Buy One Senator Get One Free!”
The target of this anger is the American Legislative Exchange Council,
or ALEC — a benign, user-friendly acronym that fits the friendly turf
of Scottsdale, where the grass is always greener and everything is for
your comfort and safety.
I’m here to learn more about this increasingly muscular organization,
formally an educational non-profit — and one that shuns the “L” word,
lobbyist. It puts state lawmakers together with representatives from
some of the country’s most powerful corporations to advance their
legislative agendas. And it’s the most influential organization the
majority of Americans have never heard of.
As the coming federal election sucks all the oxygen out of America’s
political room, it’s easy to ignore the power of the states, and the
changes that are quietly taking place across the country independent
of — and often hostile to — the federal government. But, for
understanding grassroots America, ALEC, here in God’s golf country, is
a good place to start.
In the words of its manifesto, “ALEC provides its public- and
private-sector members with a unique opportunity to work together to
develop policies and programs that effectively promote the
Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government,
federalism and individual liberty.”
And the success of its efforts is in little doubt.
By its own record, it has created an arsenal of about 800 “model”
bills, templates or blueprints for future laws. They are tabled about
1,000 times a year across the country; about one in five are passed.
Some 2,000 state legislators belong to the organization, the vast
majority of them Republican, in spite of its avowed non-partisan
membership. And with Republicans now controlling half of all state
governments, they pack an added punch.
To the protesters, and the growing number of media and
non-governmental organizations who study it closely, ALEC is a factory
for legislative bills that replicate across the 50 states, with the
aim of undercutting the public sector and the role of government and
promoting free-market policy at state level, where it often counts the
ALEC-backed provisions have opposed climate change legislation and
environmental regulation, stoked the effort to privatize prisons and
schools, pushed for rollbacks of workers’ rights, for limited voting
rights and tax breaks for the wealthy. The results, critics say, line
the pockets of corporations — a charge ALEC and its defenders insist
is misrepresenting its operating style.
“The benefits of ALEC are that you don’t have to walk through 50
different legislatures,” says Jeff Reed, an Indiana “school choice”
advocate who campaigns for developing alternatives to the public
school system. “You can share ideas with everyone in the same room.
But the people in the room are not in lockstep.”
But ALEC’s very success in advancing its policies has sparked a
backlash in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, where police and
firefighters joined protests against anti-union legislation.
Recall campaigns have been launched to end the terms of conservative
lawmakers in several states. And the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People petitioned the UN to protest restrictive
voting laws in 14 states, inspired, they say, by ALEC’s model
“When a company needs a state bill passed,” writes the
far-from-radical Bloomberg Businessweek, “the American Legislative
Exchange Council can get it done.”
ALEC officials routinely deny it, insisting that in this “laboratory
of democracy” lawmakers, not corporations, have the final word on the
bills that emerge for approval: if companies have a hand on the
legislative tiller, it is not the upper hand.
The group’s 300-strong corporate members include some of the most
high-profile in America: among them AT&T, Wal-Mart, GlaxoSmithKline,
UPS, Pfizer, Bayer, Verizon, and Koch Industries — headed by the
Kansas-based billionaire brothers nicknamed “the Kochtopus” for their
wide-ranging financial and ideological influence.
Outside the wire, the protesters are growing weary, and police have
peeled off their sci-fi gas masks.
“We’ve arrested five,” mutters a close-cropped plainclothes man to his
phone, as I’m warned again not to venture beyond the barrier. Earlier,
an Arizona reporter narrowly escaped arrest for disobeying orders.
As the protesters begin to disperse, a stocky dark-skinned man stays
behind to harangue the police: “You and me, bro, we’re all part of the
99 per cent. ALEC is the 1 per cent. D’you get it, bro? Who are you
protecting here?” The front line cops glance at each other uneasily,
“I was taking pictures and I stepped into a line between the police
and protesters,” Ezra Kaplan, a 23-year-old student activist, tells me
later. “The police moved in and I was trapped.”
Seventeen hours after he was thrown to the ground and arrested, Kaplan
says, he was released and his knapsack returned — “but not my camera,
which was worth $1,000.”
Like many of the protesters, he was drawn to this site by a conviction
that the political system is broken, and ALEC part of the wrecking
“You know that painting The Scream?” asks 51-year-old Diane D’Angelo,
another activist and protester. “That’s what it’s like for me most
“I work, but I’m here for my friends who don’t have proper jobs or
health insurance. I know of some who have committed suicide in this
recession, but there’s no interest in people like them. Members of
ALEC seem to have forgotten what the Constitution means. They make
their own legislation.”
Inside the hotel’s vast conference wing all is calm and bright, in
spite of the numerous vigilant security guards. Here, in a parallel
universe of bonhomie, the men and women in suits who are liaising over
morning lattes are the 99 per cent, and the Occupiers, out of sight
and mind, the 1 per cent. It’s not the percentages, but the placement
that counts here.
Conference tables are strewn with soberly titled reports by right-wing
think tanks allied with ALEC: the Heritage Foundation, the Goldwater
Institute, the Franklin Center, the Tax Foundation and more.
They explain how poor states can become richer by cutting taxes, how
retiree health benefits can be reined in, how “school choice” can
create private alternatives to education. The evils of “Obamacare” are
laid out, along with articles inveighing against federal waste. An
anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life, hands out a model
legislation guide to “changing laws to protect human life, state by
“I heard there was some kind of protest out there,” says a portly man
with a jovial smile, who lines up alongside me to pick up ALEC
credentials, handily strung on an Arizona Association of Realtors
lanyard. “I guess those guys just don’t have anything better to do.
They’d be further ahead if they’d go out and get a job.”
The conversation ends abruptly as I’m handed my badge with the
radioactive label “Media.”
But in spite of reports of the group’s secrecy and antipathy to the
media, my application has been rapidly processed, and response to my
interview requests from its diligent young communications director,
Kaitlyn Buss, prompt and polite. And although some critics were
refused entry, a reporter from a Phoenix paper, who has written
sharply unflattering stories on ALEC, was admitted without question.
“There’s a big disconnect between what (the protesters) think happens
here and what’s outlined in our publications,” maintains Jonathan
Williams, one of ALEC’s senior strategists. “They think we’re a
secretive organization — but how do they know that? How do they know
“We have it on our website, very clearly, where our meetings are, what
our publications are. I write op-eds in the national press that are
open to everybody.”
Williams, an affable, articulate tax wizard who calls himself a
“centre-right kind of guy,” says ALEC’s agenda is much misunderstood.
Far from being a cheek-by-jowl elite of lawmakers and lobbyists —
“crusaders” who aim to shrink government to the size where they can
drown it in the bathtub — it creates “the best agenda for taxpayers at
large to create jobs and increase the overall standard of living
throughout the United States regardless of income group. At the end of
the day the best form of welfare is giving everybody a job.”
At a price.
The price includes doing away with the “ever-increasing federal
environmental and energy regulations” that are in ALEC’s crosshairs.
So are obtrusive unions, workers’ rights, and public pensions and
retiree benefits that are threatening states with “generational
Taxing the rich is no solution to the economic dilemma, Williams
assures me. It’s a lose-lose to “demonize business.” Slap on the taxes
and “they’ll only move somewhere else” and take the jobs with them. In
a globalized world, nobody is safe. Competitiveness is the key.
Keeping jobs in America is vital — but China is just around the
Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and the Constitution. As lunch is
served in the cavernous ballroom, homage is paid to ALEC’s holy
trinity by an enthusiastic audience that is predominantly white and
over 40. Darker-skinned people carry the trays, an echo of 1787.
“Our patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, said that ‘my reading of history
convinces me that most (bad) government results from too much
government,’” intones a host, to resounding applause. “How true that
The Founding Fathers are dear to ALEC because they speak of a simpler
time when the federal government didn’t get in the way of the states,
or taxation and regulation in the way of progress. A time when “these”
United States took precedence over “this” U.S. of today.
“We’d like to see a shift of power,” William Howell, the gentlemanly,
silver-haired speaker of the house in Virginia, explains to me later:
“It would restore the states’ powers that (the federal government) has
Howell is ALEC’s federalism expert and a prominent backer of a
constitutional amendment to repeal federal laws to which two-thirds of
states object. Federal health-care legislation, for instance, should
be barred because “if the federal government can require you to buy a
product (i.e. health insurance) it can do anything.”
Howell’s vision for America is “50 thriving states. A much more
limited federal and state government.” A vision devoutly wished by
many of the legislative and corporate members here.
That is the Constitutional way, says Howell, the sort of favourite
uncle you would invite to a family dinner. “The Constitution was
authored by Virginians and we take great pride in it. It’s flexible
enough for 300 million people as it was for 13 million.”
Born in 1973, to a group of conservative state lawmakers and policy
wonks, ALEC can’t claim the provenance of the Founding Fathers. But
after a modest beginning during President Richard Nixon’s term, and a
slow ascendancy, it became a resounding hit in recent years, backed by
Now thousands of the elect and the elected head for its conferences,
the latter assisted by ALEC’s “scholarship” funds. Some join the nine
task forces and legislative boards that create template bills,
alongside similar bodies set up for their corporate counterparts. The
final vote, ALEC says, has no input from the corporations. (Critics,
unsurprisingly, say otherwise. “Through ALEC, behind closed doors,
corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire
that directly benefit their bottom line,” says the watchdog Center for
Media and Democracy.)
For Howell, and other lawmakers here, belonging to ALEC is a shortcut
to effective, winnable legislation.
“If I flew to Las Vegas I wouldn’t know anybody,” he explains. “We
have 50 laboratories to find out what they’ve all been doing. ALEC
provides a meeting point, and the distinguishing feature is they’re
very interested in liberty and the free market.”
The air of Scottsdale is free too, of pepper spray. I stroll back to
my room in the nearby Westin Kierland Villas complex, along the
manicured golf course and the limpid pond on which float a family of
Overhead three helicopters hover. One breaks away and seems to shadow
my path. After the years I have spent in conflict zones helicopters
are not a good omen. I squint into the dazzling blue sky and wave. The
chopper wheels back and lazily retreats. Later, that night I fall into
a fitful sleep, pursued by a dark helicopter that always outflanks me.
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. . .
Back at the conference, a workshop on pension reform is winding up a
lengthy discussion of a proposed Public Pension Accounting
Responsibility Act. The act would force legislators to “tell the
truth” about state pensions, which ALEC supporters claim are
undermining (if not collapsing) state finances.
As the audience files out for a coffee break, I stay behind and wait
for the Fiscal Policy Reform Working Group to begin. It will drill
down on one the hottest issues in Washington, tax reform, and review a
model bill on opposing state bailouts by the federal government.
A friendly voice greets me: Kaitlyn Buss.
“I hope you’re enjoying the conference,” she says. “But I’m afraid
you’ll have to leave the room.”
“But I’ve just sat through another working group. Why is this one different?”
“Some are open, others aren’t. It’s just the rules.”
Night falls, and the tiny sports bar in the hotel basement is crowded.
A ruddy-faced man jumps to his feet, sweating, as touchdowns are
scored on the big screen. He volleys the results at a huddle of young
women who seem barely aware of the action.
Nor am I. I’m talking to a fellow hotel guest, Beau Hodai, a
journalist from the left-wing magazine In These Times who has written
probing articles on ALEC. Unlike me, he hasn’t enjoyed its
co-operation and credentials. His calls have gone unanswered, and he
has been turned back by the police and guards who firewall the
The noise level in the bar rises and so do I. As I say goodnight, Beau
is summoned by hotel security and herded away toward the elevator by
uniformed police. Why? In Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia, I was evicted
from my hotel by machine-gun-toting militias as the Kosovo war began.
But in America. . . ?
As I stand staring, two cops flank me: Do I know this man? Who is he?
Beau has disappeared now. Will anything I say be used against him? I
square my shoulders and think of my British mother: “How dare you ask
me such a question? Is this a morality charge? Are hotel guests of the
opposite sex forbidden to speak in a bar? Is this Iran or the land of
We face off, not blinking. The questions continue. At last the
inquisitors give in. “Ma’am, you’re free to go.”
They are pointing me toward the lobby, and the front door. On cue, the
helpful young man at the bell desk calls the hotel shuttle to convey
me to the Villas.
At 11 p.m., some 45 minutes later, I call Beau’s number. He is now in
another hotel, his stay at the Westin Kierland terminated abruptly.
“They said they were throwing me out and that they would escort me to
the room to get my belongings,” he tells me. “I had to leave right
then and there — or be arrested.” Off-duty police, it appears, were
moonlighting as security for the conference, but no less determined to
do their duty as they saw it.
(Back in Toronto I reach the hotel’s managing director, Bruce Lang, by
phone and am told, “Mr. Hodai was considered to be a persona non grata
from the conference.” But he adds, “not by the hotel, not by the
police. . . He clearly presented a threat to the conference, based on
his history.”) That would be the threat of investigative journalism?
In the Phoenix airport I move through the tanned, jostling holiday
crowd toward the Air Canada gate.
What just happened here? I board the plane and settle back to watch
the Arizona landscape disappear. The dry, dusty beige and the achingly
lush green. The baronial resorts and the desert shacks. The conference
too has dispersed, and the hotel resumed the even tenor of its ways.
Business as usual. And I think of ALEC and the Constitution it
The First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or
of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for redress of grievances.”
The 99 per cent, and the 1 per cent. A nation divided under God.