Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Beautiful Wickedness: ALEC and the "Wizard of Oz"

Many of us, by now, most likely are aware of the fact that several prominent corporations have broken their ties with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.   Among these corporations are Coca-Cola,  PepsiCo,  Kraft Foods,  Mars, Inc., McDonald’s,  Wendy’s,  Reed-Elsevier, and Intuit, Inc.

In light of these corporations having gone public in dropping their memberships, ALEC Executive Director, Ron Scheberle, issued a statement on April 11, 2012.  In it, he complained that “we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.”  He then proceeded to whitewash ALEC, calling it an organization dedicated more to “solutions than rhetoric,” transparency, job creation, fair tax policies, and open discourse.   Scheberle also gave assurances that ALEC “will not be defined by ideological special interests.”

Now, if ALEC truly operates under these principles outlined by Scheberle, it is hard to comprehend why major corporations would be abandoning it like rats from a sinking ship.  Who can argue with such altruistic and positive principles?   But then, as we look more closely at the work of ALEC, we find that its actions not only speak much louder than its words, but also speak an entirely different, contradictory language.

ALEC brings together corporations and conservative state legislators.  Then, with the input of the former [corporations], it writes legislation that it gives to the latter [state legislators] to enact.  Over 1,000 pieces of legislation are introduced by ALEC during each legislative cycle, and close to 20% of these actually become law.   In other words, hundreds of elected representatives (almost all Republican) submit legislation that they did not write. Were their Statehouses academic institutions, they all would be expelled for plagiarism.  Unfortunately, the bar is much lower for our elected representatives than it was for those same repre-sentatives when they had attended college.

Still, were they bringing decent legislation back to their respective states, and thus working in the best interests of their constituencies, one might be able to forgive them their sloth. Alas, the legislation they would bring home was mainly written by and for the international, corporate members of ALEC, not for the constituents of their specific state.   In this lies the real tragedy of contemporary, American legislative democracy.

Typical of the legislation enacted under ALEC are bills intended to roll back civil rights;  bills that disenfranchise voters, mostly in the form of voter ID laws;  bills that infringe on worker’s rights;  bills meant to privatize public services;  bills that promote the interests of corporations over individual citizens;  bills that weaken government regulations meant to protect the environment and public health;  bills promoting the take-over by for-profit private businesses of public services such as schools, prisons, public transportation, social and welfare services;  bills that permit the harassment and otherwise unlawful detention of suspected illegal immigrants;  bills that strip public employees of collective bargaining rights;  bills that weaken the power of private sector workers through so-called “right to work” laws;  and, of course, bills that have recently come to be known as “Stand Your Ground” laws, like the original one in Florida that led to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

This is what ALEC does. In other words, ALEC is the secretive, behind-the-scenes source of most of the social and political disruption and angst that we have been experiencing in America: the emergency managers in Michigan, the union busting in Wisconsin, the ultrasound legislation in Virginia, the immigrant detaining and deporting in Arizona, the blocking of voter registration in Florida. One could extend this list, state-after-state; but I think you get the picture.

So, if we return to examine the statement of ALEC’s Ron Scheberle, we begin to understand that ALEC is anything but transparent.  Who knew that all that insane legislation being pushed through one Republican-dominated statehouse after another, particularly since the 2010 election, actually came from a single source?  This legislation, all written in ALEC-organized task forces, has destroyed jobs, not created them, as Scheberle wrote. It has supported tax policies for large corporations and the ultra rich and not promoted “fair tax policies.”  Because ALEC members are conservative and almost exclusively Republican, it is abundantly clear that ALEC, indeed, serves the “special interests” of a specific ideology. Scheberle’s whitewash, as I called it, is simply that: words meant to counter any anticipated criticisms and paint a picture the opposite of reality.

Marvin Meadors’ Huffington Post article, “How Are ALEC Laws Undermining Our Democracy?,” calls ALEC a “bill churning mill” and suggests that it “bears a striking resemblance to the evil law firm in the film The Devil’s Advocate.”  If we accept his metaphor, I imagine the movie’s boss, played by Al Pacino (who turns out to be Lucifer) would have to be ALEC’s founder, Paul Weyrich (also co-founder of the Heritage Foundation). Weyrich once candidly acknowledged, “we are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country." And on voting, the lynchpin of our democracy, Weyrich said, “I don't want everybody to vote....our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”  Obviously, democracy and fairness were not Weyrich’s goals; nor are they the goals of ALEC today, given that it has been instrumental in passing voter-ID laws among thirty-two states with the intention of suppressing non-Republican votes.

If Weyrich is John Milton (Al Pacino) in The Devil’s Advocate, I would offer a different film metaphor for Ron Scheberle and today’s ALEC: The Wizard of Oz.  The corporations might be the Winkie Guards, enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West until freed at her death. 

I’d like to think that the head Guard, crying with joy at his new-found freedom, might be the Robert Gates Foundation, now that it severed its connection to ALEC. 

The flying monkeys, who are described as “intelligent enough to obey commands” become the state legislators

and we can imagine the sky blackened with them, not as they pursue Dorothy, but as they fly back to their statehouses armed with new, evil legislation.

Ron Scheberle, as ALEC’s Executive Director, would then be the Wicked Witch of the West. 

And when Dorothy (The Center for Media and Democracy, The Color of Change, Daily Kos: take your pick) accidentally throws a little water on her, her final words could also be those of Scheberle with hardly any word changes:

“Ahhhh, you cursed brat, look what you’ve done! I’m melting, melting.    Ooooh what a world, what a world.   Who would have thought that some little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness.   Ooooh, no.   I’m going.....”


  1. Clever as this post is, it falls into the category of "those who disagree with me are not just mistaken, they are evil". Just a few points:

    ALEC portrays what it does as at least benign and at best worthy of support. I don't think I'm putting much at risk to say all the interest groups do much the same thing. Nature of the beasts I think. I also think that we are all members of interest groups, active to a greater or lesser degree, but part of some interest cohort attempting to influence law and policy.

    Our interests are many and often in conflict. Socially they are reconciled at the ballot box.

    Much of the current anti-ALEC activity is a result of those opposed to its positions not paying attention as it successfully secured legislation at the state level that favors its members' interests.

    It is unfair to comment on what you should have written but a good post would explore where all those interest groups that oppose ALEC positions and outcry were as ALEC became so successful. Maybe they were furiously trying to get my attention but I sure don't remember it.

  2. Dear “Advice”:

    Thank you for your comment, which I really do appreciate, in that you make some good points. Certainly all interest groups, whether liberal or conservative, are out to “win” and often push the boundaries in their attempt to gain the upper hand. On this, I think you and I can agree 100%.

    I also would agree with you that, whatever the differences between these groups (or “among” these groups, as there really are more than two), “they are reconciled at the ballot box.”

    But now, we come to where you and I part ways. First, how ALEC portrays itself is irrelevant if the portrayal is inaccurate. To that point, then, I am much more likely to applaud Weyrich because he is honest about what he intends and does than I am Scheberle, whose portrayal of ALEC in his letter is really not honest.

    Second, I suspect that you are right to say that (liberal) groups opposed to the positions of ALEC were “not paying attention as it successfully secured legislation at the state level that favors its members' interests.” But then, you take me to task for not examining why these liberal groups were not on the ball. That’s ridiculous. You are asking me to write a totally different post than the one I wrote. However, what I wrote cannot, by any sensible logic, be deemed bad, or less “good,” because I didn’t research all the various liberal watchdog groups that, possibly, should have either been infiltrating ALEC or doing the same sort of thing, but from the other “side” as ALEC was doing.

    I was writing about ALEC, not about The Center for Media and Democracy, or about The Color of Change, or about the Daily Kos. And anyway, these groups are more transparent and open than ALEC, which brings me to my third point. None of these groups operates like ALEC. None of them ghost-writes liberal legislation for state senators and representatives. And in particular, none of these groups has an agenda to try to disenfranchise any segment of American citizenry.

    Liberals and conservatives should, indeed, “reconcile their differences at the ballot box,” but when one group--and it is the conservatives--is attempting to take the vote away from hundreds of thousands of eligible citizens in order to gain its advantage, that group no longer is playing by the same set of assumed rules. This is not fair play. This is “moving the goal posts,” or whatever other metaphor one cares to use.

    That group, by its actions, loses the respect normally accorded to legitimate opponents. It has resorted to cheating and foul play.