As I was boarding a plane to London on June 21st of this year, hearing rumblings of something or other going on at the State Capitol (what? they want pizzas?), I had only heard the name ALEC a few times in passing, on some talking-heads TV show in the background. But when I touched back down in the U.S. of A. two weeks later, I felt like I knew ALEC in the biblical sense. And when I joined my comrades at the capitol on the night House Bill 2 was passed, I knew that ALEC would need to be a focus of the widening critique.
So who is ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council)? Well they have their own website, according to which, their motto is “Limited Government, Free Markets, and Federalism.” This theme runs through the more bland wikipedia entry as well: “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501(c)(3) American organization composed of legislators, businesses and foundations which produces model policies for state legislatures and promotes free markets, limited government, and federalism at the state level.”
This blurb should really tell you everything you need to know about ALEC, since their motto is comprised of code words (limited government = no social services for poor people with corporate welfare; free markets = no regulation of big business with regulation of everything else, especially environmental groups; and federalism = Tea-Party originalism, only or especially about guns) and since, really, what’s more American than businesses and foundations writing legislation?
At least they don’t pretend the oligarchy doesn’t exist, I guess one could say in their defense, since they just go ahead and write the bills themselves, whereas in the past it was considered uncouth (businesses bought politicians, sure, but the politicians still served some kind of function, i.e. pretending to come up with the idea on their own).
While I tend to think allusions to ancient Rome are usually trite, since every empire has its own unique qualities but is essentially the same kind of machine, such comparisons are getting easier to make, as history repeats itself (first as tragedy, then as farce). This bypassing of the Congress should therefore be no surprise, cf. Caligula. And of course, that means we still have Nero to look forward to (although the Roman Senate declared him a public enemy, so… hope and change?).
Here’s the best primer on ALEC and its role in the recent Texas anti-abortion bills I’ve seen: a post on Burnt Orange Report by Phillip Martin.
Others have been criticizing and calling out ALEC for some time now:
John Nichols, The Nation, via Bill Moyers: ALEC exposed
Michael King, The Austin Chronicle: Stand your ground against ALEC
Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post: How ALEC became a political liability
Andy Kroll, Mother Jones: ALEC’s own senator?