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A Wounded ALEC

Assembles In Utah  

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The corporations above were part of the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2011. Some have recently crossed themselves off the list.
Thanks To Arizona Protesters, The Center For Media And Democracy, And Other Factors, The American Legislative Exchange Council Has Been Weakened

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By John Guzzon and Charles Parke
Modern Times Magazine

July 27, 2012 —  When groups of people take to the streets to protest against something they don’t believe in, many scoff.

Some even snicker.

But most just plainly think that chanting, sweating, walking and holding signs will not actually change anything.

Most of the time, they might be right.

But sometimes, it can make a difference.

One need look no further than the American Legislative Council, or ALEC, and what has transpired since they held their Nation & States Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona nine months ago. Since 2012, nearly 20 companies have publicly announced they will no longer support the group, including Wal-Mart, Medtronic, Amazon.com, Scantron Corporation, Kaplan Higher Education, Procter & Gamble, YUM! Brands, Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Traffic Solutions, Reed Elsevier, Arizona Public Service, Mars, Wendy's, McDonald's, Intuit, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. Four non-profits — Lumina Foundation for Education, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the Gates Foundation have also publicly pulled their support.

Heck, even some legislators are running as fast as they can from the organization — 54 of them have abandoned the group since 2012.

Not all of that was due to the protesters on the streets of North Scottsdale in November 2011. The Center for Media Democracy, ColorofChange.org and many other groups and organizations have spent much time and money to expose the organization. And a little thing like the Trayvon Martin shooting — which many think ALEC’s Stand Your Ground Law will be used by Martin’s alleged shooter, George Zimmerman to escape prosecution — helped the public relations pendulum swing against ALEC.

But the sight of a few hundred people getting tear gassed outside of a swanky hotel breathes life into static reports, studies, white papers and videos.

What all can agree on is ALEC’s business brings about a relationship with business and state legislators that borders on the illegal and probably traipses into the immoral.

What ALEC does is bring unelected corporate representatives to meet behind closed doors with elected legislators to develop state laws.  ALEC considers itself to be a non-profit think tank allowing an exchange of ideas but many community activist groups consider it a lobbying group pushing a pro-corporate agenda that fights against environmental regulation, worker/union rights and access to voting.  Those believing ALEC to be a lobbying group have claimed these meetings and the sponsorship of legislators travel and accommodations by corporations to be a threat to open and fair democratic process.

Although many have fled, some remain steadfast in their commitment to ALEC, often stating their involvement has nothing to do with the unpopular policies that have brought protest. Several companies such as State Farm Insurance have responded that their work with ALEC is limited to matters that impact their industry.  In State Farm’s case they claim only to have an interest when the affordability and accessibility of insurance is affected.

But does State Farm paying into an organization that develops gun laws eventually impact insurance rates?

Corporations considering standing with ALEC face a tough battle against public pressure and must deal with public questioning of how their profits and corporate brand ties into ALEC’s policies.  The public faces a question of how to view ALEC members like Gerber Products — known for baby foods and baby clothing — do they have a role in ALEC legislation such as the recent abortion tax in Kansas and the law declaring a women pregnant 2 weeks prior to conception in Arizona?  Corporations like ALEC member Cracker Barrel must deal with how to avoid being associated with anti-union stances as ALEC model bills have also tried to limit how union dues are collected and when unions can be formed.

With almost 30 groups having left ALEC this year, the true test of whether this is a think tank or a lobbying group may be whether ALEC has the ability to find ways to still change public policy with shrinking resources.

As the group gathers in Utah this week, protesters are continuing to put the heat on.

A coalition of local and national groups are hosting an alternative "ALEC Exposed" conference in Salt Lake City. The goal is to educate the public about the ALEC agenda. Supporting groups include Center for Media And Democracy, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Now, AFL-CIO, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Voters Legislative Transparency Project the Utah League of Women Voters, the Alliance for a Better Utah, and others.

In June, the Alliance for a Better Utah launched a campaign where it put up billboards across the state which read "ALEC is Coming..." and directed viewers to their website for more information. The group told the Center for Media And Democracy that more than 2 million will have seen the billboard before this week's conference.

One of the organizers, Jesse Fruhwirth, told the Center for Media And Democracy that ALEC's influence over our democracy is comparable to a slow-moving, piecemeal coup d'etat.

"To protest a group like ALEC, you are protesting corporatocracy. ALEC is one of the root causes behind efforts to persecute organized workers, destroy the environment and incarcerate massive amounts of people," he told the Center for Media And Democracy. "We can no longer allow money to buy political influence."

People can make a difference. Just ask ALEC, which is learning that protesters are people, too.

And they will and can be heard.

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
Charles Parke is an activist living in Phoenix.
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