Beware of the Smart ALEC: The Lobbyists Threatening Indian Country
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is God’s gift to corporate America, tying it directly to elected legislators and providing the vehicle for the interests of corporate persons to trump the interests of human persons.
What ALEC “exchanges” are model statutes, directed toward:
*beating back the Environmental Protection Agency’s “assaults on state sovereignty”
*shifting the risk of pension investments for public workers from the taxpayers (employers) to the workers
*the laudable task of “decriminalizing” America accomplished by adding a guilty knowledge requirement to every criminal law that would make air and water pollution laws virtually unenforceable
The short version of the ALEC agenda is lower taxes and therefore lower spending and let the environment take care of itself. It is to move assets to corporate persons from human persons and allow corporate persons to put negative consequences to economic activity off on the commons rather than having those who profit from environmental destruction pay for it.
Back in 2002, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report on ALEC’s activities on behalf of corporate polluters. At that time, biannual $50 dues paid by legislators made up only about 1% of ALEC’s budget, and entitled the members to invitations to confer in prime tourist destinations on ALEC’s dime. Corporate dues, on the other hand, ranged from $5,000 to $50,000.
ALEC’s idea of “keeping criminals off the street” naturally entailed the privatization of prisons and support for corporations that would build prisons on spec and then lobby for laws to fill the prisons, preferably with non-violent prisoners who are easier to supervise for profit. ALEC’s “Task Force on Criminal Justice” included Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons, and National Association of Bail Insurance Companies, representative of the corrupt and inefficient bail bond system that transfers money in breathtaking amounts from poor people accused of crime to corporations that provide a “service” for the money—getting out of jail—that in fact comes from the government.
ALEC once funded a “conference on indoor air pollution” with money from the tobacco industry.
ALEC led opposition to states enacting MedicAid formularies, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save state and federal governments together half a billion dollars over five years—at the expense of big drug companies funding ALEC.
ALEC was the invisible man in state government until it involved itself in the interests of the National Rifle Association, which has for some time been less the interests of gun owners than the interests of gun manufacturers. That is, laws directed to surfing the demographic trends by selling more guns to fewer customers. In 1993, ALEC began producing for the NRA by opposing a waiting period to buy guns.
The ALEC-NRA axis got its mammary glands in the wringer with the homicide of Trayvon Martin, which exposed an NRA funded and ALEC led spread of “stand your ground” laws of the kind that sunk the prosecution of the man who killed a teenager armed only with candy and iced tea.
The Guardian reported late in 2013 that ALEC has lost membership when its role in “stand your ground” became common knowledge. Corporate memberships dropped from 280 to 214 and legislative memberships from 2,200 to 1,810 (still almost a quarter of all state legislators in the US) according to documents posted on the Guardian website. The corporations that are the backbone of ALEC funding are vulnerable to the decisions of consumers.
While the Guardian report did not note the fact, the Martin killing was in the news at the same time ALEC’s role in the wave of voter suppression laws deployed against Indians, as well as African-Americans and Hispanics, also became public. In response to the disinfectant property of sunshine, ALEC disbanded the “Elections and Public Safety Task Force” that had produced voter suppression legislation against the minority vote and legislation to pump up the sales of firearms.
The ALEC Board met in Chicago on August 6, 2013, under the aegis of their ongoing mission statement: “To advance free markets, limited government and federalism.” Federalism is, by ALEC’s lights, the old wine of “states’ rights” in policy bottles that can quickly become Indian fighting.
We can see Indian fighting in ALEC’s model “Resolution Demanding that Congress Convey Title of Federal Public Lands to the States,” which ignores tribal interests. ALEC touts a model “Commission on Federalism Act” wherein the commission created contains no tribal representation.
ALEC presents a “State Urban-Woodland Fire Safety” statute with the purpose “to create healthier forests and reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires for communities by: creating state urban-wildland fire safety committees; authorizing municipalities and counties to using zoning based on wildfire risks; create an office of the state forester to improve forest management; and create healthy forest pilot projects.” This is allegedly to be accomplished with no tribal input.
The Chicago board meeting considered establishing “The Jeffersonian Project” as a lobbying arm, because the IRS is breathing down the necks of 501 (c) (4) organizations that engage in political activity.
The Board established job descriptions for state chairs, which come in private (corporate) and public (legislator) flavors. The description includes “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization (ALEC) first.” The public chairs, to my plebian understanding, were elected to put the public interest first. The private chairs would like us to think their corporations do the same.
Prominent on the “prospect list” put forward by the ALEC Membership Committee in Chicago is Slade Gorton, LLC, the firm headed by the most prominent Indian fighter of our times. The Committee also put forward a “Prodigal Son Project” to recoup memberships lost over the voter suppression and homicide issues. That project contains a long list, but the ones most import to ordinary human persons who spend money would be: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Wal-Mart, Dell Computers, John Deere, MillerCoors, HP, Best Buy, Walgreen’s, CVS, Wells-Fargo and Bank of America. There’s also Yum! Brands, which includes KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. Keep in mind that these are not the bad guys. These are the ones that quit when ALEC showed its true colors to the general public.
What about the other side, the “public members,” the legislators elected by human persons who are expressing more regard for corporate persons? ALEC claims two states with significant tribal populations, Iowa and South Dakota, had 100 percent of the legislatures on board. Other states have less alarming percentages: Alaska 15 percent, Arizona 38 percent, California 9 percent, Minnesota 20 percent, Montana 24 percent, North Dakota 31 percent, Nebraska and New Mexico 35 percent, Nevada 22 percent, Oklahoma 47 percent, Washington 22 percent.
These states are picked to show the structural disadvantage to Indians if ALEC should adopt an explicit Indian fighting agenda instead of the implicit one it follows now. This would be explicit Indian fighting in addition to supporting air and water pollution, bail bondsmen, private prisons, voter suppression, and loose regulation of homicides—all of which affect Indians disproportionately. This is also in addition to the fact that all the American Indians I know are human persons, not corporate persons.
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.
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