This is a serious post, but don’t miss the funny part towards the bottom.
Known as the “American Legislative Exchange Council“, this group was more comfortable when it’s inner workings were unknown, but a member becoming uncomfortable with it’s real mission, decided to release massive amounts of information about the group to “The Center for Media and Democracy”, which can be found here.
The long list of people who have been involved in this organization, which was formed in 1973, reads like a who’s who of mischievous scoundrels. ALEC claims to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization, but currently only has one Democrat out of 104 legislators in leadership positions. Current and past members which I personally don’t trust include:
Henry Hyde, Paul Weyrich, John Kasich, Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, congressman Joe Wilson, Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, Andrew Card, Donald Rumsfeld, Scott Walker, and Jan Brewer.
Featured speakers have included: Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Jessie Helms and Pete Coors.
ALEC has given awards to: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, Charles and David Koch, Tommy Thompson, John Kasich, Rick Perry, Mark Foley, and Congressman Billy Tauzin.
You read through this stuff and all kinds of lights go off in your head if you’ve followed politics at all. With something this voluminous, it’s probably best to be introduced to the particulars by somebody who can distill it down in a short interview. Terry Gross is one of the very best interviewers in the country because she asks hard questions when she has to, always knows the subject she is discussing and has a great left hook. Her show on NPR is called “Fresh Air” and, unfortunately covers musicians most of the time, but even those shows can get a little too revealing. KISS member Gene Simmons ordered his interview with Gross removed from NPR’s archives.
John Nichols, is a political writer for “The Nation” and has been reporting on the documents. There is nobody better for the job because Nichols is an expert researcher and has been flawlessly covering important stories about powerful institutions in America for a long time. Mr. Nichols’s interview with Gross can be heard here and the transcript can be read here.
I highly recommend listening to the entire interview, but here are some parts I found very interesting:
GROSS: Now, you say ALEC is known for its refusal to compromise. What do you mean?
Mr. NICHOLS: Well, I mean this is part and parcel of what we’re seeing across the political life right now. Back in the 1970s, early 1970s, a number of new organizations, think-tanks, membership groups, political operations, were started by true-believer conservatives, really passionate conservatives, as well as some libertarian folks and a lot of corporate folks who were very frustrated by the Nixon presidency.
Richard Nixon, elected as a Republican, quite hated by a lot of Democrats, went out and created the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, expanded public housing, was relatively sympathetic to a lot of unions. And they were thinking, you know, this just doesn’t work.
This is – here we elect Republicans and we still end up getting, you know, policies that don’t favor what we want. And so ALEC, like a lot of these other groups, has worked for a very long time to get political players trained up, raised up, get ideas into the mix that are very pure, that are not about compromise but that are about, you know, winning the game, winning the whole thing.
And I think that’s one of the reasons why ALEC is not just interested in corporate regulation, tax policy, but also very, very interested in election law and election policies.
GROSS: What would you say [ALEC's] agenda is?
Mr. NICHOLS: Well, I think it’s to make it easier for corporations to do what they want to do, and not all those things are evil, although sometimes folks talk about corporations that way. But it’s just to clear the way – lower taxes, less regulation, particularly less environmental regulation, a lot of protections against lawsuits. ALEC is very, very active in what’s referred to as tort reform. And also an opening up of areas via privatization for corporations to make more money, particularly in places you might not usually expect, like public education.
ALEC is a very, very strong advocate for voucher programs and privatization programs in the area of education.
GROSS: And privatization of prisons as well?
Mr. NICHOLS: Oh, very ambitiously for privatization of prisons. And there’s a group called the Corrections Corporation of America that’s very, very active with ALEC, and they build prisons.
GROSS: So the focus of ALEC is legislation on the state level, not the national level. Most of us, I think, are more focused on national legislation. Why is ALEC focused on the state level?
Mr. NICHOLS: Well, because they’re smart. The fact of the matter is that we live at the local and state level. That’s where human beings come into contact with government more often than not.
Almost reads like THE list of anti-liberal policies, doesn’t it?
Besides talking about the voter ID legislation being rolled out all over the country, Mr Nichols talks about something that has been an obsession of mine and apparently of his too (emphasis mine):
Mr. NICHOLS …I focus – my interest is in elections. I’m always fascinated by, you know, how our elections play out, how our politics plays out, how democracy itself functions. And so I looked through all the documents, at least everything that was in this document dump on elections and on democracy and on everything from the Electoral College to how we do local initiatives. And frankly, it’s amazing. There is just such meticulous work. They are very detail-oriented, very, very focused on a whole host of issues and they have an opinion about everything. And, you know, what they – how they want elections to work.
Money should speak. No question of that. They think it’s a big deal. They love the Electoral College. They think it’s a very, very dangerous notion to have direct election of presidents. They even say at one point that if you had direct election of the presidents you might create a situation in which someone with a plurality was elected. So what they’re saying is you might create a situation where the person with the most votes got elected.
Now for the funny part…
Well it happens that the national chairman of ALEC, Noble Ellington, made the bad decision to go on with Gross also; what results is a pretty funny interview. I guess he thought he could get away with some ridiculous claims or actually believes that ALEC is helping the American people.
Mr. Ellington’s interview with Gross can be heard here, and the transcript can be read here. I highly recommend you listen to get the full effect. Here’s a part of the conversation:
GROSS: But the taxpaying public isn’t at the table.
Mr. ELLINGTON: Wait just a minute. Don’t don’t assume that.
Mr. ELLINGTON: I work for the taxpaying public. So don’t assume that they’re not, because they are. And we represent the public and we are the ones who decide. So the taxpaying public is represented there at the table because I’m there.
GROSS: I understand that, but you’re there at the table with corporations. But at the table…
Mr. ELLINGTON: Can I interrupt you again?
Mr. ELLINGTON: It’s not just corporations. I’m there, and members of ALEC is the Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, National Federation of Independent Businesses – those are people that we represent as well and those are people who are members.
GROSS: But those are all pro-business, anti-tax groups. People not represented at the table include workers, union members, teachers, students…
Mr. ELLINGTON: No, ma’am. No, ma’am.
GROSS: Patients who are can’t medical bills…
Mr. ELLINGTON: You are completely wrong.
GROSS: Uh-huh. I’m sorry?
Mr. ELLINGTON: I represent…
Mr. ELLINGTON: I, me, as an elected official, I represent unions. I represent teachers. And you’re saying you want taxes raised? Is that what you’re saying?
GROSS: I don’t think I said I want taxes raised. I don’t think I said anything about what I wanted.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Aren’t you glad that Mr. Ellington, the Koch brothers, the “Americans for Tax Reform” and Paul Weyrich, are/were watching your back, America.
Yep! That Paul Weyrich:
Whom the editors at the Deseret News and the AP gave a glowing sendoff when he died.