Spotlight Shines on ALEC's Anti-Middle Class Agenda - and its Cost to States

As the middle class remains under sustained attack in state legislatures, media attention is increasingly turning to the corporate interests orchestrating a national spread of industry-written bills seeking to weaken state economies, strip workers of their rights, suppress voter turnout, and capitalize on the politics of division and fear – all in pursuit of private profit. In a spate of recent reports, specific scrutiny is being focused on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in allowing corporations access to influence state laws that benefit their bottom lines at the expense of the economic security of families.

Last Sunday’s (Nashville) Tennessean featured a front-page article on the slew of copycat bills written by and for corporations that has hit the Volunteer State this session – a report that could likely be replicated in many states that have seen similar waves of destructive legislation. Some of the efforts advanced in Tennessee’s legislature this include a call to repeal the federal health care law, laws to weaken unions, and a divisive bill to ban Islamic Sharia law which even its sponsors admitted to not reading before filing. 

Tennessee State Rep. Mike Turner gave the Tennessean his perspective on the deluge he and his colleagues are seeing this year: “We’ve taken model bills in the past, but very rarely did you see model bills passed without any changes or amendments”, said Rep. Turner. “Some of this stuff they’re running this year is straight out of the ALEC playbook.”

In an attempt to reveal some pages of that playbook, People for the American Way (PFAW) released a report this week describing the nuts and bolts some of ALEC’s often shadowy operations. The study, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures,” provides an overview of publicly available information on the group’s funding and structure and notes examples of policies they have attempted to advance in recent years. It concludes that “rather than serve the public interest, ALEC champions the agenda of corporations which are willing to pay for access to legislators and the opportunity to write their very own legislation.”

One of the case studies noted in PFAW’s report is the role of ALEC in enabling the for-profit private prison industry to influence the writing and passage of Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant law. The story on the involvement of the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) with SB1070 received much attention last October as the result of two reports by NPR’s Laura Sullivan, but has recently been pushed back into the national spotlight. 

Brave New Foundation and Cuéntame released a YouTube video infographic last week explaining in detail the connections between ALEC, CCA, and the group of conservative legislators and corporate allies who are advancing legislation to privatize prisons and then fill them up with immigrant detainees.

It is clear that legislation like this benefits the corporations who are writing it, but it also became clearer this week that privatizing prisons, as more than 30 states have done, does not result in cost savings for states. 

According to a New York Times article, research by Arizona’s Department of Corrections shows that despite laws requiring cost savings, inmates in private prisons can often cost the state as much or more to incarcerate as inmates state-run prisons. The data also reveals that private prisons often appear less expensive because they only house the healthiest inmates. As Arizona State Rep. Chad Campbell told the Times, “It’s cherry-picking… they leave the most expensive prisoners with taxpayers and take the easy prisoners.”

Meanwhile, other ALEC priorities are struggling. According to a survey by the Associated Press, so-called “right-to-work” bills that would weaken private sector unions and restrict the ability of businesses enter into contracts of their choosing with their employees have been introduced but failed to pass in 13 states this session. In a 14th state where a bill did pass, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch issued a strongly-worded veto one such bill last week, stating that “in my time as a CEO, in my years spent in the private sector turning around companies, and in my seven years as Governor, I have never seen the so-called right-to-work law serve as a valuable economic development tool.”

These bills have long been priorities for both ALEC and their corporate sponsors. After last year’s elections, Wisconsin State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R) told a reporter he was “surprised how much momentum there was” around right-to-work bills at an ALEC conference he attended in Washington, DC. But as and more legislators and voters learn about the corporate front groups attempting to pass laws in their states and the true costs of the anti-middle class agenda they want to enact, the momentum behind that agenda promises to stall even further.

Full Resources from this Article

Spotlight Shines on ALEC’s Anti-Middle Class Agenda – and its Cost to States

Tennessean – “Model bills shape state”
People for the American Way – “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures”
NPR – “Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny”
Cuéntame – Immigrants For Sale
New York Times – “Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings”
Associated Press – Efforts to curtail private-sector unions faltering”

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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