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ALEC in Arizona, Democracy in Peril

(Photo: Nick Surgey of Common Cause)

What do you get for the corporation that has everything? More of the same—money, power, and influence. That’s the mission and main goal of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-financed association that has secretly and increasingly had a major voice in legislation around the country for forty years.

This week, corporate honchos headed to the Arizona desert for four days of strategizing with elected officials on behalf of a business-friendly agenda that attacks the public interest on all fronts, from undercutting public education and disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of legally-qualified voters to weakening environmental regulations that protect public health. At closed-to-the-public meetings like this week’s confab at the posh Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, ALEC’s business executives, lobbyists, and elected lawmakers sit side by side and vote as equals on the group’s “model” bills, then carry that legislation back to state capitols across the nation.

(Photo: Nick Surgey of Common Cause)

A coalition of good government, labor and education groups have countered with a new report and community outreach and demonstration events to expose ALEC’s grip on the state, where at least 50 of the 90 legislators now serving are ALEC members and corporations have donated $16 million to members of the state legislature over the past decade.

A day before ALEC’s summit in the desert, groups including Common Cause, People for the American Way, the Center for Media and Democracy, the Arizona AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, the Arizona Education Association, and Progress Now invited hundreds of activists to attend a community forum highlighting the state and national infrastructure that supports ALEC’s influence in the Arizona legislature.

(Photo: Nick Surgey of Common Cause)

The event coincided with the release of a new report by Common Cause and the People for the American Way Foundation: “ALEC in Arizona: the Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona’s Legislature,” which exposes ALEC’s influence and impact on Arizona public policy. Close analysis of Arizona legislation on a range of subjects shows remarkably similar – if not identical – provisions to ALEC “model” bills, including:

  • Draconian anti-immigrant measures that criminalize undocumented workers and penalize their employers, strip native-born Americans of their citizenship rights and require that all publications and materials disseminated by state agencies be written in English only
  • Measures encouraging the privatization of state prisons to the benefit of the private prison industry
  • Voter suppression bills that potentially disenfranchise tens of thousands of Arizonans
  • Attacks on workers, their unions, and collective bargaining and the elimination of public employment through outsourcing and privatizing of government functions
  • Attacks on public education through private school voucher programs
  • Measures to prevent implementation of healthcare reform, and
  • Attacks on federal environmental regulation by attempting to deny the federal government the ability to supersede weak state environmental legislation.

This report follows several others from Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, and others and is part of a campaign to focus state and national media coverage on ALEC’s oversized role in the corporate control of our democracy.

(Photo: Nick Surgey of Common Cause)

In addition to the community forum, advocacy events this week include a press conference at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, November 30, in front of the Arizona state capitol, and a day of action and education organized by Occupy Phoenix.

(Photo: Nick Surgey of Common Cause)

For most of its 30-plus years, ALEC has operated with little notice from journalists and the general public. But the release earlier this year of thousands of ALEC records by the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy gave outsiders a window into the group’s activity and political clout. Common Cause has asked the Internal Revenue Service to review ALEC’s tax exempt status, contending that the group is a lobbying organization but operating under a section of tax law that limits lobbying.

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