Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The world behind the world behind the scenes

In the realm of legislation, there are at least three layers. The most visible to the public is the one in which votes are taken and laws adopted. Behind the scenes of that world is another in which deals are made and votes traded.

That is the layer most people think of when they hear the quote usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck, “Laws are like sausages – it’s best not to see them being made.” The idea of legislators basing their votes on the currency of favors and promises can make the public queasy. It’s an inelegant and gritty system, but it grinds out laws like sausage and keeps the machinery of government functioning.

But there is at least one other world, deeper in the legislative shadows, that can have a much greater impact than petty cloakroom horse trading. That is the world in which the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, operates.

ALEC, as Matt Reichel reports in this post, is “a conduit between corporate boardrooms and elected officials willing to enact their agenda of austerity and privatization.” ALEC’s agenda is to simultaneously reduce the tax burden on its corporate sponsors and to channel what government funds remain into their corporate coffers.

ALEC creates model legislation that benefits its members, including, Reichel writes, “prison privatization, stripping collective bargaining rights, reducing or eliminating environmental protections, and enacting regressive tax laws.”

Also looming large on ALEC’s agenda is a corruption of the charter school movement to enrich corporate providers.

One example is Act 417 of the 2011 Louisiana legislature, which was written “to provide for enrollment preferences and membership on the governing or management board of a charter school for certain major corporate donors; and to provide for related matters.”

Note that charter school expansion benefitting corporate providers, prison privatization, regressive tax laws and an attack on collective bargaining rights all figure prominently in this year’s legislative session as well.

Maybe – just maybe – ALEC has gone too far in its underground campaign to raid the public treasury and turn our nation in to a corporate plutocracy. Jamie Lorber, a reporter for Roll Call on Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill, writes here that some of ALEC’s sponsors are reconsidering their support.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has withdrawn support for ALEC. Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Intuit have also announced that they are pulling back from ALEC.

The reason why should bring a smile to all true believers in small-d democracy. An African-American civil rights group, Color of Change, has campaigned relentlessly for corporations to sever their ties to ALEC.

Color of Change, writes Lorber, went after ALEC because of its model legislation opposing voter ID laws:

“Civil rights activists say the laws disproportionately target minority, student and elderly voters, who tend to vote Democratic, and could bar up to 5 million voters from the polls this fall…Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson said the group is using Internet appeals to pressure companies that have made explicit efforts to build a strong relationship with African-American customers.”

It’s a good sign that people aren’t completely powerless in the face of the corporate juggernaut. If you’d like to join Color of Change’s campaign to separate ALEC from its corporate sponsors, click here.

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