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The Power Behind the Throne - Should Corporate Proxies like ALEC Write America's Laws?
Do you remember those scenes in The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers in which the good King of Rohan is being held under a spell by a creepy, sinister, deranged magician named Wormtongue who whispers evil ideas into the ears of the King to get him take actions that will ultimately lead to the defeat of his kingdom and the enslavement of his people? Perhaps you suppose that this is simply a fantasy tale that is irrelevant to real world and has no parallel in American politics. We're supposed to be a free country, after all, a country in which the voters via their legislators ultimately create the laws that govern the land. But I think JRR Tolkien was trying to do more than tell us an adventure story about Hobbits and magic rings and evil wizards. This was a man who had been through two world wars put in motion by corrupt, self-serving powers, after all, and when he put the character of Wormtongue down on paper he knew quite well that there are always evil, insidious, shadowy figures that lurk behind the seats of power and cast a malignant influence upon governments and those being governed.
This article will deal with one of these secretive, insidious entities in particular, which is ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). Hiding behind a folksy, wholesome, grass-roots facade ALEC writes and promotes legislation that is mandated by the corporate interests that finance the group. By preaching a phony love for traditional American values it then force feeds these laws down the throats of Americans who are deceived into believing that the legislation benefits the long term prosperity of the nation, while in reality the new laws only serve to line the pockets of the corporate benefactors that dictated them. So you think Wormtongue is irrelevant, eh?
What is ALEC?
In its own words, the mission statement of ALEC is "...to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a non-partisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public." Notice right off the bat that the general public part is included last, as sort of an afterthought in the mission statement, almost as if somebody in the back of the board room shouted out at the last minute "Hey - we better put something about the general public in here!" and everybody anxiously nodded their heads in agreement.
In reality ALEC is basically a "Bill-Mill," a scheming coven of corporate lobbyists and legislators that produce legislation which is often enacted into law by the bought and paid for politicians it helps elect into office. Approximately 200 ALEC written bills are voted into law each year.
ALEC came into being at the time that the conservative movement in the United States was being molded under the facade of a folksy, homespun, God and country upswelling, even while being seeded by powerful people with deep corporate connections. It was Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a former tobacco company lawyer, who turned the Conservative movement into a double-headed monster with his "Powell Memorandum," a document that advocated that corporations should become more aggressive in molding American Laws. Approximately two years after the release of the Powell Memorandum, in 1973 ALEC was brought into being by Illinois legislator Mark Rhoads. Many have suggested a strong connections between the Powell Memorandum and the creation of this group.
Who Is ALEC?
The membership roster of ALEC reflects an unholy matrimony between corporations and politicians. There are about 1800 legislative members in the group, a number that includes 85 Congressmen and 14 current or former governors. In addition there are also approximately 300 corporate, foundation, or private sector members. The corporate membership contains some of the biggest names in American business, including Ebay, DuPont, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Facebook, FedEx, News Corporation (Parent of Fox News), Pfizer, United Parcel Service (UPS), and Visa. Former members include corporations such as Amazon, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Dell, General Motors, and Wal Mart. Several of these former constituents pulled out because of the public outcry from the ALEC-sponsored stand your ground law that was one of the factors behind the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the subsequent exoneration of his killer, George Zimmerman.
Of those included in the ALEC role call perhaps the most notorious are its long time corporate board members Charles and David Koch, collectively known as the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers have poured untold millions into the coffers of ALEC in an attempt to influence legislation that brings advantages to Koch Industries, a conglomerate that is heavily invested in the oil business. The Koch Brothers have used ALEC to help wiggle their way out of environmental violations and also to attack the institution of public education, which they perceive to be a socialist-fueled crusade designed to infect the delicate psyches of our children with communist propaganda.
I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill, and ALEC put me here on Capitol hill...
While masquerading under the guise of "freedom," which its free-enterprise friendly mission statement would surely seem to promote, ALEC becomes decidedly anti-freedom and anti-Constitution where certain Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms run counter to corporate interests. An example of this would be ALEC's efforts to have eco-activists and animal rights activists classified as terrorists. One of ALEC's model bills is the "Animal and Ecological Terrorist Act," which classifies acts of civil disobedience by pro-environment and pro-animal protesters as terrorism. Under this proposed law people caught filming or taking photographs at a livestock farm would be put in the federal terrorist registry. I'm the first one to support putting people in jail when they cross the line from peaceful protest to acts of violence and sabotage, but arbitrarily depriving people of their civil rights by declaring them a terrorist, especially when they are only taking pictures, smells too much like North Korea and Red China to me, and tends to curl my nose. North Korean dictator King Jong Un, who specializes in jailing tourists who take unauthorized photographs, would certainly delight in ALEC's methods.
ALEC has also fought against greenhouse gas emissions restrictions. It has pushed legislation that would allow corporations to keep from disclosing potential drinking water contaminants in fluids used in the "fracking" process of oil extraction. Basically, the purpose of ALEC is to promote the interests of its corporate members, even if that means health risks to the consumers who could be harmed by the byproducts that these members pump into the environment.
In other words, human rights only go as far as ALEC defines them. And in case you remain unconvinced about the underlying motives of ALEC where human rights are concerned, the fact that this group opposed disinvestment in South Africa during the height of apartheid should give you an idea about how much they really value individual freedom.
Is Left or Right an Issue?
Opposing the sometimes nefarious activities of corporations should not automatically get the "commie" label stuck upon you" This article is being produced from a non-partisan perspective, and I propose that it is possible to believe in the sanctity of free enterprise without being overly fond of the institution of the corporation. In fact, many influential classical and even what could be called right-wing philosophers were not fond of corporations at all, viewing them as the enemies of rather than the foundation behind free enterprise, as the ALEC board members would style it.
Thomas Jefferson, third President and author of the Declaration of Independence said that "The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations." But being opposed to the often corrupt corporate practice of pursuing profits to the detriment of the public good did not make Jefferson an enemy of free enterprise. In Jefferson's times the "liberalism" of the founding fathers was associated with capitalism. Capitalism was seen as a relatively untested liberating influence, a force of positive change whereby each individual, unfettered by the onerous burdens imposed by nobility, could work to advance one's individual welfare.
Thomas Jefferson's sense of free enterprise was centered around the idea of the "yeoman farmer." His ideal yeoman was defined as a small, independent landowner dedicated to his individual prosperity but who also would fight to preserve his individual rights from the residual elements of British-style nobility that would reduce him to serfdom and peonage. Under the Jeffersonian view all individuals, including the yeoman, were certainly free to buy and trade to their advantage, but he warned against "...the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country." Even in its nascent stages, the American democratic experiment was already being challenged by "monied corporations.".
Perhaps the influence of the "yeoman farmer" has been significantly reduced in modern times, having been mostly replaced by the white and blue collar worker and the small businessman, but Jefferson's underlying principle is the same. And just as Jefferson warned us, the guarantees of individual freedom outlined in the first ten amendments to the Constitution are being assaulted by "monied incorporations" under the umbrella of ALEC, where laws are being written that would deprive us of our right to protest assaults upon our health, standard of living, and freedom of speech in exchange for driving the black ink of the corporate bottom line.
Even the believers in unfettered, laissez-faire style capitalism are not all on board with ALEC's methods. For instance, philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, the mention of whose name would undoubtedly raise a chorus of groans in a room full of ALEC detractors, would nonetheless flop over in her grave once or twice if she became aware that the advocates of ALEC were using her words to support their objectives.
Ayn Rand was not a fan of the corporate model. It is interesting that the main characters in her novels were not corporate CEOs, but instead were the sole proprietors of their businesses. In her book Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand decries corporate influence peddling, and the CEOs who engage in it are clearly identified as the villains of the piece. Because Ayn Rand believed in limited government, she would certainly not advocate the kind of corporate trading favors for government concessions that ALEC is all about.
My point here is not to make you a fan of Ayn Rand or even Thomas Jefferson, for that matter. My point is to illustrate that opposition to ALEC and its methods is not a left-right issue, but a freedom issue. "We the People," so boldly outlined in the preamble to the Constitution, should be creating the laws that America is governed by; corporations should not.
I admit I have a personal ax to grind with ALEC. Just in case you had not been able to infer this from my fancy nom de plume I am a postal worker, and my continued employment with the United States Postal Service has been imperiled by the machinations of ALEC. All the same, adding my voice to the crusade against ALEC has not been undertaken from purely personal motivations. The Post Office is an institution that is guaranteed by the Constitution, and your right to reliable and economical mail delivery has also been endangered by ALEC's insidious, unspoken agenda.
In 2006 the Postal Service was still profitable. It was an increasingly threatening competitive alternative to its arch rivals UPS (United Parcel Service) and FedEx, both ALEC board members. In response to the threat ALEC stepped up to the plate to benefit these influential subscribers, and card carrying ALEC member Congressman John McHugh brought forward the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which was passed into law. PAEA required the USPS to pre-fund its pension fund for the next seven decades to the tune of 5.5 billion annually, a backbreaking and unprecedented requirement that has never been imposed on any other institution, public or private.
The results were predictable. Postal finances went into a tailspin. Yes, even from where I sit in California I can hear you repeating the monotonous mantra that email, reduced mail volume, etc. were responsible, but that is true only to a limited degree. If not for PAEA the Postal Service would again be a profitable institution today in 2014, having netted a pre-PAEA 1 billion dollars in the last quarter of 2013, and at least 70% of the losses it has endured since 2006 can be attributed to the PAEA extortion payment.
As a result mail processing plants and post offices across the country have been closed, leading to significant mail delays and increased inconvenience for Americans who have to drive or perhaps take a bus a few additional miles to mail a package or buy a book of stamps. ALEC has done its best to destroy your Postal Service, and is not done yet.
Conclusion - Should Corporations Write Laws?
ALEC is the manufactured voice box through which corporations write laws. Corporations do not think, they do not feel, they do not suffer, they do not raise children to adulthood, they do not take care of elderly parents, they do not feel passion and indignation in the presence of wrongdoing, they do not get sick and they do not bleed. A corporation is simply an abstract entity that has no objectives other than to enrich its stockholders. Corporations are not human beings, so should they be able to write laws that affect the lives of human beings?
Wormtongue is alive and well folks,. His name is ALEC, and he slinks silently in the shadows behind the seats of power, quietly dictating laws that would return us to serfdom. The time has come to pull the plug on this corrupt organization and return law-making authority into the hands of the people.