People often say “you cannot put a value on human life,” but nobody seems to have told this to the American Legislative Exchange Council – known by its acronym, ALEC. ALEC was one of the right-wing groups behind the small but widely reported protests against the lockdown in several states earlier this month. In a recent email ALEC’s CEO sent to its members, ALEC bragged that it “has been value-pushing your ideas and solutions into the mainstream." An ALEC letter seeking endorsements from lawmakers claims it is “…preferable for employers to implement best practices to protect the health of their customers and employees – without micromanagement from the government.” Claims from ALEC and the wider corporate sector that businesses will protect us and there’s no need for government rules to safeguard people are plain wrong. News recently documented the failure of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses, some of which are ALEC members, to provide sufficient personal protection equipment, which has led to at least 3,300 of their employees contracting COVID-19, 17 of whom have died.
ALEC’s reckless disregard for the spread of the coronavirus is just one in a very long line of infamous efforts that place corporate earnings above the wellbeing of people, particularly people of color. When it isn’t flouting public safety standards and jeopardizing peoples’ lives, ALEC spends its time curating exclusive private meetings between conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists. ALEC meetings are a pay-to-play political scheme, providing fee-paying corporate members of ALEC with private access to lawmakers, where, behind closed doors, they propose model laws to serve their economic interests. All of this takes place outside of public and transparent democratic institutions, where laws are developed the old-fashioned way. Once ALEC members have voted and agreed on a "model policy" – their name for a draft law – ALEC gets to work serving its corporate paymasters by supporting conservative ALEC lawmakers to pass these “model policies” into law in as many states as possible. All of this, including the devastating impacts ALEC laws have on people of color, was documented in our report, released last year with Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal, The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called “ALEC Attacks.”
Among the most notorious ALEC-affiliated laws is SB 1070 – the infamous Arizona law that made it a state misdemeanor to be in the state without carrying the required documents, which all happens to benefit those ALEC members operating privately-run immigration detention centers. The law effectively granted authority for law enforcement to racially profile and harass all Latinx people, while it targeted the undocumented. Other infamous ALEC-affiliated laws are the 2010-2013 wave of “Voter ID” laws, which disenfranchised millions of people of color, and the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, which expand legal protections for people who use guns to kill people, such as Black teenager Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman killed Martin in 2012, only to later be acquitted under the Florida SYG law. The NRA designed Florida’s SYG law, then introduced similar draft legislation through ALEC. ALEC then worked with lawmakers among its membership to introduce these bills into statehouses across the country. These are just three examples of the approximately 200 ALEC-affiliated bills that pass into state law across this country each year.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is representing a group of residents and non-profit organizations in Arizona that filed a lawsuit in December 2019 against state lawmakers who had decided to attend one of ALEC’s annual private gatherings in Scottsdale. These committed advocates decided that they will no longer stand by and watch corporate lobbyists run our democracy from the privacy of 5-star hotel suites. In response to the lawsuit, ALEC-affiliated lawmakers argue that Arizona legislators are permitted to meet as they like – with no public oversight and accountability. ALEC itself has also surveilled the organizations and movement leaders who filed the suit. ALEC hired B3 Strategies, LLC to look into their political affiliation, social media accounts, and work activities. They dug through the lives of these people, the financial records of their employers, and the collaborations they have fostered. This intimidation won’t work, as those involved in the lawsuit refuse to allow an elite corporate subset to undermine one of the most fundamental democratic principles: transparency in the legislative process – transparency required by Arizona law.
ALEC-affiliated lawmakers are trying to have the lawsuit thrown out, but this week we defended the case before the court, arguing in defense of the basic fundamental democratic principle that Arizona lawmakers meeting to develop laws should do so in public, where the people they are sworn to work for can see what they’re doing. It’s sad that this is the situation we’re in, but there’s no room for complacency. We need to shine a light on shadowy groups like ALEC when they endanger our health and our safety. It’s time we all get involved to fight for our democracy, for the good of everyone.