Most political organizations crave the spotlight. A higher profile generally means more influence, more power, and more contributions from donors. Groups on the left and right, from the NRA to MoveOn.org, want to be household names because it maximizes their ability to have an impact.
But there are exceptions. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has traditionally been anonymous, working behind the scenes to advance a far-right agenda far from the public spotlight – which was always the intended plan. Shadowy obscurity allowed ALEC to be more effective and made it easier for lawmakers to follow the group’s lead without controversy.
That’s quickly changing as ALEC finds itself where it didn’t want to be: in the spotlight.
ALEC’s role in crafting Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and the controversial measure’s role in the Trayvon Martin killing, brought new interest in the organization responsible for so many state proposals nationwide.
And this, in turn, has made ALEC’s corporate benefactors nervous.
Under pressure from the advocacy group ColorofChange, Kraft Foods Inc. said Thursday night it would end its support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group that has backed state “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.
In its statement, Kraft said that it will not renew its membership in ALEC when it expires this spring. The global food manufacturer said there were a “number of reasons” for the split, but did not specifically mention the advocacy campaign against ALEC.
As Ed Kilgore noted, “ALEC’s ability to operate without much, if any, public scrutiny is long gone.” That’s true, and it’s no small development.
Paul Krugman recently highlighted the “corporate-backed organization,” noting its “vast influence” in state legislatures, most notably with Republican policymakers.
As Krugman explained, ALEC is “very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.”
In cases like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), many of the Republican administration’s legislative proposals are simply copy-and-paste jobs from ALEC’s pre-written materials.
The policy agenda is anything but narrow – ALEC writes ready-made bills covering everything from education to the environment, labor laws to tax policy, gun laws to voting restrictions. Indeed, when ColorofChange first asked Coca Cola to end its backing of ALEC, it noted the organization’s efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
The development that bears watching is whether there’s a domino effect: ALEC becomes more notorious for its right-wing influence … which makes lawmakers more wary about doing the group’s bidding … which makes ALEC less powerful … which means less corporate money. Or the shift may even come from another direction: ALEC becomes more notorious … which makes corporate benefactors nervous … which means less money for ALEC … which means less power in state legislatures.
Either way, ALEC’s role in American life has been important for a while now. The difference is, Americans are starting to hear about it, and businesses are starting to reconsider their support.