ALEC, the move to codify the extremist Republican agenda, and the Michigan connection

Reading a column by Paul Krugman just now on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in pushing so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation around the country, I was reminded by a recent article in Mother Jones about how ALEC, working through the Mackinac Center, played a role in passing Michigan’s Public Act 4, giving Governor Snyder unprecedented power to appoint unelected officials to liquidate the public assets of Michigan’s cities, break employee unions, and privatize public services, in the name of fiscal responsibility. Following are clips from both pieces.

First, here’s Krugman, on the passage of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, its rapid spread to other states, and the role that ALEC played in that process. [note: According to our friends at Think Progress, since the 2005 passage of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, which allows for the legal use of deadly force, if there is a “reasonable belief” it is necessary in order to “prevent death or great bodily harm,” 25 states have approved similar measures. In addition, 5 more states, at the behest of the NRA and ALEC, are presently considering joining their ranks.]

…(L)anguage virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s 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.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism…

And, here’s the clip from the Mother Jones article on the origins of Michigan’s Public Act 4, officially known as the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act. [note: Michigan has made use of emergency mangers since 1990. The passage of the Emergency Financial Manager Act in 2011, however, really gave the Republicans in Lansing the tools they needed to make emergency managers effective tools in the war against public employee unions, and collective bargaining.]

…(Louis) Schimmel (the appointed Emergency Manager of Pontiac) is also a former adjunct scholar and director of municipal finance at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank that shares his enthusiasm for privatizing public services. The center has received funding from the foundations of conservative billionaire Charles Koch, the Walton family, and Dick DeVos, the former CEO of Amway who ran as a Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006.

In 2005, Mackinac published an essay by Schimmel that called on Michigan’s Legislature to give emergency managers the power to impose contract changes on public-employee unions and “replace and take on the powers of the governing body.” When Republicans gained control over Lansing in 2010, Mackinac reprinted Schimmel’s article. Last March, the center celebrated when the Legislature implemented its prescriptions in Public Act 4.

The Mackinac Center claims that Michigan could save $5.7 billion annually if public employees’ benefits were comparable to those of private-sector workers. Public-employee unions say cuts to public-sector jobs have only worsened the state’s economic woes with foreclosures and intensified reliance on state aid programs in cities like Flint, where the jobless rate was 17.5 percent at the end of 2011. “It’s an acceleration of the downward spiral,” says Brit Satchwell, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, a teachers’ union. “Our goal is [to] outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan,” wrote Mackinac’s legislative analyst in an email to a Republican state representative last summer. (The message was obtained by the liberal think tank Progress Michigan.)

The Mackinac Center is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a clearinghouse for pro-business state legislation. (Its model bills have been linked to Arizona’s anti-immigration law and Wisconsin and Ohio’s collective bargaining bans.) James Hohman, the center’s assistant director of fiscal policy, was one of 40 private-sector representatives at an ALEC conference in December 2010 where, according to minutes from the closed-door meeting, participants hammered out model legislation that would align public- and private-sector pay and restructure state pensions. (Jonathan Williams, ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy director, did not respond to requests for comment.)

Foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers have funded ALEC’s reports on state fiscal policy. The State Budget Reform Toolkit and Rich States, Poor States both echo elements of Michigan’s emergency-manager law, encouraging state legislators to target public employees and identify privatization opportunities. The most recent Toolkit report recommends that states create a “centralized, independent, decision-making body to manage privatization and government efficiency initiatives.” Michigan’s law grants far more sweeping powers to one appointee…

So, if you were wondering, that’s how it came to pass that we have emergency financial mangers in Michigan. We have them because the wealthy old white men who fund ALEC wanted to “outlaw government collective bargaining,” and we were determined to be a good test market. (If I’m not mistaken, they also poured money into Wisconsin, where Republicans had chosen to go about the matter in a different way, meeting with much less success.)

Now, we just have to sit back and watch, as our emergency financial managers spread across the nation, like “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. Soon, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be able to kill people that frighten you anywhere in the United States, and all of our once-great cities will have been sold for scrap, in an effort to keep taxes low on the wealthy… Welcome to the new American experiment.

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  1. Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    See also: How the ALEC Agenda becomes the Law of the Land

  2. Thom Elliott
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    As a newly dubbed “libertarian survivalist” then you should be happy that the fringe of the right (which has taken over the entire party in order to pander to the frothy mouthed, vapidly extremist base I’m not sure thoughtful humans can live with for much longer) has decided for us that democracy is just too messy and unpredictable, and so we should just seek to slavishly devote ourselves to everything billionaires and earth rapists want, to the letter. As these types of measures will surely hasten the society’s decline, I should think the news of the inevitable correction to this totalitarian metaphysics of modernity would be exciting, not something to fear or mourn.

  3. Edward
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Republican party, for giving me the freedom to shoot down anyone that scares me.

  4. Knox
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I’d recommend the website ALEC Exposed.

  5. Meta
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of the Koch brothers, here’s an article, published today, on their work to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

    Do all roads lead to Koch?

    Conservative activists will rally at the Supreme Court tomorrow to encourage the overturn of the Affordable Care Act. The “Hands Off My Health Care” protest—which will feature the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Sens. Jim DeMint and Rand Paul—is being organized by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group financed by industrialists Charles and David Koch. The billionaire brothers provided the seed money to get this organization off the ground and have donated at least $5 million overall (possibly a lot more) to its operations. David Koch still serves as the group’s chairman.

    These facts belie the image that Americans for Prosperity would like to present as a humble grassroots organization. The stories we see today about regular Americans coming to D.C. to protest evil health reform are directly attributable to the corporate interests that the Koch brothers represent.

    Yet the Kochs’ impact on the current court battle doesn’t end there. Group after group participating in the lawsuit to destroy the Affordable Care Act is a beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess—reflecting the outsized influence that these guys wield in our political debate. Indeed, one wonders whether this effort would be happening at all if not for these two billionaires with a direct interest in avoiding government regulation.

    One of the most important groups in this case is the National Federation of Independent Business, which is bringing one of the lawsuits now before the Supreme Court. This group has received $88,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by none other than Charles Koch.

    Several organizations that have filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court have received substantial donations from the Koch family as well. These groups include:

    Competitive Enterprise Institute: $666,420
    Pacific Research Institute: $270,000
    Texas Public Policy Foundation: $74,500
    Freedom Works: $5 million
    Cato Institute: approximately $30 million.
    Family Research Council: brief co-authored by attorney Nelson Lund, a professor at George Mason University, which has received $29,604,354.
    Galen Institute: “partner organization” of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; extent of donations unknown.
    Landmark Legal Foundation: $5000

    In addition, a Court-appointed attorney used a study by the Rand Corporation to show the impact of the individual mandate in the health care bill—even though Rand has received $100,000 from none other than the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

    Given this set of facts, the sheer reach of the Koch brothers in the movement to overturn health care reform is staggering. They have seeded and cultivated the very network of organizations that’s now threatening to undo the most significant progressive reform in a generation. As shown in Brave New Foundation’s new film, Koch Brothers Exposed, Charles and David Koch are, in effect, holding up the conservative sky.

    So this week as we watch the rallies and press conferences and legal wrangling—not to mention the media pundits lavishing attention to the hubbub—let’s remember that this spectacle is not the result of some organic, grassroots outpouring of opposition to the idea that all Americans should have health insurance. It’s rooted in concentrated wealth belonging to men aiming to bend our democracy to their will.

  6. Posted March 28, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink


    I thought that some of the more conservative readers of your site might like this. Actually, one or two of them might have posted here:

    Say what one will about liberals, but it’s sad to think that these people have children.

  7. Mr. Y
    Posted March 28, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why you shared that in this thread, Peter, but, as long as you have, here’s something else that you might find of interest — a detailed account of how the Fluke story was engineered by the left to entrap Rush and bring him down, putting them one step closer to ending free speech in America, which is their ultimate goal.

  8. Meta
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s being reported that ALEC is giving up their advocacy for non-economic initiatives, like “stand your ground” laws.

    In the face of mounting pressure from progressive activists and its own corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group funded by corporations like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, announced today that it will shut down a task force that deals with “non-economic issues,” like voter suppression efforts and “stand your ground” gun laws. ALEC came under intense scrutiny over the past few weeks after progressive groups like Color of Change began pressuring corporations that fund ALEC to drop their support. The Center for American Progress also released a report highlighting the right-wing group’s role in pushing voter suppression efforts around the country. As a result, 10 companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Kraft, have pulled out from ALEC.

  9. anoynmous
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I had a really weird dream last night, in which people were lobbying for “sit on your face laws.” I don’t remember the specifics, but it had something to do with the right to perform oral sex on someone if their presence made you feel awkward or uneasy. Weird dream.

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