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Hiding In Plain Sight
October 6, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Moyers & Company presents “United States of ALEC,” a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge. [previously]
posted by troll (21 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
When Mitt Romney was asked about health care in America two weeks ago in a televised interview, he actually proposed that we continue to use emergency rooms for guaranteed coverage. When it was pointed out to him that this was the most expensive option, his eyes lit up. Most people probably thought he was being smacked down instead of validated.
posted by Brian B. at 11:57 AM on October 6, 2012


Greeks "storm the defence ministry." Yanks tweet and blog. Expect it to get worse...much worse.
posted by larry_darrell at 12:33 PM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


*lights up and raises a lighter* Free Market!
posted by phaedon at 12:46 PM on October 6, 2012


A lot of bad possible outcomes here, like another military coup. I could see people preferring that to far-right thugs controlling the streets, if it came to that.
posted by thelonius at 1:06 PM on October 6, 2012


The multi-decade rise of the corporate right wing in this country is fascinating. They are quite good at what they do. I believe that with 1/10 of their internal discipline and forethought the left could turn this country around.
posted by univac at 1:15 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heads. On. Stakes.

Is there another plausible solution? An educated electorate? Conscientious consumers? That is laughable. Look at them laughing.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:31 PM on October 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


ALEC Rock
posted by homunculus at 7:39 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really appreciate the investigative journalism that Moyers and his staff are doing. We live in a time when it is uncommon to see such straightforward analysis.
posted by Three Books at 11:24 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three Books: "We live in a time when it is uncommon to see such straightforward analysis."

Sadly, we also live in a time when such straightforward analysis gets one branded a socialist with all the baggage that communist used to carry. Just talking about what corporations would prefer kept secret is considered a leftist activity.
posted by wierdo at 1:08 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of bad possible outcomes here, like another military coup. I could see people preferring that to far-right thugs controlling the streets, if it came to that.

Or, the corporations simply buy the military. Then, y'know, fascism. And profit!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I think that the anti-ALEC hysteria in the news media in recent months is incredibly silly. I don't doubt that lobbyists and legislators meet to discuss legislation or policy on a regular basis. But the notion that this is somehow a uniquely conservative or Republican phenomenon is highly ill-informed. Similarly, I can certainly understand that legislators of any ideological persuasion might want to learn about successful legislative models in other states. But there's nothing secretive about the ALEC model at all, contrary to Moyers's claims: ALEC model legislation has never been any more secret than what's published in the Wall Street Journal. All you have to do, if you want to see their favored legislation, is pay the admissions price. (Just about all of their favored bills are public knowledge now, in any case.)

I watched the Moyers report. I raised my eyebrows when he tried to implicate Florida's stand-your-ground law w/r/t Trayvon Martin. That's a connection for which there are no grounds to draw: it's very bad journalism. If Moyers wants to blame ALEC for playing a role in getting its model legislation passed in lots of different states, nothing wrong with that -- but, oddly enough, he doesn't mention that there are plenty of other nonprofit groups (Common Cause and the like) that successfully do just the same thing.

I don't have any great appreciation for farmers who try to make their case to legislators so that it benefits farmers, or labor union bosses who try to make their case to legislators so that it benefits labor unions. But Moyers's narrative here -- that special-interest influence is somehow a uniquely conservative or Republican problem -- is so myopic as to be entirely distanced from reality. I accept that there is a problem with our political process in that it disproportionately favors special interest groups: but this isn't an ALEC problem. It's a problem that gets worse in direct proportion to the size of the government we have. It's highly unserious to suggest that it's confined to one political party, and indeed there is something to the idea that the problem would sharply diminish if we had a sharply smaller government.
posted by Mr. Justice at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, Mr. Justice, way to miss the point. The point is that it's a way to lobby without registering as a lobbyist or being subject to bans on lobbyist gifts to legislators. That other organizations do the same thing is irrelevant. Crying "but he does it too" is something I expect out of a five year old trying to get out of being punished because his brother didn't get caught, not grown ass people, and especially not my elected representatives.
posted by wierdo at 2:54 PM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wierdo, I think that's a little too quick. Thanks for explaining to me what "the point is", but you don't seriously think that whenever I explain my views to a state legislator, I am therefore lobbying? Or do you? (Because if you do, you're wrong.) Do you even know what lobbying is?
posted by Mr. Justice at 4:17 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fascinating stuff...and all the more so for the fact that I'd never even heard of ALEC. Helps to answer the question of how corporations can get so powerful when it's still a democracy and everybody gets one vote, right?
posted by ecourbanist at 10:47 AM on October 8, 2012


Mr. Justice: "you don't seriously think that whenever I explain my views to a state legislator, I am therefore lobbying?"

Yeah, I seriously think that if you're getting paid to tell a legislator about someone else's view (even one you share) you're lobbying. If you're giving a legislator dinner or giving them gifts while telling him or her about your view, you're lobbying, even if you're not being paid. If the law disagrees, that just means it's loophole ridden and needs to be fixed.
posted by wierdo at 1:08 PM on October 8, 2012


@Weirdo: I am not trying to be rude about this, but if there are a bunch of farmers that go to a farmers' convention, eventually two things will happen. If there are enough farmers there, the first thing that will happen is that legislators will show up, and the second thing that will happen is that farmers will tell their views on matters of public affairs to legislators.

ALEC isn't a farmers' convention, but it is a conservatives' convention. People who share interests and who meet to discuss their views are not performing anything which is suspicious or dangerous as such.

Yeah, I seriously think that if you're getting paid to tell a legislator about someone else's view (even one you share) you're lobbying. If you're giving a legislator dinner or giving them gifts while telling him or her about your view, you're lobbying, even if you're not being paid. If the law disagrees, that just means it's loophole ridden and needs to be fixed.

I take your point, but the people who go there (who aren't legislators) are typically not getting paid to tell their views to legislators, or giving them gifts or dinners. There are plenty of college professors and nonprofit staffers who attend ALEC. These people aren't lobbyists. The loophole you are concerned about that you think "needs to be fixed" is called the First Amendment. Regulating the speech of people who aren't paid to influence the government is a big job.
posted by Mr. Justice at 2:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok, an organization that is paid by corporate sponsors to essentially pay legislators to sit around listening to a spiel on how great some corporate-sponsored legislation is isn't doing any lobbying at all. Nor are the people they have asked to come give such a speech.

</sarcasm>
posted by wierdo at 4:27 PM on October 8, 2012


Wierdo: you are (ahem) missing the point. If there is no legislation, there is no lobbying! If a bunch of people are sitting around discussing optimal tax theory without reference to legislation, then it isn't lobbying, whether it takes place on a college campus or at a conference center.

(Well, at least we agree on Internet mugshots.)
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:19 PM on October 8, 2012


I seem to recall Moyers playing a clip where a speaker directly referenced specific model legislation. That it is yet to be introduced seems irrelevant to me.
posted by wierdo at 8:31 PM on October 8, 2012


Wierdo: I think the crux of the problem is that you and I disagree about whether discussing policy is necessarily sinister. I do not actually think discussing policy is sinister: I do not even think discussing policy in detail is sinister.

What happens at ALEC is that there is a series of detailed discussions of policy. For instance, suppose there is a concern that the procedure for getting jury trials working has become unwieldy. Suppose there is a consensus that we ought to get rid of the existing excuses for not serving on a jury and start afresh; that we want to compensate people who have to spend more than a week on jury duty; that we ought to figure out a revenue source for this compensation; etc.

At some point, with the exception of extremely simple problems, it will make sense to write down the consensus group recommendations on how to solve these problems. That is what the model legislation is!

If I'm a legislator who has been around of a group of people who share my values who meet to discuss the problem I am interested in and produce a set of written recommendations as to how to solve the problem, I wouldn't say that I have been around a bunch of lobbyists. But if they're good recommendations, I would say that I am pretty grateful!

You should take a look at alecexposed.com -- you can see the "model legislation" that ALEC has produced. At this point, this stuff is about as sinister and secretive as New York Times editorials.
posted by Mr. Justice at 5:34 AM on October 9, 2012


It is hard to take someone seriously when they make the argument that something, by definition, isn't necessarily what it demonstrably is.

But that is the modern conservative playbook, and the actual problem here, in a nutshell. Obfuscate, feign innocence, and act incredulous when anyone questions what you're up to. Lather, rinse, repeat. Relentlessly. Look, for as long as there has been power and money to influence it in a representative democracy, people have been hammering at this particular crack in the system. It isn't necessarily a partisan thing. But at this point in time it is a partisan group that has refined their game to the point that they are genuinely dangerous.

The corporate/conservative alliance has a singular purpose: to leverage a position of strength into a position of dominance, with utter disregard for everything and everybody else. That they are able to convince so many ordinary citizens to drape themselves in red, white and blue and stand up to fight for these patently un-American ideals is terrifying, at least to anybody who is paying attention.

I go to Alec.org and see right there at the top of the page a link to where I can make a donation. So it's a charity, see? And it says right there that limited government is one of their ideals. Because, duh, if you shrink the government and give the power directly to the corporations you reduce the acknowledged problem of any special interest groups unduly influencing the government! It's so simple, really! What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:30 AM on October 9, 2012


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