April 25, 2012

Four Reasons Why Conservatives Should Oppose Corporate Front Group ALEC

Four Reasons Why Conservatives Should Oppose Corporate Front Group ALEC
If you want transparency in government and don't want Big Business netting all your tax dollars, you should oppose ALEC.

The corporate-funded front group the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) is panicking. After a dozen corporations and major foundations have left the group in recent days, ALEC is making a concerted effort to reach out to right-wing bloggers to come to its defense.

But conservatives should not be fooled. While ALEC does promote some conservative causes, it primarily exists to serve its corporate donors. It is not of the right, left, or center — it stands for an America where Big Business can, literally, write our laws. Here’s a rundown of four reasons why conservatives should oppose ALEC:

1. Its Collusion With The Drug Industry And Big Government Costs Americans $8 Billion A Year: Truly conservative, free-market oriented groups like the Cato Institute have long-advocated for allowing drug reimportation into the United States, which could save taxpayers and consumers $80 billion over ten years. After all, it’s un-conservative for the government to tell you you cannot buy prescription drugs from Canada or any other country. But ALEC opposes drug re-importation, and backs up using the power of the federal government to erect a protectionist barrier that makes American prescription drugs artificially more expensive. Why? Because ALEC is financed by the pharmaceutical industry.

2. It Wants State Legislatures To Dictate Laws To Local Governments: One of the organizing principles behind modern conservatism is that local governments and communities should have the final say over their own lives. But ALEC doesn’t believe that localities should get to use their taxpayer dollars in ways that they see fit. When Atlanta, Georgia, decided that it would raise the wages of the workers it was hiring with its city money, the state legislature passed a law to ban the city from using its own tax dollars to pay living wages to contractors. That law was based off of an ALEC model bill. ALEC also worked to undermine municipalities that decided to create their own municipal broadband systems by getting state legislators to pass onerous restrictions on cities.  While some may debate the wisdom of policies like a living wage and municipal broadband, it is decidedly un-conservative for a state legislature to not allow local governments to debate these issues and decide for themselves whether they want to enact these laws.

3. ALEC Supports Obama’s Extensive Federal Involvement In Our Schools: ALEC says it stands for “limited government,” but it discards this conservative principle when it comes to aspects of our nation’s schools. In ALEC’s 17th edition of its “Report Card On American Education,” it gushes praise on President Obama’s “Race To The Top” (RTTT)  program, which uses billions of dollars of taxpayer money to incentivize local school districts to structure their schools the way that the federal government wants them to. The conservative Heartland Institute has blasted Race To The Top for coercing school districts into adopting “administration-favored policies.” ALEC, however, called RTTT a “sweeping, symbolic victory for reforms across the country.” ALEC has in the past taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from powerful pro-RTTT foundations like the Gates Foundation (which recently withdrew its support).

4. Because Transparency Is A Conservative Value: ALEC avoids ever registering itself as a lobbying group, and yet it hosts fancy events where lawmakers meet in private with corporate lobbyists to craft legislation out of the public eye. My colleague Lee Fang was kicked out of one of these meetings, and even lawmakers have been ejected. Although ALEC passes off corporate-written model bills to legislators, it does not openly brand the legislation it gets passed into law. The only way for the general public to really know that a bill introduced into a legislature is definitely from ALEC is when, like in Florida, a legislator accidentally leaves the organization’s mission statement on an introduced bill. The Founding Fathers believed in transparency and an open debate, but ALEC doesn’t.

There are certainly areas of agreement between conservatives and ALEC’s policy agenda. But the group is fundamentally not about political ideology. It exists to do the bidding of its donors, especially Big Business, which, like in the case of prescription drugs, sometimes demands the protection of Big Government to harm American consumers. Conservatives should be wary of this organization and the outreach it is conducting to them. ALEC is not on your side.