Community activists, labor groups, and other progressives are making noise outside a downtown Chicago hotel on Thursday in order to draw attention to the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (or ALEC)—derisively known as the rightwing's regressive "law factory"—being held inside.
The anti-ALEC rally—led by groups that included StandUp! Chicago, the Center for Media & Democracy, ColorOfChange, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and others—was taking place outside the Palmer House Hotel with a call to put an end to the powerful lobbyist group.
Described as the engine of the corporate "retrograde agenda" by CMD's Mary Bottari, the laws proposed by ALEC members include "bills to roll back wages, worker rights, access to paid sick leave, and even renewable energy standards."
CMD's Brendan Fischer, who has studied the group extensively, called their operations a collusion between corporate interests and rightwing lawmakers.
ALEC is celebrating its 40th anniversary of operation this year, but the meeting in Chicago—though designed to be more secretive than ones in the past—will follow the same playbook in which "lobbyists from U.S. and foreign corporations will vote as equals alongside state legislators to adopt ALEC "model" bills, which then will be distributed nationwide with little or no disclosure of their ALEC roots."
Aspects of the protest, including photos from the street rally, were being actively reported on Twitter:
As ALEC is known to provide state and federal lawmakers with their "model legislation" on numerous policy fronts, the coalition of protesters in Chicago were highlighting numerous laws pushed by the conservative group, including 'stand your ground' laws, 'right-to-work' legislation, ploys to limited voting rights, and many others.
Citing the role of ALEC-backed 'stand-your-ground' law in the Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year, many in Chicago were blasting the proliferation of similar laws in other states.
“These laws encourage people to act on irrational fears fed by biases and prejudice," said Shani Smith with Stand Up! Chicago, who spoke about her anxieties as the mother of a black teenager. "I know that where I see my son—a caring, creative, vulnerable young man—others may see a dangerous stranger. We’ve lost enough young black men in this country to fear and prejudice.”
On the same day of the protest, the Center for Media & Democracy—which has done yeoman work in uncovering the operations of ALEC in recent years—also published their latest report on the group, documenting and analyzing 466 new ALEC bills introduced across all fifty states in 2013.
Among the highlights included in the report, CMD offered these key findings:
- CMD identified 466 ALEC bills from the 2013 session. 84 of these passed and became law. ALEC bills were introduced in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2013. The top ALEC states were West Virginia (25 bills) and Missouri (21 bills).
- Despite ALEC’s effort to distance itself from Voter ID and Stand Your Ground by disbanding its controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force, 62 of these laws were introduced: 10 Stand Your Ground bills and 52 bills to enact or tighten Voter ID restrictions. Five states enacted additional Voter ID restrictions, and two states passed Stand Your Ground.
- CMD identified 117 ALEC bills that affect wages and worker rights. 14 of these became law. These bills included so-called “Right to Work” legislation, part of the ALEC agenda since at least 1979, introduced in 15 states this year. Other bills would preempt local living or minimum wage ordinances, facilitate the privatization of public services, scrap defined benefit pension plans, or undermine the ability of unions to organize to protect workers.
- CMD identified 139 ALEC bills that affect public education. 31 of these became law. Just seven states did not have an ALEC education bill introduced this year. Among other things, these bills would siphon taxpayer money from the public education system to benefit for-profit private schools, including the “Great Schools Tax Credit Act,” introduced in 10 states.
- CMD identified 77 ALEC bills that advance a polluter agenda. 17 of these became law. Numerous ALEC “model” bills were introduced that promote a fossil fuel and fracking agenda and undermine environmental regulations. The “Electricity Freedom Act,” which would repeal state renewable portfolio standards, was introduced in six states this year.
- CMD identified 71 ALEC bills narrowing citizen access to the courts. 14 of these became law. These bills cap damages, limit corporate liability, or otherwise make it more difficult for citizens to hold corporations to account when their products or services result in injury or death.
- CMD identified nine states that have been inspired by ALEC’s “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” to crack down on videographers documenting abuses on factory farms. These so-called “ag-gag” bills erode First Amendment rights, and threaten the ability of journalists and investigators to pursue food safety and animal welfare investigations.
- CMD identified 11 states that introduced bills to override or prevent local paid sick leave ordinances, such as the one recently enacted in New York City. At least eight of these bills were sponsored by known ALEC members. Although ALEC has not adopted a preemption bill as an official “model,” ALEC member the National Restaurant Association brought a bill to override local paid sick leave ordinances to an ALEC meeting in 2011, along with a target map and other materials.
Read the CMD's full report: ALEC at 40: Turning Back the Clock on Prosperity and Progress (pdf).