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ALEC: Democracy's Arch-Nemesis

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Logan, "“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

In the buildup to the bloodiest war of the 20th century, Benito Mussolini said, "Fascism should rightly be called corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power." He is one of history's most reviled characters for good reason.

Now, corporations like Koch Industries are funneling money into the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy partnership between Republican legislators and corporate lobbyists. Essentially, ALEC's purpose is to pass laws that enrich corporate profits and investor returns by starving the government of revenue, rigging elections and union-busting.

Unlike the strictly bipartisan National Council of State Legislatures, ALEC's membership is rabidly partisan, with 103 Republicans and 1 Democrat. 98% of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, whereas NCSL is funded almost entirely through legislative dues. And though NCSL shares its views and advice on certain policy, it doesn't write legislation and forbids corporate influence on its activities.

ALEC provides "model bills" to state legislatures, all of which are previously seen by ALEC's corporate board. These model bills are aimed at taking the teeth out of government regulation, giving lavish tax breaks to the wealthy, and using the resulting budget deficits to privatize institutions like schools and prisons. These bills are introduced in multiple statehouses with no required disclosure about an outside group of corporate lobbyists originally crafting the legislation. Some of ALEC's notable alumni include Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Governor Scott Walker.

Some of ALEC's model budget bills would repeal capital gains taxes and estate taxes, fattening the pockets of millionaire hedge-fund managers and trust-fund brats while putting public goods and services under the knife. ALEC's 1995 "Sound Federal Fiscal Policy Resolution" falsely antagonizes higher taxes as the source of higher deficits (instead of the aforementioned tax breaks for the wealthy). This would steer lawmakers toward needless budget cuts that systematically starve the states of jobs and tax dollars, blow massive holes in the budget and create whopping revenue shortfalls.

ALEC's "Legislative Budget Audit Commission Act" would establish a panel in the event of one of these pre-packaged revenue shortfalls, tasked with specifically recommend privatizing or eliminating state agencies, and to present these proposals on January 15. Effectively, this bill would steer all initial legislative business, using revenue shortages as an excuse to eliminate public programs and public workers' rights to organize under the guise of "government efficiency."

By creating a unique legal grey area between lobbying for laws and writing laws, ALEC has enabled the plundering of our state coffers, leaving our tax dollars and public services at the mercy of corporate executives who aren't held accountable by the democratic process. ALEC is big business' tool to circumvent democracy, letting those with the most money write their own laws.

We should heed the words of both Jefferson and Mussolini. ALEC's work is an affront to democracy, and its legislation must be soundly rejected in all statehouses if Thomas Jefferson's vision of the Republic is to prevail.

Carl Gibson

Carl Gibson is a freelance journalist, columnist, and editor primarily covering political and economic news. His investigative reporting and opinion writing has appeared in CNN, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Barron's, MarketWatch, The Independent, The Houston Chronicle, and NPR, among others.

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