The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, other noted conservatives such as Senator Jesse Helms, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, to raise money and to coordinate the creation of a counter-revolution in the American political system. Its vision was one of deregulation, privatization, weakening workers’ rights, and the facilitation of the unbridled accumulation of private wealth. The result of these policies would reverse positive government; the idea that for societies to function public energies, resources, and commitments are needed to create and maintain institutions to serve the people.
ALEC established a network of prominent politicians at the national and state levels, created well-funded lobby groups, supported “research” to justify reactionary public policies, and funneled money to conservative political candidates running for office virtually everywhere and at all levels of government. ALEC created “model” legislation to be introduced verbatim in legislative bodies everywhere on subjects including right-to-work, charter schools, and privatization of pensions. While politicians pay dues to join ALEC, over 98 percent of ALEC’s budget comes from corporate contributions from such economic and political influentials as Exxon/Mobil, the Koch Brothers, the Coors family, and the Scaife family.
ALEC claims to have 2,000 legislative members and over 300 corporate members. Corporations which have benefited legislatively from their affiliations with ALEC include but are not limited to Altria/Philip Morris USA, Humana, United Healthcare, Corrections Corporation of America, and Connections Academy.
One of ALEC’s prominent projects is the creation of the “State Policy Network,” a collection of think tanks in almost every state (funded up to $83 million) to generate research “findings” to justify the rightwing model legislation generated by ALEC. SPN studies have been disseminated on education, healthcare, workers’ rights, energy and the environment, taxes, government spending, and wages and income equality (Center For Media and Democracy, “Exposed: The State Policy Network,” November, 2013, p.6, alecexposed.org).
Of particular concern to workers are the ALEC model bills that have been introduced in states including:
-rules increasing the freedom of governments to hire non-union contractors
-reducing pensions for government employees
-repealing minimum wage laws
- eliminating prevailing wage laws for construction workers
-encouraging so-called “free trade” to outsource work
-privatizing public services
-gutting workers’ compensation
The Deep State
The role of ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and the largest multinational corporations and banks in America suggest that politics increasingly occurs at two levels. First, at the level of transparency we observe politics as “games,” largely about electoral contests, gossip and frivolous rhetoric. News junkies avidly consume this first level glued to the television or computer.
However, Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Congressional aide has introduced the idea of another level of politics, what he calls the “deep state.” Lofgren defines the “deep state” as “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern in the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.” (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014). Others have referred in similar ways to invisible power structures that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ 1950s classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream?, Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).
The distinction between politics as contests vs. the deep state suggest that the power to make critical decisions reside not in the superstructure of the political process; the place where competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. In domestic politics, the “deep state” apparatus such as ALEC and its network of organizational ties has initiated a resource-rich campaign--from the school board and city council to the state and nation--to destroy the links between government and the people. And the public face of the deep state includes the selective and manipulative character of experts, pundits, and major sources of news in the media.
Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions. Today only 11 percent of Indiana workers are in trade unions. The most recent legislative defeats Indiana workers have suffered include passage of a right- to-work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Daniels/Pence administrations have used charter schools and vouchers to destroy teachers unions. (In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order disallowing state employees the right to form unions).
In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ends voter registration in the state one month before election day (the polar opposite of same-day registration). And, polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses.
Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches since 2010 led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. As to the state legislature, in 2014 of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested. Most shockingly, 2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country.
Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, in part as a result of support from ALEC, the two most recent governors and the state legislature have become Republican and most of the draconian ALEC legislative agenda has been passed.
With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has initiated some of the most regressive policies in the country in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation. And the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state including the worsening of access to health care, education, the environment, transportation, and physical infrastructure.
ALEC money, influence, and control have played a significant role in shifting state policy in a reactionary direction, weakening public institutions, redistributing wealth and income to the very few, increasingly marginalizing people of color, and threatening the foundations of democratic institutions. And perhaps most threatening for the state’s future is the fact that transparency is being subverted by the emergence of the “deep state.”
For further information see “ALEC Exposed” at www.alecexposed.org