It's not a new movie. ALEC is part of the wrecking crew Thomas Frank wrote about in his 2008 book. By now, you'd think Kansans would get it. Most don't want the bother.
Sourcewatch.com, one of my favorite investigative journalist sites, sums up the innocent sounding American Legislative Exchange Council:
"ALEC's agenda extends into almost all areas of law. Its bills undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures' abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, among many other issues.
"(ALEC) describes itself as the largest 'membership association of state legislators,' but over 98 percent of its revenue comes from sources other than legislative dues, primarily from corporations and corporate foundations." Got that? Ninety-eight percent.
In 2012, the New York Times, who had been supplied with "hundreds of pages of minutes of private meetings, member email alerts and correspondence" by the public interest advocate Common Cause summarized:
"Most of the attention has focused on ALEC's role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes."
Solid political advice: Follow the money. Like, "Who the hell's paying for what ... and why?" Sadly, today in this country, following the money can be difficult, even impossible. ALEC, one example, does not keep a public list of members or donors -- nor is it required to do so.
In the first week of August 2013, Sen. Dick Durbin wrote to corporate members of ALEC along with selected non-members. He wanted to learn who supported what and (with luck) how many bucks. Durbin asked each of them whether they had "served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?"
ALEC responded arrogantly to Durbin's request: "Members and donors to 501(c)3 organizations are specifically protected by the Internal Revenue Service and the Supreme Court to shield them from the type of political intimidation found in Sen. Durbin's letter ... " In other words, following the money is nunna yer damn bid'ness, people.
The group's website says: "The council is governed by state legislators who comprise the Board of Directors and is advised by the Private Enterprise Advisory Council, a group of private, foundation and think tank members." Advisers. Gee, how sweet.
Sorry, the identity of those "advisers" and how much they're paying for what is -- from their perspective -- sorry, nunna yer damn bid'ness, citizens.
Well, whether the ability to hide political donations benefits a government supposedly of, for and by the people seems clear to me. No, it does not. Hiding the source of political money from the public is not free speech, nor is it in the public interest. It's payola.
ALEC's formal response to Durbin was signed in approval by a claimed 300 state legislators. Eliminating multiple signatures and two votes by wives, eight Kansas state senators and 17 representatives supported the ALEC's "It's nunna yer damn bid'ness who gives us what and why."
ALEC rump-hugging Kansas senators signing were Denning, Holmes, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, Pilcher, Powell-Cook and Wagle.
Kansas representative signers were Alford, Brunk, Carlson, Clayes, Couture-Lovelady, DeGraff, Esau, Garber, Kleeb, Hedke, Lunn, Macheers, Mast, Merrick, Ryckman, Seiwert and Todd. All of them deserve booting, but this is Kansas.
(I'm assuming you know your legislator's last name, but this is Kansas. Here how to recognize "R" is all that's required.)
Actually, ALEC's Kansas infection is even deeper. In October, 34 Kansas representatives and 17 Kansas senators were cited (a partial list) by Sourcewatch as having ties to ALEC, as well as 23 former state legislators. All save Chris Steineger were listed as Republicans. However, former Democrat Steineger switched parties in 2010 and was defeated in 2012. You'll likely find the list at tinyurl.com/mvwu64t.
For now, enough about ALEC. But think carefully about whether who's shelling out the bucks in politics should be nunna yer damn bid'ness, citizen. Next time, we'll consider Social Darwinism -- how religion is used to glorify selfishness.
Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.