It’s time you met ALEC: Quasi-secret right-wing organization revealed as direct source of draconian legislation in Ohio and other states
Op-Ed by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent
It is enough to make one miss the good old days, when nefarious quasi-secret organizations like SMERSH who were trying to overthrow our democratic way of life were easily vanquished by Agent 007, James Bond.
But a report released in Columbus Feb. 6, 2012 by a group of progressive organizations and grass roots activists reveals a far greater threat to Ohio’s citizens – and it is one you’ve probably never heard of before.
So meet ALEC, the acronym of the American Legislative Exchange Council. They are a super-secret group funded by the 22 corporations that comprise the non-profit organization’s Private Enterprise Board. And it is their mandate to write legislation to deprive you of your rights.
What makes this even more serious is that this threat is right in our own back yard.
Where? Look no further than the Ohio Statehouse where the threat is greater than in any other state in the union.
According to the report, in the months between January and October 2010, 33 pieces of legislation were introduced in the Ohio General Assembly, with all of them following 64 examples of ALEC model legislation.
Simply put, the 33 bills the legislators introduced were often taken word-for-word from the ALEC playbook. A side-by-side comparison shows their text was verbatim with that emanating from ALEC.
And nine of those corporate-authored bills have passed into law.
It doesn’t end there. ALEC has borne the fingerprints of Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich for decades. Disgraced Ohio congressman Donald “Buz” Lukens was a two-term president of ALEC. As an aide to Lukens, Kasich did all the legislative work for ALEC.
However, Kasich denies he is a member of ALEC despite having been photographed at their sponsored events.
According to Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio, ALEC bears the responsibility for unleashing both SB 5, the vicious attack on collective bargaining, and HB 194, the Voter ID law, upon the people of Ohio. Both were shot down by the outrage of concerned citizens via petitions and the ballot box.
However in other states such as Arizona whose right-wing legislatures have fallen into ALEC’s grasp, they are the source responsible for the vicious anti-immigrant laws. It was a move they tried in Ohio with HB 286.
But in the Buckeye State they appear to have found their niche with voter ID laws, despite the fact that voter fraud is not a major issue in the state. The purpose of these laws is clearly to deny the right to vote to minorities and other targeted groups who cannot provide government issued photo ID cards.
ALEC’s playbook has also left its footprint in Ohio on bills dealing with education, health care, and the privatization of prisons.
A joint venture of People for the American Way, Common Cause, The Center for Media and Democracy, ProgressOhio and a host of other partners and allies, the report exposes how ALEC operates under a loophole in Ohio’s 1994 ethics law that allows it to provide “scholarships” to reimburse legislators and their families for all-expense paid jaunts to posh resorts where they are wined and dined by corporate lobbyists. But the main course is always the same – the corporate and right-wing wish list of legislation.
Ohio law does not allow corporations to influence legislation but it is being done through these scholarships. Indeed, an ALEC-sponsored fundraiser for these scholarships is being held in Columbus on Feb. 7, the same day as the governor delivers his State of the State address.
Alas, our legislators are all too happy to oblige – 43 percent of Ohio’s legislators are members of ALEC. Sadly in Ohio, members of both parties have availed themselves of these perks.
State Rep. John Adams, who as Majority Whip is the GOP point man for legislation in the Ohio House, was honored by ALEC in 2010 as their state “legislator” of the year. His aide was chosen as ALEC’s aide of the year.
ALEC is funded by millions of dollars from corporations eager to find new ways to influence legislators. At least $9.3 million has been documented as funneling back to influence Ohio legislation.
“When legislation is being written word-for-word from start to finish by corporations, legislators are not meeting their prime responsibility to the citizens,” said Rothenberg in what may have been the biggest understatement of the day.
Also speaking was Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who said the report underscores that the state’s “anti-worker, anti-consumer and anti-education” bills are being created by the “super wealthy industrial class” and by well-financed out-of-state corporate groups. He said these groups care nothing about grass roots but are seeking an electoral voice for special and corporate interests.
He was followed by Tim Shafer, operations manager of OCSCA AFSCME Local 11 and a former corrections officer. Shafer pointed out that on Dec. 31, 2011, Ohio became the first state ever to sell a state correctional facility to a private group, an act in which he said Ohio legislators had clearly been influenced by ALEC.
The tentacles of ALEC are even more far-reaching when it comes to education and the support for the voucher system, a point made by Ltaundra Everhart, a Cleveland special education teacher. She accused the ALEC-influenced legislators of using the state’s poor children as pawns in their drive to fund private schools with vouchers. She said the private schools do not provide services for special education students such as those she teaches.
“Thirty of the 38 sponsors of the plan to extend vouchers are members of ALEC,” said Everhart.
Her comments were echoed by David Romick of the Dayton Education Association who made similar points about charter schools.
Pat Clifford, a state organizer for Ohio Common Cause, focused upon the voter ID laws. “Thirty-four states introduced voter ID bills in 2011 and seven of them passed,” he told reporters. “The goal of these laws is to put restrictions on five million people, almost all of whom would vote Democratic in 2012.”
Eleven percent of US citizens, 21 million people, do not have government photo ID, said Clifford, who added that at least until today, ALEC has operated under a cloak of secrecy. Efforts to further disenfranchise voters through legislation are continuing in 2012.
Rev. Joel King, a cousin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., closed the press conference by pointing out that “Ohio legislators have a moral obligation to represent the citizens who elected them.”
Every citizen of Ohio should read this document.
ON the Web: The 51-page report is available for viewing at www.ProgressOhio.org