After the Republican convention in Cleveland, Mike Pence, the Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States, went home to Indiana, where he is governor, and made a speech to the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Here is a description from James Briggs, a reporter for the Indianapolis Star: “First, Gov. Mike Pence returned home to Indiana from the national campaign trail. Then, he came home to his base. Pence on Friday addressed a room full of kindred spirits at the American Legislative Exchange Council. The free-market policy group concluded its three-day annual meeting at the JS Marriott in Downtown Indianapolis. ‘You are the model for Washington, D.C., after this election,’ Pence told the room….”
Pence’s description of ALEC as a model ought to terrify anyone who knows anything about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a sort of dating service that pairs member corporate lobbyists with member state legislators. Too often the corporate lobbyists are the primary authors of ALEC’s model bills.
Here is how New York’s Common Cause describes ALEC in a recent report: “Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of the nation’s largest companies invest millions of dollars each year to pass state laws putting corporate and private interests ahead of the interests of ordinary Americans. ALEC’s membership includes some 2,000 state legislators, corporate executives and lobbyists. ALEC brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to vote as equals on model bills, behind closed doors and without any public input, that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line. These model bills are then introduced in the state legislatures across the country….” ALEC’s effort to undermine government and promote privatization through “model” laws that can be adopted by any state legislature is underwritten by corporations along with some of our nation’s wealthiest political investors, and it pairs state legislators with the corporations that stand to gain from legislation their lobbyists help design.
Briggs of the Indiana Star continues: “Pence’s speech… was light on references to Trump and heavy on ALEC’s bread and butter: state government. ALEC is an influential policy group that drafts model legislation for statehouses across the country. Pence joked that he was ‘for ALEC before it was cool.'” Briggs quotes Pence “telling ALEC members he came to ‘say thank you for the work all of you have done in state legislatures.’ He urged those in attendance to use the November election to make the federal government reflect politically conservative states such as Indiana.”
Writing for PR Watch, Jessica Mason and Lisa Graves describe Pence’s record of pushing ALEC’s priorities in Indiana: “As Governor, Pence appointed an ALEC staffer to his cabinet, and pushed parts of the ALEC agenda into law, such as anti-worker bills like repealing the prevailing wage and privatizing public schools in various ways. He even sent a letter to state legislators urging them to join ALEC, which is widely described as a corporate bill mill. ALEC is funded by Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, huge global tobacco and drug companies, and other corporations that pay a premium to access ALEC lawmakers.”
The PR Watch report explains: “School privatization proponents have slowly been dropping the pretense that the ‘school choice’ movement is about helping underprivileged children.” Last week’s convention featured a workshop on education titled: ‘The Path to Universal Choice: From Theory to Passage to Implementation.” And at ALEC’s annual meeting last week, delegates considered new model bills that can be disseminated across the states to make it harder to close poor performing charter schools: “Two new bills being considered by what ALEC now dubs its ‘Education and Workforce Development Task Force’ could help poorly performing charters stay open without having to improve. Under the Assessment Choice Act, instead of using a uniform assessment for students statewide, charters’ authorizers would take their pick from a ‘menu’ of tests, unlike traditional public schools. If propping up test scores isn’t enough to save a charter from closure, the ‘Student and Family Fair Notice and Impact Statement Act’ promises to add new hurdles. Before closing or restructuring a charter school, this act would not just require that families be notified. It would also create a public hearing process in which parents, teachers, and ‘experts’ could give testimony about the school, and the charter board would be allowed to suggest a response plan. In case it wasn’t obvious that the bill is meant to keep the charter in operation, the drafter of that model bill added: ‘[drafting note: it should be clear the school can present an alternative for supporters of the school to rally around.]'”
Members of the Indiana State Teachers Association rallied during Pence’s address to protest the governor’s long affiliation with ALEC and his decision to address ALEC’s annual convention. Think Progress reporter, Casey Quinlan notes that under Pence and his predecessor as governor, Mitch Daniels, ALEC has increased its legislative membership in Indiana by 40 percent.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is currently granted 501(c)3 educational nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service. We all need to join Common Cause and others who have been working to press the IRS to treat ALEC as what it really is: a lobbying organization.