How Sunlight Is Undermining ALEC
The Atlantic Monthly has a fascinating piece about the recent travails of ALEC (aka the American Legislative Exchange Council) funded by corporations to push a raft of extremist laws in the states. ALEC has largely been so effective because it was so secret. The state legislators who were members never publicized their membership, the corporations that funded this group hid their membership and sponsorship, and the organization made sure to hide their agenda and their part in pushing these poisonous laws.
That's all changed now, because almost everyone now knows that ALEC was the group pushing the Wild West "Shoot to Kill" law that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin. And the story about how that came about is the subject of this piece.
According to the piece:
[T]he attention to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and, even more so, the connected debate over Stand Your Ground gun laws and the distancing of some of the country's biggest companies from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, shows how online organizing actually can work. And that, reasonably, seems to be causing palpitations in the hearts of everyone from Coca-Cola to the Koch brothers.
Nine months ago, though, a website called ALEC Exposed went live, showcasing more than 800 so-called model bills contributed by, the site's creators say, a still-anonymous whistleblower. Beyond the bills themselves, the group built out a wide-ranging, sometimes confusing wiki aimed at documenting which legislators take part in the group, which corporations support it, and where the bills go once they leave ALEC.
Lisa Graves is executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the group that built ALEC Exposed. She's also a former Justice Department official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Said Graves on a call this week, "We built out the material using Google, the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine, primary records that were previously on ALEC's website, old old Lexis news clips, and the tobacco library," as in the digital archive run by the University of California of San Francisco as part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of the late '90s. "There was a lot of material out there that was just not widely known."
Having the bills all in one place painted a certain picture. "If it's voter ID, it's ALEC," observed Doug Clopp, deputy director of programs at Common Cause. "If it's anti-immigration bills written hand-in-glove with private prison corporations, it's ALEC. If it's working with the N.R.A. on 'Shoot to Kill' laws, it's ALEC. When you start peeling back state efforts to opt out of the regional greenhouse gas initiative, it's ALEC." Adopted first in the states, by the time these laws bubble up to the national level, they're the conventional wisdom on policy.
Once the shadowy organization was exposed, it was possible to hold the backers accountable. And organizations such as the ColorofChange.org were ready to hold Corporate America's feet to the fire.
ALEC had been successful in pushing its agenda because it hid in the shadows.
The success of the campaign against them is largely because their Machiavellian tactics are being exposed to the light of day by a very savvy online community using crowd sourcing and online organizing to show companies that being a member of ALEC is not worth destroying their brand.