ALEC Gives In, But There's No Reason to Celebrate

After weeks of pressure, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) appears to be backing away from long-term efforts at creating barriers to voting (voter-ID laws) and pushing "Stand Your Ground" legislation. The latter allows those who feel threatened in public places to use force; Florida's version is currently at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Giving in to public pressure, ALEC announced Tuesday that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which promoted such legislation and helped see it proliferate. The organization is now "reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."  ALEC's spokesperson did not respond to interview requests nor did Public Safety Task Force Chair Jerry Madden, a Texas state representative. 

ALEC, which proudly calls itself "the nation's largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators," has operated as a largely secret arena in which corporate sponsors and conservative legislators share ideas. The group offers model legislation to its members, which has in the past simply been introduced in legislatures unchanged. While the group says its goals are job growth and economic development, it has actively promoted voter-ID legislation to make it harder to vote as well as anti-union measures and those to limit lawsuits. The group also pushes for law taxes and decreased regulation. 

As controversy grew around the slaying of Trayvon Martin and Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, ALEC found itself on the ropes. The Martin shooting sparked widespread public outcry. Civil-rights group Color of Change helped lead public campaigns against ALEC and its affiliated companies for its support of such laws. In the face of growing grassroots pressure over the last few weeks, major ALEC corporate members like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have dropped membership, as have McDonald's, Kraft Food, Mars and others. Just Monday, a New York Times editorial slammed ALEC for its role in promoting Stand Your Ground legislation.

In the statement announcing the end of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the organization shifted its focus to "free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies."

But this hardly constitutes a victory. ALEC still has a variety of task forces: There's the Civil Justice Task Force, Education Task Force, and Health and Human Safety Task Force, all of which seem a bit removed from the group's ostensible goals. The Civil Justice Task Force's efforts appear largely focused on tort reform, as evidenced by the latest initiative, "Expanding the Law Under New Restatement of Torts" and its latest publication, "The State Legislator's Guide: Tort Reform Boot Camp." 

Then there's the disturbing impact on health care and education. As The Nation showed in its "ALEC Exposed" series, the group has lobbied all out against health-care reform, while its education task force, headed partially by an executive for the for-profit online education company Connections Academy, has pushed hard for vouchers and increased privatization in American public schools. Its latest publication, a report card on education, begins by comparing the battle over education reform to World War II, with teacher unions being—you guessed it—Germany and Japan.

In the end, the Public Safety and Elections Task Force has already had its success. Voter-ID laws have proliferated around the country, making voting harder for poor and minority Americans. And according to the Times, Stand Your Ground is already law in 24 states.

Color of Change and its boycott isn't likely to stop the pressure any time soon.  In a statement responding to the news, Executive Director Rashad Robinson didn't mince words: "To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas [sic] whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers."

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