Yesterday inside the Netherland Hotel, a discreet committee drafted America’s next season of conservative state legislation. Outside, bucket drums, megaphones, and a hundred angry voices roared in protest. And three blocks away, The Cincinnati Enquirer stayed home.
Courageous members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), peeked out of the hotel’s grand entrance during their recess, to survey the opposition. Until now, their organization of 2000+ state legislators and corporate executives has stayed under the public radar, while crafting 1000+ items of legislation each election cycle since 1973. *Numbers reported by ALEC.
Their goal: an economic climate friendlier to corporations. This year’s anti-collective-bargaining bills in Ohio and Michigan were two recent triumphs.
“Legislators welcome their private sector counterparts to the table as equals, working in unison to solve the challenges facing the nation,” reads a membership brochure.
But as the group’s annual Spring Task Force Summit convened yesterday, so did journalists and activists from across the Midwest. And during a two-hour protest and 19 public “teach-ins” across downtown Cincinnati, speakers described a group bent on bloating corporate profits, at the expense of taxpayers and jobs.
Indianapolis-based Daily Kos journalist Bob Sloan told an audience at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center about a growing ALEC-supported movement to provide cheap inmate labor to corporations, by criminalizing immigration, relaxing child-labor laws, and abolishing “prevailing wages” rules for working inmates.
Proponents of these bills, such as the Ohio Prison Industries Reform Act, argue that manufacturing programs allow inmates to develop useful job skills. But Sloan cited instances of businesses collapsing in communities where large corporations have “insourced” factory jobs to a captive workforce. While corporations save money by paying workers partial wages and no benefits, he said, taxpayers foot the bill. And when those jobs disappear into prisons, former inmates with new skills can find themselves at loose ends.
At Buddy’s Place, a Section 8 housing complex on Vine St., Michigan activist Bruce Fealk gave a morning talk on “outing” ALEC in the corporate media; in the afternoon, that sector was silent. (The Enquirer is one of 82 newspapers owned by the publicly-traded Gannett Company.)
Although ALEC has non-profit status, it appears to behave more like a political action committee, with its member list and model legislation texts both kept under wraps. But with the election of Governor John Kasich, who was a founding member of ALEC, the promotion of Boehner to Speaker of the House, and a 25% ALEC ticket discount offered by the Reds, Ohio may feel like receptive territory this year.
Also active from Ohio are Senator Bill Seitz, Chair of the Civil Justice Task Force, and Rep. John P. Adams (R-78th), ALEC’s Ohio state Chairman. Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder sits on ALEC’s Board of Scholars, and Reps. Andrew O. Brenner (R-2nd) and Danny Bubp (R-88th) were both tweeting from the summit.
Legislative members of ALEC pay $50 in annual dues. But corporate members who participate in one of the nine task forces that met yesterday, pay between $2500 (to weigh in on educational policy) and $10,000 (to help write legislation affecting International Relations).
ALEC literature calls the creation of model legislation the “centerpiece” of its activities–and its state-by-state fill-in-the-blank formula has proven effective at sweeping the country.
Versions of the “Freedom in Choice and Health Care Act” that were designed to unravel last year’s health care reform bill, have been enacted separately in 10 states and are pending in 30 more.
In a press release last month Christie Herrera, director of ALEC’s Health and Human Forces Task Force, wrote:
“ALEC congratulates the states for their successful fight against ObamaCare. Their resilience and determination have paid off: ObamaCare is failing.”
Perhaps that was what inspired one middle-aged man at the protest to carry a sign reading, “Screw us and we’ll multiply!”
Not to be outdone, those inside the meeting retaliated via Twitter.
@PamelaGorman, identified on Twitter as “Conservative former Arizona State Senator & Congressional Candidate. I dig States Rights, 2nd Amendment, Limited Govt. I’m Pro-Life, Christian, & my son’s mom! http://citizengorman.blogspot.com” yawned, “Lamest protest today at ALEC mtg in Ohio. No fun. Drummer had no rhythm and chants were not catchy. All the good hired mobs taken?”
The two sides will have another opportunity to face off this August, when the board holds its annual meeting in New Orleans.