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Hiding the sausage

How ALEC, a well-funded right-wing organization, is grinding out state laws

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The best way to understand the shiny glass wall surrounding the shadowy ALEC premise is to look at the sort of word-for-word copycat legislation – essentially written by ALEC and sponsored by its legislator members – cropping up at the state level. During this year’s session of the Florida legislature, for instance, the passage of two proposed constitutional ballot initiatives (one to repeal healthcare reform, the other to cap government spending), a law challenging teacher tenure, new state election restrictions and the near passage of a racial profiling law mimicking Arizona’s SB 1070, among others, bore ALEC’s stamp. Among the organization’s more than 2,000 legislative members are local powerhouse names, like Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, gun-loving State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and avid pro-life State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. Among those in receipt of campaign cash from ALEC-affiliated corporations are U.S. Congressman Daniel Webster, R-Orlando and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. – both of whom spent time in the Florida legislature before taking the national stage. It is a pervasive conservative machine.

“[ALEC has] been waiting in the wings for Republicans to take over the state legislatures and governorships, and [has] pre-packaged, off-the-rack public policies with a conservative bent, ready for introduction,” University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith told the Tampa Tribune in May. “You see these cookie-cutter policies popping up across the country.”

And while the silent influence of corporations on politics at every level has become an accepted norm – see the lucrative careers of lobbyists, the impenetrable rubric of campaign finance laws and the recent Supreme Court decision to grant personhood to corporations – ALEC’s uniquely brazen efforts to connect legislators to corporate-conceived policies (with campaign donations presumably to follow) comes off as exceptionally well choreographed and frighteningly unstoppable.

For Wright, who was sitting in on an education “task force” meeting at the New Orleans Marriott, that meant coming face to face with the obvious: The Republicans are winning.

“They were just saying, ‘Look, it lined up perfectly for us. We ended up with a Republican house, a Republican senate and a Republican governor. Go for the jugular,’” he recalls. “That’s what the lady said: ‘Attack while you can.’”

ALEC’s roots stretch back to 1973, according to the group’s website. The organization was formed based on a perceived need for “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty.” Future Ohio Gov. John Kasich was there at the group’s initial meetings, as was controversial North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. But the group’s most cited founder, Paul Weyrich – the man who first launched the phrase “moral majority” and co-founded the Heritage Foundation – largely set the tone for the group’s early social agenda. Namely, as an informal think tank created to disenfranchise those who were not like them.

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