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Hiding the sausage

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

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And their vote is louder. According to Wright, at an Education Task Force meeting at the New Orleans conference, five out of six items up for consideration this year came from the private sector, one of which went so far as to require that every high school student study free enterprise for a full semester. That initiative was sponsored by Roberta Philips of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Interestingly, one of the other initiatives brought forth by the private sector – a “Comprehensive Legislative Package Opposing Common Core State Standards Initiative,” penned by the Goldwater Institute and the American Principles Project – was tabled on the advice of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush who, on his Foundation for Excellence in Education letterhead, tried to stem the flood of concerns that a federal standard for education was tantamount to giving in to big government.

“There is concern that this initiative will result in Washington dictating what standards, assessments and curriculum states may use,” Bush wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Weekly. “But these voluntarily adopted standards define what students need to know without defining how teachers should teach or students should learn.”

Beyond that minor conflict, Wright says, ALEC’s intent to weaken the traditional fabric of public schools and teachers’ unions was apparent: “It was absolutely made abundantly clear that the corporations want digital, virtual, charter and choice. That’s where they get the money.”

Money may be the goal of ALEC’s corporate affiliates, but it’s also become the group’s key public relations problem. The disparity between the public sector’s stake in ALEC’s finances and the private sector’s stake became the root of a rolling drumbeat against the organization this year. Liberal group the Center for Media and Democracy, which is responsible for the widely reported alecexposed.org website documenting the atrocities of ALEC, points out that of ALEC’s $6.3 million in 2009 revenues (according to the group’s tax documents), only $82,981 – or 1 percent – came from its nominal $50-a-head legislative dues. (Conversely, ALEC spends $600,000 a year to recruit and retain legislators). Corporations, meanwhile, paid dues of up to $25,000 a year, with additional fees charged to serve on task forces. Koch Industries – the energy conglomerate headed up by billionaire corporate bogeymen, Charles and David Koch – funded the group more than $200,000 in 2009. ALEC’s Washington, D.C., office employs just 28 people.

The fiscal picture gets even more suspect when you consider the outlying influence of ALEC’s corporate network on campaign finance. Banner ALEC companies like AT&T, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola and Walmart have poured more than $370 million into state races over the past decade, with more than $10 million of that coming into Florida. And yet ALEC maintains that it is an informational tool and not a lobbying group.

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