Editor’s note: This commentary is by Dan Quigley, a Winooski resident who is interested in local politics and transparency. He was an intern for Sen. Bernie Sanders and worked on Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign.
Vermont state Rep. Bob Helm recently wrote an opinion piece (“Good policy comes from sharing ideas”) that appeared on VTDigger.org, as well as in the Times Argus and the Newport Daily Express, encouraging participation in and support of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The article neglected to mention some fundamentals about ALEC that should be expressed.
Helm’s characterization of the organization seems hopeful, neutral to positive, and innocent. These characterizations are seriously lacking. ALEC is not simply a community forum about limited government, but rather a distinctly far-right organization focused on deregulation and deinstitutionalization. The trick with ALEC is not that it is supportive of “independent thinking,” as Helm posits, but rather that it gives the illusion of democratic problem-solving. ALEC is almost entirely funded by private corporations and billionaires. The big-money oligarchs who our independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has been warning us about? This is one of their most insidious fronts.
The American Association for Justice characterizes ALEC as “ghostwriting the law for corporate America,” because it develops legislation funded and designed by those corporations. Specifically, it deploys lobbyists to register as members so that they may write “model” legislation as equals alongside our representatives. These model bills are subsequently introduced in legislatures across the country by participating senators, congressmen and policy staff. ALEC’s model legislation becomes a template for conservative politicians to pass at the state or local levels. Mere days ago, Oklahoma passed a bill based on an ALEC model that fines people for using solar power.
The model bills available are great in number and in scope (and are listed on their website). Topics include opposition to the Consumer Protection Agency, privatization of public schools and Medicare, prohibition of school science curricula covering climate change, and expansion of fracking. The now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that allows murderers to evade prosecution, such as with the highly public case in Florida, is an ALEC model bill. Arizona’s racial profiling bill, SB1070, also comes from ALEC. One such model bill would block Vermont’s present efforts to mandate GMO labeling.
ALEC is increasing its influence at the state and local levels. We are not protected here in Vermont from its sinister encroachment.
The Guardian recently reported that, in addition to maintaining its powerful presence in national government (with alumni such as Speaker John Boehner and Eric Cantor, among others), ALEC is increasing its influence at the state and local levels. We are not protected here in Vermont from its sinister encroachment.
The Caledonian Record recently cited ALEC while lamenting Vermont’s “worst economic outlooks.” ALEC has at least three current members in the Vermont Legislature, although they do not publish a comprehensive membership list. ALEC’s promotion by Rep. Helm should be a red flag to those who wish to maintain local control as much as possible in post-Citizens United America.