The teachers unions continue to pound the anti-ALEC drum, this year in the Hoosier State.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization of state legislators, business leaders and other concerned Americans dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. In the education sphere, ALEC holds that parents should be in charge of their children’s education by allowing them to have choices – charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, etc. – that would “allow each child the opportunity to reach his or her potential.” Furthermore, ALEC believes that workers should not be subjected to forced unionism.
Of course the nation’s teachers unions paint ALEC as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad organization. In the National Education Association’s pantheon-of-evil, ALEC dwells alongside its most loathed: Rebecca Friedrichs, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers. In a barrage of anti-ALEC webpages from NEA, we learn, among many other things, that the group favors education privatization so that greedy corporate types can make bundles from little Johnny and Janie, while learning their ABCs. (Just how the schools are somehow supposed to turn into corporate cash cows is not addressed.)
Teacher union activists have come to picket ALEC’s yearly meetings with a self-righteous fervor that makes the true believers glow with pride. Last July in San Diego, Barbara Dawson, a middle school history and English teacher, proudly proclaimed, “They (those attending the ALEC conference) couldn’t have missed it. We were beating drums, yelling and chanting in front of the hotel.”
Yeah, nothing like beating drums and yelling to advance your cause. That’ll learn the capitalist bastards! In a more sober moment, Helen Farias, a local union leader from the Sweetwater Education Association intoned, “The types of legislation ALEC promotes will create a two-tiered educational system, one for the privileged and one for the rest of us.”
Of course, Ms. Farias has it exactly backwards. We already have a two-tiered system, whereby rich people can afford to send their kids to private schools, but due to the Big Government-Big Union duopoly, not-so-rich folks don’t have that option in most places.
Last week, the yearly ALEC meeting was held in Indianapolis, and the unions got a “four-fer.” Not only did the faithful get a chance to express their displeasure with ALEC, they got to do it in a state that has an extensive voucher program as well as tax-credit scholarships. Additionally, Indiana houses EdChoice (formerly known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), the preeminent school choice outfit in the country. But wait, there’s more! The Hoosier State is also home to Republican Party vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who is an ardent school choicer.
This year’s union festivities included a twitter storm and a march (braving the heat!) by Indiana State Teachers Association members and sympathizers to the Marriott where the ALEC meeting was being held. The union also issued a special invitation. “While supplies last, we will give two free game tickets (to a minor league baseball game), food vouchers and t-shirts to ISTA members who register early.” The event, held on “Public Education Night” was a tepid affair where partying seemed to be the highest priority. Best of all, Indianans were spared the drum circle at all the protests.
But on a serious note, please keep in mind that while it was the ISTA bosses who bribed their members to come out and protest, the goodies were paid for by union members themselves. Worse, according to David Wolkins, an Indiana legislator, former teacher and public sector co-chair for ALEC, in addition to the swag, ISTA used Craigslist to hire civilians to show up and protest ALEC, paying them $30 a day.
Then there was an opinion piece in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette last week in which Wolkins reminded us of the hideous and criminal mismanagement by ISTA of its members’ insurance fund. As Mike Antonucci reported in December 2013, “The state of Indiana finalized a settlement with the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) in which the union will pay $14 million to 27 school districts. The settlement arose from an estimated $23 million the ISTA insurance trust owed those districts for misuse of their premiums.”
Also, ISTA has been busy in the Indiana State House this year, where it successfully managed to kill House Bill 1004 which among other things, which would have allowed school districts to pay teachers more money in shortage areas without having to consult the local teachers union.
So as ALEC continues to fight for taxpayers, parents and kids, ISTA – as all teachers unions do – looks to preserve its power and influence…at the expense of taxpayers, parents and kids.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
NEA/AFT and their friends in the media try to make hay of teacher shortage myth.
For years, teachers unions have been moaning that nearly half of all new educators leave the profession within the first five years. They and others have repeated the claim so many times that it has taken on the mantle of truth. But like so much else the unions say, fact checking reveals something quite different. Veteran teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci has been doing his best to destroy the “revolving door of teachers” fairytale for years. And now we have a report released in April from the National Center of Education which finds that only 17 percent of new teachers had left the profession between 2008 and 2012. While this new data may put a crimp in the teachers unions’ argument, they are sure to keep complaining about that 17 percent, and cite as reasons: poor pay, a good economy, the Koch Brothers, a bad economy, ALEC, too much testing, too little respect, corporate ed reform, etc. But as Antonucci points out, teachers typically leave their jobs for pretty much the same reasons as everyone else – spouse relocating, giving birth, poor health, etc.
So with the “five and out” myth debunked, the education press needed a new juicy story to jump on, and unsurprisingly, The New York Times came to the rescue. Motoko Rich’s “Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional)” sent all the usual suspects reaching for smelling salts. Her article can be summed up in the second paragraph,
Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.
Then three days later, Frank Bruni – also writing in The Times – doubled down with “Can We Interest You in Teaching?,” in which he also wildly overstates the problem. He refers to teachers as “pawns and punching bags,” which is faithful to the union meme of teachers as ultimate victims. And then in the fifth paragraph he solemnly informs us, “To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of the people who do go into teaching exit the profession within five years.” Oy.
Needless to say, the teachers unions happily jumped all over the new scare story. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (whom Bruni quoted in his piece saying, “The No. 1 thing is giving teachers a voice, a real voice.”) attributed the problem to low pay and “being left of out (sic) key decisions about education policy.” (Note to Bruni and Weingarten: if you really want to give teachers “a voice,” have real teachers – not union bosses – talk to writers about the issues.)
More or less taking the Weingarten tack, the National Education Association weighed in with “Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals.” In These Times, warns us that “‘The Teacher Shortage’ Is No Accident—It’s the Result of Corporate Education Reform Policies.” (The writer, Kevin Prosen, is a chapter leader in New York City’s teachers union.) But perhaps the most revealing attitude of all came from Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith who opines, “There really is a climate that’s been created, and we have to look at the climate and figure out how to fix it. Who cares what the data says (sic) because when you have administrators who don’t have applicants before the first day of school, there’s a shortage, end of story.”
Meredith is right. Who needs or wants pesky data when you are trying to make an emotional plea? But for the rest of us who care about facts….
To be sure some districts may be understaffed and other districts may come up short in specific subject areas, but there is no nationwide teacher shortage. Via the National Council on Teacher Quality, Mike Antonucci points out that we are “producing waaaaay more elementary teachers than the system can reasonably absorb.” Antonucci also indicates that in the years leading up to the recession, “reports of teacher shortages were constantly in the news. In response, America added 140,000 teachers to the workforce. The recession hit, and 63,000 of those teachers disappeared – either through direct layoffs, or attrition when veteran teachers retired.”
Though the exact number of teachers actually laid off in California is not currently clear, the state planned to release 1,000 working teachers in March, an increase from the previous year. Also, Los Angeles just laid off 382 teachers.
Sounds as if there are plenty of available teachers around to fill the “shortage.”
And then we have the redoubtable Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson, who writes that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that we have been on a hiring binge since 1970. Since that time,
…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing ‘teacher shortages?’
Coulson finishes with,
So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is for the reasons described above–mistakes in policy and/or execution….
So all the teachers unions and their friends in the media are left with is the “Who cares what the data say” argument. But if teacher union leaders want to legitimately whine about something, they could honestly say “We are bleeding unionized teachers.” That would be an accurate statement as the union share of the teacher workforce is at an historic low. In fact, for the first time since the rise of the teachers unions in the 1980s, the percentage of US teachers represented by them has fallen below 50 percent. The advance of right-to-work states, the charter school movement and various voucher programs across the country are to be credited for the shift. That shortage is indeed bad news for the unions, but one that benefits just about everyone else.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
When it comes to education and civil rights, NEA and AFT are part of the problem; the solution is choice.
Last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision, which outlawed state-sponsored segregation in schools. Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, the teachers unions groused all last week about various obstacles still facing low-income students of color. Their whine included inadequate school funding, the usual dumping on charter schools and blaming ALEC for various social ills. Amazingly, the Koch Brothers got the week off.
Kicking off the festivities on May 13th, a union front group calling itself the “Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools” organized a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. The speakers trotted out the bogeymen du jour – high-stakes testing, school closures, corporate and private involvement in education, etc. National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel complained that “there are several inequalities that still exist in both educational programs and in school facilities.” And American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten, going for the lachrymose, snatched a couple of human shields – I mean young children – from the crowd and proclaimed, “These kids, this is why we do what we do.”
Over on the NEA website, Van Roekel grumbled that not much has changed since Brown and retired educator Bruce Smith asserted that he knows where the blame lies. Smith claims that the problem revolves around state politicians…
who have sold out their constituents and, instead, have pledged their support to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is known for pushing education policies that foster inequity in our public schools.
Many of the wealthiest corporations in the world are members of ALEC, which uses its vast resources to shower state politicians across the country with expensive gifts, high-priced dinners at fancy restaurants, and vacation junkets at exotic resorts.
Those politicians who fall for the “ALEC treatment” become puppets who push the conservative, right-wing group’s education policies and proposals back home–legislation designed to benefit ALEC’s wealthy benefactors and turn a profit on the backs of students without any regard for their educational wellbeing.
For example, ALEC is a big supporter of vouchers and tuition tax credit schemes which use public dollars to subsidize tuition at private or religious schools. In addition to being costly to taxpayers, studies show such programs do not result in a better education for students.
In other words, Smith thinks the most important blocks to kids getting a good education are politicians who are bought off by wealthy, right wing, corporate benefactors. Vouchers and tax credits (which are somehow costly to taxpayers) are of course the devil’s work. His evidence that privatization doesn’t work? The always intriguing “unnamed studies.”
Then there is the “Advancement Project,” a group heavily funded by billionaire globalist George Soros which has ties to various teachers unions. This bunch has decided that charter schools are racist and compared them to prisons. (Apparently, the only thing that is “advanced” about the “Advancement Project” is its advanced deranged thinking.)
Time for a reality check.
First off, if charters are so racist, why are so many parents of all colors flocking to them? Simply because they have been more successful than the traditional public schools – especially with minorities – and over a half-million children of all ethnicities sit on waitlists nationwide. But this inconvenient truth is ignored by the teachers unions because most charters are not unionized.
Regarding Van Roekel’s “inequities,” he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. In a recent in-depth study, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf found that the gap for charter school funding is widening.
We identified a funding gap of 28.4 percent, meaning that the average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student. Since the average charter school enrolls 400 students, the average public charter school in the U.S. received $1,525,600 less in per-pupil funding in 2010-11 than it would have received if it had been a traditional public school. The gap is actually higher in focus areas within states where charter schools are more commonly found, such as major cities. (Emphasis added.)
And the privatization shibboleth really needs to be put to rest. Private schools generally do a better job than public schools (at lower cost, I might add), but it is rarely reported that privatization also leads to less racial segregation, not more, as the unions claim. Just a year ago, Greg Forster, of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. The findings about segregation from “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” are not ambiguous.
Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation. (Emphasis added.)
Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, adds…
there have been some improvements toward equality for low-income students of color, particularly in the realm of school choice.
I am beginning to see some promising educational improvements that are ensuring that if a low-income child of color wants to remain in the neighborhood in which he or she lives, that if we create a really good school in that neighborhood, that child can get a very good education,” Lomax says.
Interestingly, last week saw a major victory for educational choice in North Carolina where the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction that had barred parents from accessing North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.
And ultimately, isn’t that the best way to assure that all kids receive the best education possible? By opening the system up to competition, parents get to choose the school that best fits their kids’ needs.
On another note, I think it’s condescending to insist that the only way that black kids can get a good education is if they go to schools with white kids. As Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom wrote recently,
It is demeaning, even racist, to assume that minority children can’t learn—or can’t learn as much—unless they are immersed in a student body in which whites are the majority. The most sophisticated research on the subject does not find that having white classmates notably improves the academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics.
In any event, all the bluster last week reminded me of an old joke.
A woman comes across a man on his knees under a street lamp. “I’ve lost my car keys,” he explains. The woman tries to help the man find his keys. After a few minutes of searching, she asks “Where exactly did you drop them?”
“About a block away.”
Puzzled, she asks “Then why aren’t you looking over there?”
“The light is better here.”
For the teachers unions and their cronies and acolytes, shining a light on all the old canards will do nothing to help children fulfill the “Promise of Brown.” Like the man in the joke, they are looking in the wrong place. The keys for those kids are great teachers who are accountable to parents. And the best way to get there is by doing away with the government-union duopoly and replacing it with a system of universal school choice.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.
The American Legislative Exchange Council has long worked to improve government at the state level by limiting it to its proper roles and by preventing unions and other special interest groups from currying political favors. ALEC’s effectiveness may be seen in the fury with which certain senators and left-wing activists are now trying to harass the group’s donors, especially skittish corporations, and bankrupt ALEC.
Few conservative organizations have been more routinely smeared and unfairly attacked in the Obama era than the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), based in Arlington, Virginia. ALEC is a membership organization of more than 2,000 legislators and corporations. Left-wing activists demonize the group because, quite simply, it is effective in advancing the cause of free markets, limited government, and federalism at the state level throughout America. ALEC is one of a handful of political groups in the country that tries to reverse the civic rot that has eaten away at the nation since the tumultuous 1960s. It seeks, in economist Milton Friedman’s words, to “develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available.”
Since President Johnson and Congress launched the “Great Society” welfare programs, tens of thousands of nonprofit advocacy groups have emerged. Most of these groups lean to port and promote more government programs and regulations in areas once considered the domain of families, charities, neighborhood associations, and other voluntary organizations. They argue it is the government’s responsibility to solve almost all of society’s problems and push big government solutions in education, the environment, and healthcare. With the help of the Left, government has increasingly supplanted the voluntary, community-based problem-solving that the great observer of early American society, Alexis de Tocqueville, recognized as a key to America’s thriving.
For ALEC’s efforts to restore the time-honored virtues of the American republic, leftists have rewarded the group with histrionics and slander. ALEC’s enemies have struggled to kill the group in recent years, savaging it for its principled positions on public policy issues of interest to conservatives and libertarians. ALEC’s story is a cautionary tale of what happens when left-wing, Saul Alinsky-inspired agitators target a conservative group for destruction.
Left-wing activists claimed ALEC was racist because its members in past years had supported voter ID laws and “stand your ground” self-defense laws like the Florida statute mentioned repeatedly by the media (but not by the defendant) during George Zimmerman’s murder trial earlier this year. Of course, most people of all races tell pollsters they support voter ID laws, and “stand your ground” laws have been signed into law by (now retired) Democratic governors like Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Janet Napolitano (who later became Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security).
The radicals campaigned aggressively against ALEC and also used their in-your-face tactics to target ALEC’s donors, in hopes of scaring away corporate donors and state legislators who belonged to ALEC. Under heavy fire from left-wing groups and their allies in the mainstream media, Wendy’s, Kraft, McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola, among others, soon bailed on ALEC (see Table 1).
“A lot of these organizations believe that ALEC has taken on so much prominence and they’re having such a positive effect, in my opinion, on issues like pension reform and issues like cutting taxing and cutting back government spending [that] they were looking for some way of going after” ALEC, said Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal (video interview on WSJ website, April 18, 2012). “If these groups like ALEC lose their corporate support it means the left-wing groups are going to get all the money and they’re going to have much more influence,” Moore added.
“This is a smear campaign,” he concluded. ”I don’t really believe this is about the opposition to voter ID laws. I think what this is really about is the unions and other left-wing organizations are so concerned about how successful that ALEC has been in getting legislation passed on economic issues that they’re calling ALEC a racist organization so the companies will withdraw.” If ALEC loses corporate support, “it won’t be able to support free market ideas.”
What exactly is ALEC?
ALEC grew out of a meeting of conservative activists in Chicago 40 years ago. It was September 1973, a bleak time for American conservatives. Wage and price controls were wreaking havoc with the American economy, and conservatives who had helped to make those Nixon policies possible by getting the 37th president elected and then re-elected were disillusioned. The Nixon administration turned out to be much more left-wing in its policies than conservatives, who had yearned for a savior since Barry Goldwater received the GOP presidential nod in 1964, would have preferred. Machiavellian non-conservative Henry Kissinger had started his job that month as U.S. Secretary of State, and just a few weeks earlier former White House aide Alexander Butterfield had informed a congressional committee that President Nixon had secretly recorded potentially incriminating White House conversations.
State legislators, including then-Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett, a veteran of then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s 1968 presidential campaign, launched the group that now describes itself as a “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” They created a “voluntary membership association for state lawmakers who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.”
In the group’s early years, some of the active members included men who would go on to higher office, including the future U.S. Sen. Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, and future Michigan Gov. John Engler, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Congressional members who were active during this same period included Sens. James L. Buckley of New York and the late Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Reps. Phil Crane of Illinois and the late Jack Kemp of New York.
Sen. Buckley is the older brother of the late William F. Buckley Jr. and was the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 ruling that established the parameters of modern campaign finance law. Buckley challenged the constitutionality of a federal law that limited campaign spending in congressional races, and the high court largely agreed with his arguments, striking down some of the spending restrictions. Today the freedom of everyone, including businesses, to give to political candidates of their choosing—an issue at the heart of the First Amendment—remains a policy priority of ALEC and goes far to explain why the Left, which desperately wants to control politics in ways that will help it amass power, despises ALEC so passionately.
A nonprofit entity recognized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, ALEC receives little financial support from foundations and no government grants whatsoever, according to its publicly available tax filings. By contrast, its more left-wing counterpart, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), relies heavily on taxpayer funding.
How many members?’
ALEC has more than 2,000 state lawmakers among its members. As of 2011, there were also about 300 private-sector members, including trade groups, corporations, policy organizations, and nonprofits, according to an ALEC spokesman.
ALEC’s latest published count shows 82 former members of the group now sitting in the U.S. House of Representatives and 11 former members in the U.S. Senate. Some of the more prominent House lawmakers are Ways and Means Committee chairman David Camp (R-Mich.), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Republican Conference chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and Don Young (R-Alaska).
Some of the former ALEC members in the Senate are Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). ALEC also has an international “delegation.” The most prominent member is Daniel Hannan (Conservative Party), the outspoken Member of European Parliament representing South East England.
Pro-free market representatives from the business community sit on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council. Its chairman is Steve Seale of SAP America. Other council members include Jeff Bond, a senior vice president at PhRMA; Robert J. Jones of Pfizer Inc.; Billy Leahy of AT&T; Cynthia Bergman of ExxonMobil Corp.; and Roland Spies of State Farm Insurance Companies.
ALEC has a relatively modest budget. In 2011, it spent $7,105,525, after taking in $9,218,069. In its two leanest recent years, 2008 and 2009, it ran deficits. In 2008 the group spent $7,437,632, after taking in only $6,975,222. In 2009, it spent $6,610,562, after receiving just $6,271,633.
Right-leaning foundations that have funded ALEC include Searle Freedom Trust ($735,000 since 2000), Allegheny Foundation ($500,000 since 2001), Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($480,000 since 2002), Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($248,858 since 1999), Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation Inc. ($220,500 since 2004), and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation ($220,000 since 2009).
ALEC has had a handful of left-leaning philanthropies as donors, notably Pew Charitable Trusts ($206,640 since 2011) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (one grant in 2011 for $245,008). Support has also come from Lumina Foundation for Education Inc. ($595,000 since 2008), UPS Foundation ($380,000 since 2002), ExxonMobil Foundation ($248,858 since 2000), and General Motors Foundation Inc. ($145,000 since 2003).
The Left routinely targets ALEC’s elected leadership. The national chairman for 2013, John Piscopo, is Senior Republican Whip in the Connecticut House of Representatives. Piscopo has been assailed by left-wing groups for daring to educate himself about energy policy. He was pilloried by progressives for visiting the tar sands, an important energy development in Alberta, Canada. He has also been attacked for opposing health insurance mandates and advocating that English be made the official language.
Linda Upmeyer (R), House Majority Leader for the Iowa General Assembly, is first vice chairman of ALEC. A nurse practitioner by profession, Upmeyer champions fiscal responsibility, so naturally, she’s an outspoken opponent of Obamacare, which has opened her up to attacks by the Left.
Left-wing attempts to stigmatize ALEC have led state legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, to quit the organization. For example, Progress Texas gloated in August 2012 that left-wing agitation forced 12 Texas state lawmakers (9 Republicans and 3 Democrats) to leave ALEC. “These legislators have shown the courage of their convictions by standing up to a corporate bill factory and declaring their support for the people of Texas above all else,” exulted Matt Glazer, executive director of Progress Texas. Progress Texas is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit and a member of the ProgressNow network. ProgressNow is funded by, among others, the Tides Foundation ($555,000 since 2005).
ALEC’s Board of Scholars Program “honors those whose distinguished work and dedication to market-based policy innovations have been, and continue to be, invaluable to ALEC and its membership.” Members include distinguished economists Arthur B. Laffer and Richard Vedder, tort expert Victor Schwartz, and Evergreen Freedom Foundation founder Bob Williams.
As ALEC’s executive director since 2010, Ron Scheberle runs the group’s day-to-day operations. He is chairman emeritus of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council and has been an active private sector member of ALEC for over 25 years, serving as Private Enterprise Board National Chairman from 1988 to 1994 and as a member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board of Directors continuously since.
Why the Left hates ALEC
Why do left-wing groups feel such animosity toward ALEC? Because ALEC gets things done. The group states accurately on its website that “since its founding, ALEC has amassed an unmatched record of achieving ground-breaking changes in public policy. Policies such as teacher competency testing, pension reform, and Enterprise Zones represent just a handful of ALEC’s victories in the states.”
ALEC’s “model legislation” program is the Left’s real target. The program evolved out of “task forces” that the group formed back in 1981, the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The first task force was modeled after Reagan’s national Task Force on Federalism, which was headed by U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.).
Major task forces from the Reagan era focused on ways of decentralizing government so that policymaking and political responsibilities would shift from the federal to the state level. One task force laid the blame for the nation’s educational decline squarely on centralization, declining values, and an increasingly liberal social agenda that had dominated schools since the 1960s. To counter this decline, the task force advanced ideas such as school vouchers to let families choose where to educate their children, merit pay for teachers, and higher academic and behavioral standards for students. Other task forces tackled high-tech innovation in telecommunications, the explosion in frivolous litigation, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and medical savings accounts.
After Reagan left office, the task forces gradually became more like clearinghouses of ideas “submitted by ALEC members into freestanding think tanks and model bill movers,” according to an ALEC-provided historical account. Members of the group “began to actively solicit more input from private sector members, seizing upon ALEC’s long-time philosophy that the private sector should be an ally rather than an adversary in developing sound public policy.”
Model state legislation
To date, ALEC’s task forces have considered, written, and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues. This model legislation helps to frame the debate. “Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states,” according to ALEC’s website. “Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.”
The Left hates having to fight again for ground that it has already conquered, so its activists attack with vitriol efforts like ALEC’s model legislation program that seek to roll back or mitigate the most harmful aspects of Great Society programs such as the failed “War on Poverty.” Although leftist groups protest the model legislation program in hyperbolic terms, denouncing it as a threat to democracy, liberal groups have adopted the same approach. Left-wing groups like Progressive States Network write their own model legislation and push it at the state level on issues such as the myth of manmade global warming and other environmentalist priorities. Recently the Left even created an explicit ALEC clone named ALICE (American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange).
A common refrain among liberal groups is that ALEC is a “corporate bill mill.” This is a ridiculous claim, since large corporations in modern-day America are often hostile to free markets and limited government. The same corporations take a very short-term view and often give donations to left-wing groups in the hope they will be left alone. It doesn’t work; it only encourages the progressive hordes to be more demanding, as Capital Research Center found out the hard way.
CRC used to track corporate donations, but it gave up trying to do so a decade ago. The findings were published each year in a volume called Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy. Apparently, many large corporations didn’t like their gifts to left-wing causes being scrutinized. The businesses stopped filling out surveys that CRC researchers would send every year, and the publication was discontinued.
ALEC’s model legislation is aimed at reducing the reach of government in order to empower civil society. If ALEC were really the assemblage of crony capitalists that liberals and progressives claim, it would support fatter subsidies of industry and pork-barrel projects, including so-called public-private partnerships like sports stadiums and “green” energy companies, but in fact such issues are absent from its agenda. ALEC is about making government smaller, and it accepts donations from the dwindling number of large U.S. corporations that share that view of America.
Big businesses too often prefer to fund politicians like Barack Obama and Democratic candidates such as Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton administration operative and former Democratic National Committee chairman, because they know they can rely on the politicians’ corporatist instincts and can count on favors to be returned. ALEC, on the other hand, doesn’t allow its allegiance to be sold to the highest bidder. It stands up for limited-government principles, which makes ALEC dangerous in the eyes of left-wing political players.
Major model legislation campaigns and “accountability”
ALEC sprang into action after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare) into law in March 2010. The group’s members drafted model legislation aimed at blocking states from enforcing the new health insurance monstrosity. Model legislation was reportedly enacted in 10 states, including Missouri and Virginia.
The Missouri measure sought a referendum to insert language into the state’s constitution to prevent any “law or rule” that would “compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.” The Louisiana version of the legislation contained similar wording.
Efforts aimed at frustrating Obamacare are one thing; efforts at ensuring honest elections are another thing altogether. ALEC’s campaign to enact voter identification requirements at the state level caused left-wing activists to blow a gasket. The Left bitterly opposes all reasonable measures aimed at preventing voter fraud because some progressive politicians hope such fraud will help them stay in office. A coalition of left-wing groups banded together to attack ALEC over its electoral integrity efforts, knowing full well that false accusations of racism are usually enough to make large corporations and Republican operatives run for cover.
In this case, the silliness of the racism claim was especially stark, given that 13 of the 22 companies and trade groups that are on ALEC’s private enterprise board also gave at least $2 million to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, as Bloomberg News reported.
Leading the charge against ALEC on this issue was Color of Change, a far-left race-baiting group whose views are largely indistinguishable from those held by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Color of Change tries to stir up racial antagonism in order to promote a socialist agenda. It was co-founded by Van Jones, President Obama’s controversial former green jobs czar and a self-described “rowdy black nationalist” and “communist.” Color of Change also enjoyed some success in getting Glenn Beck kicked off the Fox News Channel by using a pressure campaign against the program’s advertisers.
As the Left’s corporate character assassination campaign pounded away at ALEC last year, Jones called ALEC “the Death Star,” and noted that it was co-founded by Paul Weyrich, whom he described as “one of the worst of the conservatives.” Jones said it is possible to draw a direct line from right-of-center funders to “ALEC and nobody had ever heard of this group before and yet they are driving the worst policies in America.”
Jones bragged to MSNBC’s Ed Schultz (April 5, 2012) about the damage his fellow activists would be able to do to ALEC. ALEC “is not pro-business,” he said. “This is anti-American.”
Color of Change engaged in a species of activism that the Left calls “accountability,” an Orwellian euphemism. Accountability, as leftists use the term, is not about transparency or good government. Perhaps partly inspired by Herbert Marcuse, the father of the New Left, who was in favor of silencing non-leftists, “accountability” actions focus on harassing and intimidating political enemies, forcing them to waste their resources to deal with activists’ provocations. Left-wingers aiming to hurt ALEC want to frighten prospective donors into not writing checks. They send letters warning donors who may be considering giving to ALEC that such donations will lead to legal problems, public ridicule, and having activists sift through their garbage cans for incriminating information.
Color of Change generated petitions and boycotts galore and smeared corporations that gave money to ALEC as racist for supporting voter ID laws. Another one of Color of Change’s co-founders, James Rucker, is a former MoveOn organizer. He is also a co-founder of the Secretary of State Project, the group that helped to elect Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Ritchie, a former community organizer who has worked hand in hand with ACORN, helped set the stage for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to win the recount of his 2008 Senate election in Minnesota by dubious means.
The adverse publicity over voter ID laws and “Stand Your Ground” policies caused weak-kneed corporations to flee the group and proved to be too much for ALEC. In April last year the group disbanded the task force that had been responsible for drafting model voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.
The radical Nation magazine gloated over the Left’s victory, describing the abolished task force as “the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives—not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities.”
Leftist standard-bearer Common Cause, the influential left-of-center political blog Think Progress, and radical magazine Mother Jones also played a major role in getting ALEC out of the electoral integrity arena.
Common Cause, incidentally, has also used other means to hurt ALEC. Last year Common Cause’s lawyers sued under the Tax Whistleblower Act, claiming that ALEC violated its tax-exempt status by “massive[ly] underreporting” its lobbying activities. The group claimed that training state legislators to be more effective in their jobs somehow constitutes lobbying.
Common Cause is heavily funded by left-wing foundations. Arca Foundation, which used to be run by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), has given the group $1,395,000 since 2000. George Soros’ Open Society Institute has given Common Cause $2,025,000 since 2000 and Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society has given the group $600,000 since 2009. Other foundations that have given money to Common Cause are Carnegie Corp. of New York ($1,810,000 since 2001), Joyce Foundation ($1,480,000 since 2003), San Francisco-based James Irvine Foundation ($1,375,000 since 2005), Ford Foundation ($685,000 since 2000), Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund ($579,500 since 2003), Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program ($506,500 since 2006), and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ($309,093 since 2002).
The Center for American Progress Action Fund, which runs Think Progress, the high-profile leftist blog that provided helpful misinformation against ALEC, has received limited support from foundations. CAP Action has received $238,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation since 2008 and $86,000 from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc. since 2004.
Mother Jones, the magazine that helped to sink Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign last year by producing a videotape of Romney’s ill-received “47 percent” comments, produced a slew of news stories that helped to drive ALEC away from the voter ID issue. The magazine’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Foundation for National Progress, has received funding through Soros’ philanthropies, Open Society Institute ($225,000 since 2008) and Foundation to Promote Open Society ($100,000 since 2010).
Left-wing activists abhor the famous 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission so much that they’re willing to repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment in order to overrule it. The idea that corporations should be able to spend freely on political campaigns drives them to apoplexy, which helps to explain why there is a serious movement afoot on the progressive Left to amend the U.S. Constitution to bar corporations from contributing to political candidates.
So it’s not surprising that one of ALEC’s most significant adversaries in Congress, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), is looking for ways to hurt the group. The Alinskyite lawmaker held committee hearings in October, ostensibly to investigate “stand your ground” laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial earlier this year, even though that law was not invoked by George Zimmerman in his defense. (As a Common Cause activist admitted to Businessweek, ALEC’s enemies had long planned an attack and were just awaiting the right news hook: “The Trayvon Martin thing was like a gift.”)
Durbin’s hearings came on the heel of a brass knuckles-style letter Durbin sent out to hundreds of organizations supposedly connected to ALEC, demanding to know their position on “stand your ground” laws and giving them an opportunity to confess to donating money to ALEC.
Durbin claimed he was acting in the public interest, but conservatives weren’t fooled. After all, he’s one of the key lawmakers who wrote the IRS in 2010, asking it to scrutinize conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, which as this year’s scandals revealed, the IRS was happy to do.
Durbin has millions more reasons to attack ALEC, namely, the more than $4 million in campaign contributions he’s received from the trial lawyers, as OpenSecrets.org reports. The wealthy tort bar is appalled at the number of states that have adopted ALEC’s tort law reforms. Similarly, government employee unions despise ALEC’s reforms for public pensions and collective bargaining. “Government unions,” concludes Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, “are relying on Mr. Durbin to put ALEC out of business” (Oct. 31, 2013).
The Left, of course, never sleeps. If you wonder what group will be attacked next, consider that the Center for Media and Democracy, which joined in the attack on ALEC, has just unveiled a new offensive—this time against the State Policy Network (SPN), which is a sort of trade association representing mostly state-level conservative and libertarian think tanks. The Center labels SPN and other conservative organizations “stink tanks.” The George Soros-funded slander shop Media Matters for America has already weighed in with a helpful website headline screaming, “Shadowy Right-Wing Group Generates Media Coverage For Conservative Policy From Coast To Coast.” According to Media Matters, SPN is dangerous because its “research has been cited far and wide in the media, from the national level down to local newspapers and blogs.”
SPN must be destroyed, Media Matters reasons, because it supports low taxes, right to work legislation, and school testing standards. “In addition, Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute (an SPN affiliate) has appeared at least seven times over the last year on Fox’s [show] ‘Stossel,’ attacking public education and promoting the privatization of municipal services.”
We can only hope that SPN will look upon the ALEC saga as a cautionary tale and prepare accordingly.
Matthew Vadum is editor of Organization Trends and Foundation Watch at the Capital Research Center. This post was originally published by Labor Watch, a project of the Capitol Research Center, and is published here with permission.
The Exodus from ALEC
According to Common Cause, the following corporations have left ALEC as of July 26, 2012:
American Traffic Solutions
Arizona Public Service
Blue Cross Blue Shield
John Deere & Company
Johnson & Johnson
Procter & Gamble
Reckitt Benckiser Group
Lumina Foundation for Education
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
National Association of Charter School Authorizers