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Behind the Enemy Lines at the ALEC Annual Meeting in Austin

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This is a fascinating article by Mary Tuma, published by the Austin Chronicle about the annual meeting of ALEC in Austin, the liberal city in the heart of red red Texas. ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council–is a hotbed of rightwing politics, funded by the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos, major corporations, and other malefactors of vast wealth. (If you want to learn more about ALEC, read Gordon Lafer’s compelling book The One-Percent Solution.)

The 15-foot-tall fat cat clutches his money bag in one paw and the working man’s throat in the other. (Photo by John Anderson)
“Hey hey, ho ho, corporate lobbyists have got to go!” chanted around 100 labor, immigrant, environmental, disability, and social justice advocates outside the JW Marriott Hotel Downtown on Wed., Aug. 14. “Hey, ALEC, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” they later continued. The protesters stood alongside a 15-foot, cigar­-chomping, inflatable cat wearing a pinstriped suit – with one paw he held a construction worker by the throat; with the other, he grasped a bag of cash. The “unwelcome reception,” organized by Progress Texas and joined by a coalition of advocacy groups, rallied against what was gathering inside the high-end hotel: the 46th annual American Legislative Exchange Council conference.

Better known as ALEC, the group markets itself as “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” Gaining public notoriety in the past decade, the group has been around since 1973. According to investigations into the shadowy organization, ALEC is a corporate-backed group with ties to the right-wing Koch Brothers network that drafts “model policy” for member legislators to use as their own at their statehouses.

While keeping members’ identities secret, ALEC claims “one-quarter of the country’s state legislators” participate in its efforts. The “corporate bill mill,” as described by watchdog groups, is behind controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and measures that limit workers’ rights and health care access. With Reaganomics icon Arthur Laffer as a celebrated ALEC scholar, the group supports corporate tax breaks, the privatization of public services (from education to prisons), and voter suppression policies.

Activists laid out the charges against ALEC at the Downtown protest. “Hijacking the legislative process to serve corporate interests and right-wing billionaires is not welcome in Texas,” said Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay. “ALEC has promoted far-right agendas on the environment, health care, disability rights, voting rights, immigration, and on other issues that we address every day in a quest to build a better Texas. They are a secretive, partisan shadow group. And this week, ALEC is in Austin working behind closed doors to hatch more bad bills.”

Montserrat Garibay (Photo by John Anderson)
Heiwa Salovitz with ADAPT of Texas criticized the group’s attacks on Medicare and Medicaid and its push for a rollback of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “We need to make sure ALEC knows they’re not welcome in Austin, and they’re not welcome in our Capitol,” he said. Jorge Lopez with the Workers Defense Project recounted his traumatic experience in a privately owned Texas detention center (major detention operators CoreCivic and GEO Group are longtime ALEC backers). Anne White Hat, leader of a campaign to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in south Louisiana, told the crowd she’s one of the first people to be charged under ALEC-model laws “criminalizing” environmental and anti-pipeline protests. “I’m standing here and fighting for my life – I’m facing 10 years in prison,” said White Hat.

Council Member Greg Casar noted the symbolism of ALEC’s meeting at the JW Marriott, where workers accused the developer of underpaying them in 2013, as a reflection of ALEC’s battle against the labor movement. He told the crowd, “ALEC is not a bunch of elected officials, ALEC is the corporate special interests that see the best way of making money as trampling on every worker’s rights, every civil right, and trampling on the planet. They are not elected officials, they are just the puppets of these corporations that pick and choose to extract their profit.”

Greg Casar (Photo by John Anderson)
In scorching 100-degree heat, the activists marched along Second Street and blocked shuttles transporting ALEC attendees in front of the JW Marriott garage. “Human need over corporate greed!” they repeated. Eventually, several police officers – who had been trailing the peaceful protest – cleared the way for the vehicles, but that didn’t stop activists from continuing their march along the street.

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