By John Nichols / The Nation
Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.
ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force has been 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. The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground”laws that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
The decision to disband the task force appears to get ALEC out of the business of promoting Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. That’s a dramatic turn of events, with significant implications for state-based struggles over voting rights an elections, as well as criminal justice policy. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.
Indeed, the disbanding of the “Public Safety and Elections” task force looks in every sense to be a desperate attempt to slow an exodus of high-profile corporations from the group’s membership roll.
Anger over initial failure of Florida police and prosecutors to address Martin’s shooting led to an intense focus on the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and on the role of ALEC and the National Rifle Association in passing similar laws in states across the country.
That expanded interest in ALEC, a conservative “bill mill” that has been under scrutiny since the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation launched the “ALEC Exposed” project last summer.
Pressure by CMD, civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the Urban League and ColorOfChange and good government organizations such as Common Cause and People for the American Way—which have expressed concern with ALEC’s meddling in public safety and democracy debates at the state level—has in recent weeks led to decisions by Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and other corporations to drop their affiliations with ALEC.
In many cases, the corporations that have quit ALEC have suggested that—while they were comfortable working with the right-wing group in order to advocate on behalf of tax and regulatory policies that are favorable to their business interests—they are ill at ease being drawn into debates about issues such as voting rights and gun control.
ALEC’s decision to disband the Public Safety and Elections task force—which worked on those issues—cannot be seen as anything other than a response to the pressure the group has felt as high-profile corporate members have been quitting it on an almost daily basis.
While the group is not acknowledging as much, its statement on the disbanding of the task force speaks volumes.
“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus,” announced Indiana State Representative David Frizzell, ALEC’s national chairman. “We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.”
While this is a dramatic development in the struggle to expose and challenge ALEC’s one-size-fits all assault on local and state democracy, it should be remembered that ALEC remains a prime proponent—via task forces working in other areas—of state-based assaults on labor rights, environmental protections and public education.
“Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” explains Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.”
ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson promised that the group’s advocacy would continue.
“ALEC has spent years promoting voter suppression laws, Kill at Will bills, and other policies that hurt Black and other marginalized communities. They have have done this with the support of some of America’s biggest corporations, including AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and State Farm,” said Robinson. “ALEC’s latest statement is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from its agenda, which has done serious damage to our communities. To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers. It’s clear that major corporations were in bed with an institution that has worked against basic American values such as the right to vote. Now that these companies are aware of what they’ve supported, what will they do about it? If ALEC’s corporate supporters will not hold the institution accountable for the damage it has caused nationwide, then the ColorOfChange community will hold them accountable.”
From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/04/17-9