I have to confess to being duped along with thousands of well-meaning present and former state legislators around the country by ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council sent me a slick, bound book loaded with draft legislative ideas when I served in the New York State Assembly and I couldn't resist reading through it because it was thought-provoking and very appealing. As legislators it's impossible for us to be omniscient and having intelligent legislation already prepared for you is always welcomed.
When I received my first ALEC booklet, I thought they were just another independent legislative source and the "American Legislative Exchange Council" didn't sound very sinister. We were already familiar with the National Conference of State Legislatures that has been a positive source of information and ALEC seemed to be one and the same.
I eventually found out that ALEC is like the house guest that never leaves. At first you're glad to see them, but as time progresses you wonder what their motives are for sticking around. They initially provided legislators with some good legal concepts but then over time they became a Trojan Horse working their way into the law-making process with an agenda that isn't exactly pro-people.
One seemingly benign cause they were championing is voter photo ID laws. On the face of it, asking people for some type of state authorized ID isn't a bad idea if that person was seeking welfare or unemployment benefits. But to ask an 82-year-old woman for her driver's license at the polling place is clearly a ruse to keep her from casting her ballot.
In the 2011 and 2012 sessions lawmakers introduced 62 photo ID bills in 37 states and 10 states have passed photo ID laws since 2008. The legislators who propose these bills claim that they will stop voter fraud but no state that has such a law has been able to prove that there had been any fraud. Thankfully all of these misguided pieces of legislation are not yet law because of legal challenges.
Recently a Pennsylvania judge upheld the state's newly passed ID law and said it was proper, although admitting that no evidence of electoral fraud had been shown to the court. South Carolina officials are now in federal court defending their new voter I.D. law, which the Justice Department halted because it was discriminatory in nature.
No political party owns a legislative idea, but it's strange that all of the legislatures that passed the ID laws are Republican controlled. Voter ID laws on the face of it may be a good way to stop ballot fraud, but there has yet to be a conviction for voter tampering anywhere in the country.
The hotly contested primary contest in Congressman Charlie Rangel's New York district ended with the defeated challenger claiming numerous fraudulent acts. Three weeks later the so-called fraud charges evaporated and Rangel was victorious.
To know more about ALEC is to understand who and what they are. ALEC has approximately 2,000 legislative members who support it with a $100 dues payment. In return for their dues members get a booklet with suggested legislative ideas. ALEC does not survive on legislators' membership dues alone, as its main contributors are some of the country's biggest corporations. Over the years it has become increasingly right wing, pushing a more extreme agenda.
The organization recently became well-known in the media because of its contribution to "stand your ground" gun legislation around the country. ALEC became the target of a social media firestorm in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, and thankfully many of its corporate partners are now recognizing membership in the group is becoming a liability and walking away from the organization.
I encourage all legislators to learn from my mistake: The next time that ALEC booklet arrives in your office throw it in the recycling bin and save your $100 membership fee.
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