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How Are ALEC Laws Undermining Our Democracy?

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How is model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) undermining democracy? ALEC, which bears a striking resemblance to the evil law firm in the film The Devil's Advocate, is a "bill churning mill" which uses corporate money to draft model legislation that advances the agenda of the far right and encourages crony capitalism.

One pictures a cadre of freshly scrubbed conservative attorneys working like medieval monks to pen legislation that undermines worker's rights, privatizes governmental services, and eases the transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the top few percent. In fact, "John Nichols, who covers DC for the Nation magazine, writes that corporate leaders founded ALEC because they were "afraid of and threatened by civic democracy.""

ALEC is funded by the usual suspects: the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, and the NRA to name a few. "The group boasts that twenty percent or so of the nearly 1,000 bills it introduces each year become law." Over 2,000 state legislators are said to belong to ALEC, of which most are Republican.

In addition to the Florida bill that ALEC and the NRA call the "Castle Doctrine Act," (also known as the "Stand Your Ground" law which will likely be used as a defense in the Trayvon Martin killing), ALEC model bills have served as the template for "voter ID" laws that swept the country in 2011, for the "voucher" programs that privatize public education, for anti-environmental bills, anti-immigrant legislation, and for the wave of anti-worker legislation pushed over the past year in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Indiana, and most recently, in Arizona.

In Florida, justifiable homicides nearly tripled after the "Stand Your Ground" law was passed. In Texas and Georgia, they nearly doubled. One needs only a "reasonable fear" of harm to use deadly force under the law. The law prohibits the killer from being sued civilly, as well. Additionally, ALEC has drafted a number of bills as state models that expand the right to the concealed carry of firearms and allow guns on college campuses.

ALEC was founded by conservative Paul Weyrich who also founded the Heritage Foundation as a counterpoint to liberal think tanks. One of the first to envision fusing the conservative movement with evangelicals, he and the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority as well. In fact, Weyrich coined the phrase the "moral majority". No believer in majority rule, he said: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." His statement was a harbinger to ALEC's later very dogged voter suppression activities. "Recently Voter ID legislation based on ALEC's template was introduced in states across the country and passed in at least fourteen states," under the guise of preventing election fraud.

ALEC's model legislation has been instrumental in the explosive growth of the prison population. It helped pioneer "three strikes" laws, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and "truth in sentencing" laws, which serve to abolish or curb parole so converts are made to serve the entire length of their sentence. "Because of truth-in-sentencing and other tough sentencing measures, state prison populations grew by half a million inmates in the 1990s even while crime rates fell dramatically." In fact, one of ALEC's benefactors, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), made an offer to cash- strapped states to buy up their prison populations at a cost savings as long as the state kept their prisons 90 percent filled to capacity.

Anti-democratic legislation written by ALEC is pushed onto conservative members of state legislatures who propose them for passage verbatim, sort of reminding one of a junkie who can't quite kick the habit. The "Stand Your Ground law," now even questioned by many conservatives, is indirectly responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin. Remember that Trayvon lay on a cold slab in the medical examiner's office for three days unidentified as a John Doe. And it could have been anyone of us! We have ALEC to thank!

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