Opinion » Bill Cope

ALEC, We See You

Part one


In February, I received a nice letter from a nice man greatly concerned about the influence ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) has over state legislatures across the land, including Idaho's. This fellow--let's call him Mr. Bee for the sake of his privacy--had been collecting material about ALEC--most notably from The Nation magazine and the website ALEC Exposed--and offered to pass it on to me in the hopes I, little Bill of the little Boise Weekly, could help blow the whistle on what ALEC has been up to.

I feel bad I didn't respond to Mr. Bee quickly and directly, for he seems to be exactly the sort of citizen I would like to see more of. He is both dutifully aware and rightfully alarmed--aware of the political machinations of the ungodly rich, the corporate cabals and the organ-grinder monkeys they install in public office, and alarmed that those machinations are shredding our democratic values like so much parmesan to be sprinkled over their incipient oligarchy.

At the least, I should have let Mr. Bee know I share his alarm. But the truth is, I can't promise people I will write about what they suggest I write about. As you can imagine, it happens quite often, people presenting me with ideas on how I should do a column on such-'n'-such or this-'n'-that. And it's not because I don't think these people are right in that such-'n'-such and this-'n'-that need more coverage. Especially over a story as big as ALEC and the inordinate power it has to twist the law to its purposes, I often find myself bewailing the lack of investigation and exposure. And even when it does occur--say, in The Nation or some other such tenacious source--the stories are more often than not ignored by the dominant news organizations.

Compounding the problem is the abysmal ignorance so many Americans seem to prefer when it comes to the most complex and immense issues. Seriously, how many of your neighbors follow William and Kate's every move, as compared to those who understand how ALEC is the engine that drives such noxious machines as the Stand Your Ground laws and voter suppression? It is a shared failing, with plenty of blame to split between the general media and the general public, that more citizens know what a Kardashian is than a Koch.

So had I responded to Mr. Bee, I would have felt the need to apologize. I'm sorry, friend, but I don't know where to start. I'm just an old-time country columnist, you see, and ALEC is out of my league. Besides, what can little people like you and me do against such a behemoth? And would anyone else pay attention anyway?

However, a lot has changed since February. Consciousness of the behemoth has spread beyond The Nation's meager readership and is seeping into both the general media and the general public. A broad coalition of little people from various little platforms have aligned with one another to unmask this well fed and deeply rooted beast, and there are indications their efforts are succeeding. The outrage over how ALEC has been manipulating the nation is growing, and I want to add my little voice to that surge.

A lot of what I will be writing is probably already known to many of the people reading it, but that can't be helped. Those people who don't know about ALEC are precisely the ones who need to know about ALEC, so to those who might get cranky hearing old news over again, I say, well hey, brother, maybe if you'd told more people about this yourself, then I wouldn't have to.

ALEC has been around much longer than most people have been aware of it. It was cooked up in the mid-1970s with the surface intention of providing market-friendly state legislators with pre-approved, market-friendly legislation. Important to this operation was that the legislation had to look like it was home-grown. The last thing ALEC wanted was for it to become widely known that a policy introduced in ... say, Idaho ... is essentially the same as a policy introduced in Wisconsin or Florida, and that politicians getting paid for their leadership qualities were actually being led about like pet goats by a faceless consortium of special interests.

Take Idaho, for instance: It would make the insipid and routine Republican boast that "we do things the Idaho way," even more meaningless than it already is, wouldn't it? ... were it to be learned that the Idaho way is also the Arizona way, the Iowa way, and the same, cookie-cutter way in dozens of other states.

The influence of ALEC over Idaho Republicans might also explain why our GOP lawmakers have always insisted on doing their legislative business behind closed doors. We've been told they secrete their caucuses because they don't want the opposition to know what they were planning, right? But now, might we surmise that those closed caucuses have been, and continue to be, where they get their marching orders from a powerful coalition of big oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, private prison companies, gun manufacturers and any other financial concerns with a vested interest in controlling your driving habits, dietary practices, health decisions, banking options, environmental quality, pay scale, consumer interests and over-all lifestyle choices?

And that powerful coalition, my friends, is ALEC--probably the single most greed-driven, purely self-serving monstrosity to have ever corrupted our democracy.

: Next week: Wayne Hoffman (Idaho Freedom Foundation) admits to suckling at ALEC's teat.