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"Up with Chris Hayes," Saturday, March 24, 2012
Again, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky for the "Up with Chris Hayes" show. While other Sunday morning bobbleheads contented themselves to debate whether President Obama was politicizing the Trayvon Martin death by speaking on it, Hayes opted to talk about something no other news outlet thus far has been brave enough to raise: the role ALEC played in pushing the Castle Doctrine at the state level, which in turn became the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida.
- That Florida law became the template for “model” legislation endorsed and promoted nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a non-profit entity funded by major corporations and interest groups including Koch Industries and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The bill expanded the long-standing right of self-defense by extending criminal and civil immunity to shooters who feel threatened by another, creating a statutory “right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force. . .”
- ALEC has an annual budget of approximately $7 million and claims that hundreds of its model bills become law each year. It hides its inner workings, including the fact that its model bills often are drafted and always are pre-approved by corporations and lobbyists. ALEC calls itself the nation’s largest group of state legislators, but 98% of its funding comes from corporations and sources other than dues from elected officials.
- In August 2005, in Grapevine, Tex., NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer asked legislators and lobbyists at a closed-door meeting of ALEC’s "Criminal Justice Task Force" to adopt the Florida "Castle Doctrine" bill as an ALEC model bill. The NRA said her pitch "was well received," and the bill was approved "unanimously."
- At that time, ALEC’s public-private Criminal Justice Task Force was co-chaired by Wal-Mart -- the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition. ALEC’s staffer for the task force was Chris Oswald a former “State Liaison” for the NRA.
- Corporate representatives and state legislators on ALEC Task Forces have equal votes on proposed model legislation, so the Florida law was ratified by Wal-Mart and its 2005 public sector co-chair, Texas Rep. Ray Allen, along with other state legislators and corporate lobbyists. It was endorsed by a representative of the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, according to minutes of the meeting issued by ALEC.
- In September 2005, that bill was adopted by ALEC's National Board of Directors, which has a procedure to allow model bills to be approved if there is no objection. The public sector portion of the board was chaired by Georgia state Rep. Earl Ehrhart; the corporate board included Koch Industries, Altria (parent of Philip Morris), Coors, Bell South, and Verizon. (ALEC says its corporate board does not vote. Corporations and elected officials have an equal vote in the task forces, where model bills are adopted, however.)
- At the next ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force meeting, in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, in 2006, the NRA’s representative to ALEC, Tara Mica, reported on the “continued success” in securing passage of ALEC’s “Castle Doctrine” bill in other states.
- In 2007, an ALEC "Legislative Report Card" boasted that the ALEC/NRA Castle Doctrine bill had been introduced or passed in numerous states. ALEC also highlighted ALEC legislators who had introduced versions of the model bill, including Texas state Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Rep. Joe Driver.
- To date, more than two dozen states have adopted Castle Doctrine bills with ALEC/NRA DNA. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an ALEC alum, signed into law an NRA-backed bill with some provisions similar to the ALEC bill in 2011. Similar bills are pending in other states.
- The Florida bill that became the ALEC model was signed on April 26, 2005 by Gov. Jeb Bush, with the NRA’s lobbyist, Marion Hammer, standing alongside.
- NRA President Wayne LaPierre said NRA lobbyist and former president Hammer "conceived" of the Florida bill and lobbied it into law. She ridiculed opponents of the bill, calling them hysterical, and helped the bill’s co-sponsors, Florida state Sen. Durell Peaden (R-Crestview) and Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), get it passed.
It's insidious and fundamentally undemocratic. For as secretive as ALEC is, they must rely on Republican politicians to introduce the legislation, and they're often too lazy or too stupid to change the wording. One didn't even bother to take the ALEC mission statement off the paper. Paul Krugman rips the veil of secrecy off ALEC in his latest column:
Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.
What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism. And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.
But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.
And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.
Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?
The only way to expose ALEC is to shine a light on its agenda. Kudos to Hayes and Krugman for doing so.