Who Is ALEC and Why Is It So Powerful?
From voter-ID bills to immigration law, this little-known organization steers American politics.
Obstacles aside, the laws have been advanced despite the near absence of voter fraud. "In-person voter fraud is not a problem," Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington legislative office, told The Root. Despite the hype around the issue, even a five-year probe by President George W. Bush's Justice Department failed to prosecute a single case. "The proponents of this law have never been able to demonstrate that people are coming in and saying that they're someone else," said Murphy.
Instead of defending voter-ID laws, Murphy said, Americans ought to raise questions about the origins of those laws. "The right to vote is one of the most widely constitutionally protected rights that we have as citizens; it's addressed by several constitutional amendments," she said. "We should see these for the barriers that they are."
Shedding New Light
To push back against voter-ID laws, ColorOfChange.org recently mounted a campaign around ALEC -- although the activist organization is not targeting the association directly. "ALEC is a vehicle that's working to advance their view of the world, which is a view that we strongly disagree with -- but it's a view that they have a right to push," said Robinson. "Our campaign is not a campaign against ALEC. It's against corporations who fund ALEC in the dark and come for black people's money in the light."
This year ColorOfChange.org has corresponded with a number of ALEC's name-brand corporate members, sending letters educating them on the voter-ID law that they're financially supporting. If the brands don't withdraw their support during 2012, ColorOfChange.org plans to widely expose their association with ALEC.
"When we start exposing corporations, they won't be able to say that this was a rogue senior executive giving money to ALEC and that it doesn't represent their values," said Robinson. "They won't be able to say that they didn't really know what ALEC was doing."
Yet in terms of advancing legislation, Murphy argues that progressive activists could take a page from the ALEC handbook. "I think there are components of ALEC that are worth replicating from a different ideological standpoint," said Murphy, adding that the organization has a First Amendment right to promote proposals that it wants enacted. "There's nothing illegal about pushing out model legislation, and ALEC has done it very effectively and been very well-funded. But progressive forces need to have a counteroffensive."
Murphy laments that Democrats and progressives didn't take notice of ALEC sooner, to raise more awareness of its enormous influence in state-by-state lawmaking. De Lorenzi, however, is heartened by the increasing attention given to the organization. "The more light that's shed on ALEC," he said, "hopefully the more it will lead people to ask questions of their state legislators about where certain legislation comes from and who will benefit from it."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.