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ALEC's 40th Birthday Draws Protests

Protesters on Thursday outside ALEC meeting in downtown Chicago   Photo courtesy of: Chicago Federation of Labor
Protesters on Thursday outside ALEC meeting in downtown Chicago Photo courtesy of: Chicago Federation of Labor
August 7, 2013

CHICAGO - A nonprofit group of which some voters may never have heard holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago this week. Watchdog, labor, religious, and civil rights groups are protesting outside, so that more people learn about the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC says its members discuss "limited government and free-market legislation." However, Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, said his group's investigation has identified hundreds of templates for legislation that ALEC gives to state lawmakers to take back to their state capitols. He said the laws make it easier for corporations to make money, pollute and keep wages low.

"We call it a 'corporate bill mill.' They bring corporations together with state legislators and push model legislation that benefits those same corporate interests," Fischer said, "those special interests that are bankrolling ALEC."

ALEC has been connected with the "stand your ground" laws backed by the National Rifle Association, as well as anti-union laws that passed in the Midwest. In Fischer's view, when big money wines and dines state lawmakers and hands them the word-for-word legislation to introduce, citizens and grassroots organizations can't compete.

Some of the ALEC laws have misleading titles, Fischer said. For instance, the "Disclosure of Hydraulic Fluid Composition Act" sounds as though it would help people understand what chemicals might be in fracking fluid that could seep into groundwater. Fischer said that isn't the case.

"It was actually drafted by Exxon-Mobil, brought to ALEC and, even though it has a title of a disclosure bill, the real purpose is to prevent disclosure," Fischer said. "It includes a huge loophole for 'trade secrets.' "

Fischer's group discovered 139 ALEC bills that promote private, for-profit education, and he said legislation being talked about for Illinois involves an online school provider called K-12 Inc. That company, he said, is expected to be at the meeting, creating legislation with state lawmakers.

"K-12 Inc. is an ALEC member," Fischer said. "It's a member of the ALEC Education Task Force, and we know - at this meeting in Chicago - the Illinois Policy Institute will be presenting on digital learning and digital education."

A New York Times article said K-12 Inc.'s students often underperform, teachers are paid low wages to manage more than 200 students and its chief executive received more than $5 million in compensation in 2011.

ALEC says it is "transforming education" - and citizens' groups say they'll be watching.

More information is online at alecexposed.org and afsc.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL