ALEC Comes to Town
It should come as no surprise that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive right-wing lobbying group responsible for passing radical legislation in state legislatures all over the country, chose Scottsdale’s Westin Kierland Resort as the site of its winter summit the first week of December. Arizona is one of ALEC’s favorite states, as 26 of the 48 current Republican members of the Arizona legislature are ALEC members and ALEC legislation has radically shaped Arizona politics for the past several decades.
ALEC has been around since 1973, holding regular summits and conferences in which it connects its many corporate members (who pay thousands of dollars a year to join) with members from state legislatures around the country (who pay a nominal membership fee in exchange for access to the luxe conferences, held a fancy hotels and catered with top-notch food). This has allowed its corporate patrons to put “model legislation” in the hands of these legislators which greatly benefit themselves.
ALEC model legislation has been responsible for reshaping state-level policies to benefit the wealthy and corporations in areas such as criminal justice (where it has pushed private prisons), gun rights (where it pushed Stand Your Ground Laws to sell more guns) and the environment (where it has blocked environmental regulations). Arizona legislators have been particularly open to ALEC model bills over the years and nowhere has this had a more profound impact than in education.
Arizona’s controversial ESA voucher program has been pushed by ALEC and aligned conservative interests, including current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who spoke at the Scottsdale summit. An attempt to radically expand the voucher program, which would have drained hundreds of millions of dollars from public education, was the center of last year’s Proposition 305 controversy, in which Arizona voters overwhelmingly voted against expanding the program. The history of the ESA voucher program in Arizona, including ALEC’s involvement, was the subject of WHRPG’s first white paper, published in April of this year.
While ALEC has been able to operate mostly in secret for decades, their activities have been the subject of increasing scrutiny over the past few years, from Jane Mayer’s investigative book Dark Money to Ava Duvernay’s popular documentary 13th. That is why dozens of activists showed up outside the Westin Kierland last week to protest ALEC’s presence. As the people of Arizona have become more aware of how ALEC operates, they are speaking up in opposition to this group and the influence it has over our politics. This has been seen not only in the fight against school vouchers but also in the Outlaw Dirty Money campaign which would require groups like ALEC to disclose their political spending with more transparency. And to coincide with the Scottsdale summit, two local civil rights groups, Puente and Mijente, took things a step further by filing a lawsuit arguing that any ALEC meeting in which a quorum of state legislators from a particular committee are present should be open to the public under Arizona’s public meetings law.
Here at White Hat Research & Policy Group, we are taking an approach to public policy that is the opposite of ALEC’s. Instead of telling Arizona’s state-level lawmakers what bills to enact to please their massive corporate donors, we are working with the community here in Arizona to develop solutions that are appropriate for Arizona. We no longer want Arizona to be a guinea pig for radical experiments like the ESA voucher program, but want to develop programs that make sense for Arizona, developed by Arizonans and people with the state’s best long-term interests in mind.