There’s no more excuse for MSM denialism on ALEC

01 Dec 2011 01:59 pm
Posted by: Donna


My dear friend Diane D’Angelo, who by the way is an outstanding correspondent on Arizona for Huffington Post, wrote on Facebook yesterday that a Capitol Times reporter asked her if she really thought ALEC wrote laws for GOP legislators in Arizona. I’m now looking for someone to suture my tongue together, quoth Diane about that. I understand the sentiment. Those of us who have been painstakingly explaining how the American Legislative Exchange Council wields tremendous power over state legislatures, with facts and cites to back us up, are rather tired of so-called “legitimate” journalists treating it as if it’s sort of a wacky conspiracy theory akin to 9-11 Truth or chemtrails. I understand why Cap Times might act that way – they rely heavily on ad revenue from the very lobbyists they cover in their newspaper. Same with the major newspapers and TV news teams vis a vis corporate ad revenue. But even Stephen Lemons of the New Times had to reassure his readers he’s “not a conspiracy-minded individual” in his otherwise credible coverage of the ALEC conference and planned protests in Scottsdale.

My theory is there are a couple of things going on here, aside from the aforementioned corporate interests. The first is plain old butthurt among local journos that out of staters (NPR and In These Times) scooped them on the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), ALEC, and Russell Pearce connection back in 2010. There was some brief, superficial coverage but a false choice narrative developed quickly among the Arizona chattering class that Russell Pearce couldn’t have gotten SB1070 straight from ALEC because he’s always been such an anti-immigrant demagogue. I also recall a Twitter exchange I had with Casey Newton, then the political reporter for the Republic, where he dismissed the NPR story and the private prison connection due to some nitpicks over a minor inconsistency or two (which didn’t detract from the main story at all). The second thing is that ALEC is an organization that keeps aspects of its operations, such as meetings and legislator member lists, secret. Now, lots of very powerful organizations do key parts of their operations in secret (CIA, military, etc.) and no one doubts that. But concocting elaborate imaginary secret networks is also the stock in trade of conspiracy loons. So kneejerk defenses tend to go up when people see “secret”. It triggers the “wacky conspiracy” switch in their brains, especially if it’s something unfamiliar, like ALEC is to most people. But reporters should really try to deactivate that switch and activate the “powerful and scary” one where ALEC is concerned.

This may seem like a re-hash, and it is, but I’m going for a conceptual frame here. Call it the conspiracy theory-free case for why ALEC should be taken more seriously by mainstream reporters:


ALEC was formed in 1973 by a small group of right wing politicians and operatives including a crafty neo-con nutbag named Paul Weyrich. Weyrich was a fundamentalist Christian who wanted to reshape America as a Dominionist theocracy but he also liked sweet, sweet corporate money and power. So he and his pals formed the American Legislative Exchange Council to be a clearinghouse of conservative and business-friendly economic policies and to wield influence over state legislatures. They figured, rightly, that it would be easier to shove anti-environment, anti-worker, anti-regulation laws on Americans via the states rather than Congress, which people tend to pay more attention to. More people can name their member of Congress than can name their state reps so state reps can do a lot of damage, largely under the radar. Weyrich was also super hostile to the peons voting.

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

What a guy. But, as you can see, the history behind the conservative-corporate nexis that is ALEC is documented and easily verified.

Eyewitness Testimony

I’m sure State Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) would be more than willing to share his experience with reporters and others still having trouble grasping that ALEC is a real, and formidable thing. Pocan, a staunch liberal, somehow managed to finagle an ALEC membership and has attended some of their national conferences. In the linked Progressive piece Pocan recounts vividly the atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia that pervades ALEC.

The level of paranoia at the convention by the ALEC staff was intense. They had added security to keep outsiders away. Even people who tried to register for the convention from outside groups like the Center for Media and Democracy were kicked out and the person’s picture was known by all the staff.

When two people from the Center for American Progress were kicked out, they even had altercations with them. Outside of one of the secret evening events, they were physically accosted and one person left bleeding by the end.

No video cameras were allowed. They nervously paced the hallways at all levels looking for suspicious characters. When you went to one of the Task Force meetings where they actually approve the corporate model legislation, only task force members can even get a copy of what is presented. And since members are selected by their state delegation leaders, no one like me would ever get on a task force.

Pocan isn’t able to get into the super-duper secret inner sanctum task force meetings but I think it should be clear from what he has witnessed that ALEC is a shady and profoundly undemocratic outfit.

I understand why they have such intense secrecy. They should. They are nothing more than a front for passing on corporate and special interest wish lists to conservative legislators, really a matchmaking service as I have described before. Call it corporate I guess. But it is clear what goes on.

So Rep. Pocan is talking a lot about the secrecy here but it’s his firsthand account and you can ask him directly about it if you want.

Model legislation, and lots of it.

Really guys, the grunt work has been done for you, research-wise. Whistle-blowers from inside ALEC provided the Center for Media and Democracy with reams of model legislation secretly voted on by ALEC legislator and corporate members. Voted on in secret with no public input. CMD created a website called ALEC Exposed where they have helpfully categorized and analyzed the model bills and resolutions. A veritable treasure trove straight from the source. There are also good secondary source reports like this one from People for the American Way and Common Cause doing a side-by-side comparison of ALEC model bills and actual bills introduced by the Arizona Legislature, including the infamous SB1070. Why not try reading all this stuff and seeing how factual and well-sourced it is and why it matters greatly to the lives and well-being of Arizonans? Why not develop a full understanding of what ALEC is and what it does before playing that dismissive and condescending he said/she said false equivalence game some of you do so well? I know you have deadlines but, sheesh, they put it on easy-to-read charts for you! You guys have demonstrated repeatedly how every time the Goldwater Institute farts up a “research” paper it ends up being an 8 part series about pension abuse (or whatever the corporate issue du jour is) on the front page and the topic of breathless “investigative” coverage on the evening news. So I know you can do it. If you choose not to do legit coverage on ALEC for whatever reason (maybe your job security) just please spare us the snotty conspiracy insinuations, okay? ALEC isn’t a conspiracy. It’s a travesty.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 1, 2011 4:28 pm

    Weyrich also helped found the Council for National Policy, an even more secrective right-wing group. Some guy named Jon Kyl has been on it for years.

  2. Comment by Bill on December 1, 2011 4:54 pm

    This is AWESOME, Donna. It should be required reading for everyone who makes a living as an Arizona journalist. Thank you!

  3. Comment by Michael Bryan on December 1, 2011 6:18 pm

    How about a little honesty as to who is actually being represented when these model bills are introduced? Instead of the name of the dupe who drops the bill, we should demand that ALEC be listed as the primary sponsor…

  4. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 2, 2011 8:28 am

    Ah still say you’re not being paranoid if they really are out to get you.

    Check out Martin Schutlz.

    Now check out this Martin Schutlz.

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