ALEC Wants Your Legislator's Loyalty -- And You Get to Foot the Bill

Last December, on the same day the Illinois General Assembly voted to cut the hard-earned pensions of middle-class workers, the upper chamber of the legislature voted to give tax breaks to three major corporations -- Archer Daniels Midland, Office Depot, and Univar.

On one hand, the legislature argued that the state was in a dire financial situation and needed to retain every penny of revenue to fund state activities. And so, they made the unconstitutional decision to balance the budget on the backs of middle-class workers by robbing them of their life savings. On the other hand, within the same hour, the state Senate voted to allow three extremely successful corporations to shirk their financial responsibilities to the State, giving them millions of dollars in tax breaks.

It doesn't make any sense. It seems that when politicians ask us to "share sacrifice," wealthy corporations are exempt.

Only in Illinois? Perhaps not. The land of Lincoln is not alone in feeling the pinch from these contradictions and brazen hypocrisy. Across the nation, states are passing laws that ensure prosperity for the already wealthy and austerity for working people. This isn't a conspiracy theory; this is a plan that is being hatched by a network of organizations, corporations, and politicians known as the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC).

ALEC operates much like a dating service between corporations that don't want to pay taxes and the politicians who have the power to make that happen. Think of it as "eHarmony from Hell." One major project of ALEC was the creation of the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of so-called think tanks that push far-right-wing policies that attack workers and reward big business.

The Guardian newspaper uncovered an internal ALEC document that proposed a "loyalty oath" that ALEC state chairs must take that states: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first."

That's right. They aren't supposed to put the interests of the taxpayers who elected them first. ALEC members must put the interests of their sponsoring corporations before anything else.

This is not how democracy must work.

For decades, ALEC and its tentacles have wreaked havoc nationwide with impunity. In recent years, however, people have brought to light information about ALEC's almost secret activities and organized a resistance to their work. This past August, massive protests were organized around ALEC's 40th birthday in the state where it was founded -- here in my home state of Illinois. Many members of my union -- the Illinois Federation of Teachers -- joined this march in Chicago and called for an end to corporate greed.

Protesters rally outside ALEC's 40th Anniversary in Chicago (Photo by Kenzo Shibata).

ALEC's toxic policies are getting more attention, leading to a mass exodus of elected officials who see any association with the group as damaging.

[B]y ALEC's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

It appears that ALEC has its back against the wall, but if these corporate behemoths are anything, they are resilient and well-financed. We must keep the pressure on ALEC, because they will not go away quietly.

Talk to your family, your friends, your neighbors. People need to know that there is a corporatist agenda behind these misplaced priorities. Spread the word over social media. Stop buying products made by ALEC corporations. We have the power to stop ALEC, but we have to do it together and with intention.