In what at first glance looks like a major concession, ALEC, the embattled right-wing legislation factory for state and local government, announced they would refocus their efforts solely on economic issues. The claim they’ll eliminate a task force they had devoted to social and cultural issues, like guns and voter ID laws and abortion. Here’s the statement from Indiana State Representative and current ALEC National Chairman David Frizzell:
Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades. Fostering the exchange of pro-growth, solutions-oriented ideas is precisely why ALEC exists.
To that end, our legislative board last week unanimously agreed to further our work on policies that will help spur innovation and competitiveness across the country.
We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.
We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned.
This is a no-brainer for ALEC, which has been hemorrhaging support from its corporate underwriters. The corporations, particularly those with consumer-oriented businesses, had been fleeing, because they didn’t want to be tarred by ALEC-modeled legislation like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law or voter ID legislation that makes it more difficult for poor people to vote. Reorienting back to the economic sphere won’t entirely solve the problem, but it keeps their corporate underwriters from being forced to defend legislation far afield of their core business. They can at least pretend now that they merely support ALEC as part of a pro-growth strategy to create jobs.
Other national groups can pick up the slack on modeling social legislation. Concerned Women for America and the Susan B. Anthony List have tried their hand at model anti-abortion legislation. Other groups with a specific issue focus, like immigration or gun rights or voter fraud, can do the same. This preserves the pay-for-play access factory that is ALEC, where conservative state legislators sign up for membership to connect with corporations that can fund their campaigns, as long as they carry their bills into their state Houses.
State-based progressive groups have become more aggressive at exposing ALEC, however, as an organization advancing “bills written by corporations for corporations.” Isolating their focus might help ALEC deflect attacks on their social agenda, but it makes it more of a corporate front group, and vulnerable to that kind of criticism.
As I’ve noted, the best way to counter the influence of ALEC is to build progressive power and network model legislation from the left. I discussed over the weekend the difficulties progressives have had with that approach.