Center for Media and Democracy drops ALEC document bomb
Post by Jesse Russell on 7/13/2011 1:50pm
On March 15, 30 days after the first mass rally occurred at the Wisconsin State Capitol building, University of Wisconsin Professor William Cronon published an article on his new blog titled, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here).” The comprehensive piece looked at the recent history of conservative legislation and the fact that much of it, state-by-state, all seemed to be similar. That led him to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): “Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft 'model bills' that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)”
This wasn’t Madison’s first introduction to ALEC. In 2004 I wrote for a short-lived bi-weekly publication called The Wisconsinite where Katya Szabados wrote an extensive cover story on the organization (unfortunately, the website for the paper has long been abandoned, but the first part of the story can still be read at FightingBob.com). Szabados made many of the same discoveries as Cronon, with the primary difference being the legislation being pushed in 2004 was “school choice” in Milwaukee.
Cronon published his piece while all eyes were on Wisconsin and the New York Times asked him to write an editorial. It’s possible the editorial would have simply made the rounds through various listservs and progressive blogs. Within a day or two any attention would have died down, but Cronon found a very unlikely ally in the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s Stephen Thompson. After his initial entry was posted and before the editorial appeared in the Times Thompson made a Freedom of Information Act request for all of Cronon’s emails that referenced:
”Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.”
Thanks to this request and the debate surrounding the privacy rights of public university faculty, the ALEC story gained additional traction and went first national and finally international.
Thompson’s blunder unintentionally resulted in people asking, “If the Wisconsin GOP is so paranoid that they’ve issued an FOIA request for this information does that mean there something to the ALEC allegations?”
Thanks to The Wisconsinite I’ve known about ALEC since 2004, but I was suddenly seeing ALEC signs at the rallies carried by individuals who had previously been unlikely to wade into the political muck. It had a similar impact to the infamous Walker/Koch call.
The investigations into ALEC have not stopped. Today, Madison’s very own Center for Media and Democracy launched ALEC Exposed, a project that serves as a major document drop of more than 800 “model” bills written by ALEC that previously hadn’t been available to the general public.
CMD writes: “We have analyzed and marked up the bills and resolutions to help readers understand what the bills do, beyond the PR in the names of bills. We share them to help the public identify the legislation in their state and the wide extent of the agenda to rewrite our rights by the corporations that bankroll ALEC.”
While CMD has begun the process of connecting the dots they’re asking for help from the public. This link explains how to utilize the ALEC Exposed wiki.
CMD Executive Director Lisa Graves has published a letter explaining why the organization decided to launch ALEC Watch.
Jesse was born and raised in Connecticut, began blogging in 1997, and moved to Madison in 2003. In 2005, he co-founded dane101 along with Kristian Knutson and Shane Wealti. In addition to helping nearly a dozen contributors run this website he's helped launch various events in the city including What's Your Damage?!, the MadPubQuiz of Awesomeness, the Fire Ball Masquerade, Dane101's Freakin' Halloweekend, and more.