By Sushila Rao
The distressing tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death has also unwittingly drawn attention to the role played by an influential but hitherto low-profile organization in getting Stand Your Ground Laws enacted nation-wide. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a business-funded group which describes itself as pursuing a nonpartisan agenda, but has been attacked by critics as a standard “movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects,” including the Kochs and Exxon Mobil.
ALEC was originally founded by Paul Weyrich—of “Moral Majority” fame—and basically helps develop bills for state lawmakers. Progressives have cautioned, however, that ALEC is more than just your run-of-the-mill pro-business lobbying group. ALEC recruits members of state legislatures to pay a $50 annual membership fee, and solicits millions of dollars from corporations to finance a series of conferences where state lawmakers confabulate with big business to write model legislation that can be seamlessly transplanted at the state level across the country. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports that over 98% of its revenue comes from sources other than legislative dues, primarily from corporations and corporate foundations.
By prepackaging and delivering standardized legislation endorsed by suitably pliant lawmakers—who often have no independent research staff of their own—ALEC’s efficient and efficacious modus operandi permits corporate America to literally write its own laws. CMD also points out that corporations and politicians actually vote on these bills behind closed doors as equals in these ALEC conferences.
Commentators have characterized this process as “a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers.” The anti-union bills in Wisconsin were written by ALEC, as also the anti-immigrant SB1070 passed in Arizona.
Furthermore, as Paul Krugman describes in the New York Times, ALEC’s legislative strategies are not necessarily directed at garnering immediate gratification for its corporate sponsors. They are more geared towards shaping the long-term political and legal framework in a manner conducive to sustaining incrementally corporation-friendly legislation.
Opponents claim that the “Stand Your Ground” law was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2006, a few months after a very similar piece of model legislation was crafted by ALEC. The NRA has close ties to ALEC and has long been one of its monetary contributors.
ALEC, however, denies that it can be pinpointed as the origin of the law, though it does use the Florida law as a model for other states. It has also publicly disputed the applicability of Stand Your Ground laws to the Trayvon case, in which George Zimmerman followed Trayvon after being told by a 911 dispatcher that there was no need to do so.