Today on my return trip from the Denver airport, I heard a long news segment on NPR regarding ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Very brief synopsis: ALEC is a pro-business “club” made up of state legislators and corporate representatives, and they draft “model legislation” that advances corporate interests. Legislators — few of whom are experts on any of the subjects that ALEC is “passionate” about — generally nod and say, “Sounds good” and then put the model laws into the state process.
I wish I’d been able to interview the president of ALEC, state representative Noble Ellington of Louisiana, during the second half of the show. My one question to him: How do you cope when the corporate representatives lie to you?
Because corporations do lie to advance their interests. The legislators do not have the expertise to confront them in most cases. So it seems clear to me that a conscionable legislator would need to have independent sources of information to fact-check their corporate buddies. Just to keep them honest.
Consider the classic case of the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. In a back-room deal, the tobacco lobby colluded with the AMA back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when doctors were terrified that “socialized medicine” was going to become law. The tobacco companies agreed to put their efforts behind killing any sort of socialized medicine, and in return, they wanted the AMA to back off on lung cancer studies. In the meantime, the tobacco companies hired “professional doubt sellers” to attack both research and researchers who attempted to link smoking to lung cancer.
It’s a very common corporate ploy, and it’s very effective. They have the deep pockets to make it work.
So here’s my example. One of the specific agendas of ALEC is the privatization of prison facilities. Let’s assume that I were to come up with a way to reduce crime — say by fifty percent. Let’s say the method was backed by solid research, that it had worked as expected in pilot programs, and really, really, really looked like it could reduce crime throughout the country by a full half. Surely this would be a wonderful thing?
How would ALEC respond to this?
It seems pretty clear that its vested corporate interests in prison-building would attempt a tobacco-smear campaign again the program, the research, and against me, personally. Its model legislation would continue to press to turn the prison industry into a privatized growth market.
Is this sane behavior for a civilization? Of course not.
So how much of the “model legislation” pressed by ALEC is good for corporations and harmful to American society? How many of the legislators who are members would even entertain the possibility that corporate interests are not always aligned with American interests? How many of them have the information or the resources to challenge the egregiously self-serving corporate agenda of this organization? How many of them would even want to?
After all, the corporate portion of the organization has ready-made prototype legislation for them, worked out by corps of corporate lawyers paid the Big Bucks to make it well-worded and legally defensible. They have marketeers who have developed approaches for “selling” the legislation to different groups — to the public, to other sympathetic legislators — as well as to neutralize the opposition. The corporations themselves have money to back candidates who go along with the program, and money to withhold from any who buck the program, and since the Citizens United defeat in the Supreme Court, there is no longer any limit or constraint on the amount of money corporations can put into this.
Representative Ellington made a very interesting statement. He said that many try to paint corporations as the enemy. He viewed them as our friends.
The fact is, they are neither. They are out for profit. Period. If being someone’s friend advances profits, they are that person’s friend. If being someone’s friend hinders profits, they are that person’s enemy. Corporations don’t have real friends: they have human tools that they use to advance their profit-agenda.
There are certainly many times corporate interests are aligned with American citizens’ interests. In those cases, corporations will work with and for the American public. But there are times when interests cross each other, and corporations will abandon the “friendship” faster than an accountant can total a column of numbers. The CEO’s and CFO’s may be nice guys with families, but in the end, “it’s just business.”
Cross them, Mr. Ellington. See how long their “friendship” lasts.