Citizen activists to confront corporate cabal in the Arizona desert

    Media Contact
  • Dale Eisman

The money and power of dozens of America’s largest and richest companies and hundreds of elected officials are headed for a showdown in the Arizona desert this week with potentially hundreds of citizen activists.

As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-financed association of state legislators and business leaders, gathers near Scottsdale for four days of strategizing on behalf of business-friendly legislation, a coalition of good government, labor and education groups plans a variety of activities geared to exposing and breaking the corporate grip on state governments across the nation.

“ALEC’s leaders, firms like Wal-Mart, Pfizer and Koch Industries, have poured close to $400 million into state elections over the past decade, financing campaigns and spoon-feeding our elected officials bills that put profits over the public interest,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, citing a recent Common Cause report. “The Arizona desert is a perfect place for the public to call them out.”

ALEC’s agenda includes weakening clean air and clean water laws, undercutting public education, and disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of legally-qualified voters. At closed-to-the-public meetings like this week’s confab at the posh Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, ALEC’s business executives, lobbyists, and elected lawmakers sit side by side and vote as equals on the group’s “model” bills, then carry that legislation back to state capitols across the nation.

ALEC puts its stamp of approval on hundreds of pieces of legislation each year and claims an annual success rate of about 20 percent. Almost all of the group’s $7 million annual budget, including the cost of conferences like this week’s gathering, is underwritten by its corporate affiliates.

ALEC formally opens its summit at the Westin resort on Wednesday. Groups including Common Cause, People for the American Way, the Center for Media and Democracy, the Arizona AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, the Arizona Education Association, and Progress Now have invited hundreds of activists to attend a community forum on ALEC and its influence from 6-9 (MST) tonight at Smith Mountain Community College. Those groups also have scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Wednesday in front of the Arizona state capitol that will be live streamed on Common Cause’s website.

Other activists, including Occupy Phoenix have organized online under the banner of “azresistALEC,” and have designated Wednesday as a “day of action and education” on ALEC and announced plans for a march and rally in Kierland Park in Scottsdale.

A report released Monday by People for the American Way and Common Cause highlights ALEC’s influence in Arizona, where 50 of 90 state senators and representatives are ALEC members. Firms represented on ALEC’s “private enterprise board,” along with their executives and employees, have donated $16 million to members of the state legislature over the past decade, the study found.

In Arizona, ALEC gained prominence in 2010 as state authorities tackled the problem of immigration. Legislation giving police new power to detain suspected illegal immigrants cleared the state legislature with critical backing from ALEC and the private prison industry, which had a multi-million dollar stake in locking-up people snared by the law

For most of its 30-plus years, ALEC has operated with little notice from journalists and the general public. But the release earlier this year of thousands of ALEC records by the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy gave outsiders a window into the group’s activity and political clout. Common Cause has asked the Internal Revenue Service to review ALEC’s tax exempt status, contending that the group is a lobbying organization but operating under a section of tax law that limits lobbying.