Major news is breaking today out of Wisconsin. And it's not (directly) about the recall elections. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has gone live with a web site containing leaked copies of all ALEC's model legislation. For those of you who aren't aware what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is, a bit of background is helpful. I particularly enjoy the "definition" that CMD has come up with.
ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have full membership standing in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board, which has a second, final vote on all legislation. They fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.
ALEC Wants Us Peasants Quiet
"Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
As we all know voting rights have been under attack recently. Whether it's voter id requirements or attempts to purge valid voters from the rolls, ALEC has led the charge.
On July 17, 2009, ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force approved a piece of model legislation called the "Voter ID Act." The act calls for ID's required of voters to have both a photo and an expiration date, meaning that most college ids will not fit the bill. Understand, this isn't about the vague (and utterly baseless) possibility that someone might attempt to commit in person voter fraud. It's about disenfranchising people of color and lower income folks who move far more often (and often have no car, thus no drivers license) and students.
In case we ever seriously questioned not only the effect, and intent, of these laws, a quick look at Section 4 of the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, adopted May 17, 2008, really seals the bill. This bill enshrines the discredited practice of voter caging into state law. As a 1986 memo between GOP officials in Louisiana demonstrates, they know precisely who this tactic would catch, as evidenced by this choice quote:
I know this race is really important to you. I would guess that this program will eliminate at least 60-80,000 folks from the rolls. . . . If it’s a close race, which I’m assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably
The RNC is actually under a federal consent decree prohibiting the use of this tactic, requiring that any "ballot security" program be pre-approved.
As a Brennan Center report (the quoted memorandum above comes from the same source) outlines, there are multiple reasons why mail sent to newly registered voters may be returned to sender:
1. Voter rolls suffer from typos and other clerical errors
2. A voter may not be listed on the mailbox of her residential voting address
3. A voter may live at a non-traditional residence
4. A voter may be temporarily away from her permanent residence
5. A voters permanent mailing address may differ from her residential voting address
6. Mail may not be properly delivered
7. A voters street name may have changed
8. A voter may refuse to accept certain mail
Why ALEC Wants Us Peasants Quiet
All this effort to disenfranchise voters has to be for some reason. And it is. ALEC's claim that it is a non-partisan organization is accurate on at least one count. If they could serve their corporate masters by reeling in Democratic state legislators to do their work, they would. Whether it's privatization, i.e. getting state assets at dimes on the dollar, pushing tax cuts, or deregulation, ALEC's model legislation is all about big money donors getting a leg up on you and I. And as every good dog knows there's only one reason to get a leg up, something's going to get wet.
I've chosen to narrow in on labor issues here. Believe me, if you dig through the files at ALEC Exposed, you'll find that there's all sorts of of other ways they are trying to get a leg up on you and I. But, to keep things short, I'm going to hammer home on my favorite ALEC model bill. It's Orwellian the shit that's wrapped up in an innocuous enough title: The Full Employment Act.
Sounds good, right? Think again, it's about eliminating the unemployment insurance safety net while continuing to collect money from workers that will later be used to subsidize business.
As many of you know, unemployment remains high, and long term unemployment (greater than 26 weeks) is at historically high levels as a percentage of the total. As it stands now the BLS reports 14 million Americans as unemployed (reported rate), while only around 4 million of those are receiving unemployment insurance. Yes, most unemployed folks don't currently receive benefits for one reason or another, even though they paid into the system.
The Full Employment Act would shred what's left of this safety net, and use the scraps to subsidize businesses.
From Section 1 of the bill:
It is the purpose of this Act to reduce the need for welfare and the dependence welfare induces, and to that end, there is hereby created a demonstration
program to be known as the Full Employment Program, hereinafter referred to as the "Program." The Program shall be a three-year test in [insert number of counties] counties of the effects of replacing certain welfare and unemployment insurance benefits with guaranteed paid employment. During the test, normal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), unemployment compensation, and Food Stamp benefits shall be suspended in [insert name of counties] counties. Persons otherwise eligible for those benefits, and others in need of work, shall be eligible for the Program. The Program shall assign them to wage-paying public and private sector jobs designed to increase their self-sufficiency and improve their competitive position in the work force.
Yes, they want to eliminate unemployment insurance. Instead, you will be assigned to an employer, and made to work if you want benefits. Think about it, if you are trying to work full time at a job assigned to you, do you really think that you are going to be able to actively look for a position that actually matches your skills? No, you'll be trapped. It's not only the unemployed that this impacts, the idea is to disempower workers, using their own taxes against them.
Section 6 of the bill diverts the unemployment insurance revenue into a "Program Special Fund." Section 7 both sets the rate of pay at 90% of the minimum wage, or the federal rate if higher, and uses the funds gathered in the "Program Special Fund" to pay the employer portion of worker's comp and Social Security taxes.
Now let me ask you. Do you think that employers are going to hire a machine operator at $14.50/hr if they can get someone in from this state program and pay them $7.25/hr, and get the extra 8-9% that normally goes to the employer portion of FICA paid for them. That alone saves the employer $1100-$1200 a year, at taxpayer expense.
This is what the ALEC agenda looks like, it's part of a broader agenda of repealing the 20th century.
What's a Peasant to do?
It's not hopeless. The release of ALEC's model legislation exposes this people for what they are. And it's just the beginning.
ALEC will be holding it's annual meeting on August 1-6 in New Orleans. After the success of our protest at their Cincinnati event this spring, we plan to carry the fight forward to New Orleans.
We will not be silent. Will you stand with us?