Ron Rabatsky is a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Business. He spent many years developing new products for a number of different clients at factories throughout Asia. He resides in Waxhaw, NC with his wife Barbara and his dog, Mason. This is the second in a series of articles Ron will be writing about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
by Ron Rabatsky
The Occupy Movement, as exemplified by Occupy Wall Street and emulated in so many cities worldwide, shows me one thing — people are no longer satisfied to live a no-longer-livable life. Expressing the entire 99% concept and the way it frames the lives of so many was a major accomplishment. Perhaps you remember George Carlin ranting about why “Nobody Cares About You.” If not, please go to the footnote (1) and watch it on YouTube. You’ll swear it was written last night.
Or perhaps you are old enough to remember William Holden in Network(1A): “I’m a human being, god damn it, my life has value. So get up out of your chairs and go to the window, open it, then stick your head out and yell ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’” (2)
Okay, what exactly is ALEC? On their web site ALEC defines its mission. It is:
- to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.
- to promote these principles by developing policies that ensure the powers of government are derived from, and assigned to, first the People, then the States, and finally, the Federal Government.
- to enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC's mission.
- to conduct a policy making program that unites members of the public and private sectors in a dynamic partnership to support research, policy development, and dissemination activities.
- to prepare the next generation of political leadership through educational programs that promote the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, which are necessary for a free society. (3)
Whew! That’s a fancy way to saying that ALEC is a lobbying group. After all, what do they do? They enable the salesman – the corporations – to get together with the buyers – the legislators – so that the corporations can try to sell the legislators on enacting special legislation to enrich their own coffers at the expense of the public. It encourages legislators to vote a certain way on legislation in the chambers before them. How else would you define what a lobbyist does? How many honest lobbyists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Nobody knows — they can’t find the honest lobbyist. And by the way, if your children are reading Texas’ new history books, they might have to ask, “Gee Dad, who is that up there on that mountain next to George Washington?” Or say to their teacher after reading this article, “What kind of principles of free markets? Jeffersonian?" (4)
Despite activities that most people would define as classic lobbying, ALEC officials insist the organization is not a lobbying group, since it doesn't directly hand legislation to a lawmaker. Instead, ALEC defines itself as a charity, a status it justifies because its purpose is to educate lawmakers. This tax-exempt status, among other things, allows their members to deduct all their assorted payments to ALEC. That includes “donations to scholarship funds”, which can be used to pay for transportation, hotel and meals for lawmakers attending ALEC meetings.
This is certainly not what I would think of as charity. Isn’t being somehow needy a criterion for charity? It certainly appears like an end-run around the disclosure and transparency expected of a charity. Common Cause is trying to pursue this via an IRS complaint, which was filed on July 14, 2011. But while there is a lot of noise made of this issue, nobody goes to court to challenge ALEC's 501c(3) status.