Tag Archives: ALEC

An Idea Whose Time Has Definitely NOT Come

Periodically, I come across reports updating progress toward a so-called “Article V” Constitutional Conventions. The last time I looked, twenty-eight states had called for one; only thirty-four are needed.

I’ve shared my concerns about that movement previously–in mid-2014, in a column for the Indianapolis Business Journal, and again, on this blog,  in 2017. The major forces behind this effort to convene what proponents call an “Article V” convention are ALEC and the Koch brothers, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the motives of the proponents..

My original arguments against calling such a convention were rooted in history, which tells us that major changes in government rarely reflect the relatively benign and/or limited expectations of people who agitate for that change.

In this case, state lawmakers who favor a new constitutional convention argue that it would allow delegates to devise a framework for reigning in overspending, overtaxing and over-regulating by the federal government and would move the U.S. toward a less centralized federal government. Many of them insist that an Article V convention could be limited to consideration of those goals.

Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of the United States, begged to differ, writing

[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention.  The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda.  Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey.  After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.

But even if a convention could be limited, the enumerated goals are Pandora-box wide.

For example, Wall Street bankers argue that financial laws are “overregulation;” if polls are to be believed, most taxpayers view the same rules as barely adequate.

My definition of “overspending” would include the massive subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies and the obscene amounts we spend on the military; yours might be Medicare or farm subsidies. 

“Less centralization” could justify virtually any limitation of federal government authority, from FDA regulation of food and drug quality to laws against discrimination.

I could go on. And on. But the risk isn’t simply that a Convention could rather easily be hijacked by people who disagree with the conveners about the nature and extent of needed changes, or even the  predictable influence of well-heeled special interests. The real danger is in calling together a representative group of Americans and asking them to amend a document that few of them understand.

Even bright graduate students came into my classes with little or no knowledge of American history or government. Most had never heard of the Enlightenment or John Locke or Adam Smith. A truly depressing percentage of my undergraduate students were unable to explain what a government is, and had no idea how ours operates. Separation of powers? Checks and balances? The counter-majoritarian purpose of the Bill of Rights? Blank stares.

The danger inherent in calling deeply polarized and depressingly under-educated politicians together to “improve” the Constitution should be obvious. Do we really want people like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Paul Gosar—or their Red-state-level clones–deciding how the American Constitution should be changed?

In the years since I first became aware of this effort, I have seen no reason to revisit my original concerns about such a convention. As Common Cause has warned,

With no rules and complete uncertainty about the constitutional process, an Article V convention would cause political and economic chaos. There is no language in the U.S. Constitution to limit a convention to one issue, no guidelines for rules to govern a convention, no rules on who picks the delegates and how they are selected, no guarantee that the American people would be equally represented, and no limits on corporate special interest influence.

I can only imagine what sorts of regulatory changes the Koch brothers hope to make, or what the armies of anti-journalism “Trumpers” would do to the freedoms of speech and press. Proponents of Pence-style “religious freedom” (a/k/a the privileging of fundamentalist Christianity) would see this as a God-given (!) chance to dismantle the Wall of Separation between Church and State.

We should also remind those who see such a convention as their chance to get rid of all those pesky constitutional provisions that keep them from installing a government more to their liking, that they are also at risk. A convention might also end up with participants reflecting  the majority of Americans who think it’s time to get rid of the Second Amendment and the Electoral College, and a great idea to outlaw gerrymandering…

In other words, such a convention would be a monumental crap-shoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Um..What Happened To Support For “Limited Government”?

Remember when Republican politicians all ran on platforms endorsing “limited government”? Granted, a lot of them seemed to confuse the size of government with the intrusiveness of government, but to the extent the party actually stood for something, it was the principle that government’s authority over citizens should be limited.

As Barry Goldwater famously put it, “Government doesn’t belong in your boardroom or your bedroom.” (Old Barry is probably spinning in his grave, along with a sizable number of other former GOPers…)

Today’s Republicans are only too happy to invade your bedroom–not to mention your uterus, if you’re a woman. And given Party members’ homophobia, it’s pretty clear that a significant number of folks in today’s GOP would love to return to the time when government could outlaw same-sex marriage and criminalize gay sex. 

But what about that pious declaration that government “doesn’t belong in your boardroom?”

One of the few consistent themes of Republicanism has been the sanctity of the market, and the belief that even the most reasonable regulation of business is a semi-Satanic attack on economic freedom. Republicans have tended to define democracy as consumer choice–let the market decide! Keep government’s nose out of it! (Ignore those armies of lobbyists making sure there are official “thumbs on the scales…”)

Turns out that today’s GOP is just as willing to invite government into the boardroom as it is to insert government into our bedrooms. As the linked Guardian article reports,

A powerful rightwing pressure group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), is pushing states to adopt a new law shielding all US businesses from “political boycotts”.

Although primarily aimed at protecting controversial industries such as fossil fuel companies, big agriculture and gun manufacturers, the proposed legislation is written to prevent boycotts by investors, banks and other companies of any US business.

It comes amid rising consumer pressure on firms over whom they do business with, and follows the decision by major retail stores to stop selling MyPillow products after its chief executive allied himself with Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Alec, which is funded by major corporations, intends to press state legislators to adopt the readymade law, the eliminate political boycotts act, at its closed-door States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington DC at the end of this month.

I’ve previously posted about Alec, and the fact that legislators in Republican-led states (very much including Indiana)  have enacted dozens, if not hundreds, of Alec’s “model” pieces of legislation–adopting the organization’s hard-Right agenda virtually word for word, in laws addressing “immigration, voting suppression, the environment, guns and energy policy.”

The new model legislation requires every “governmental entity”, which covers a wide array of bodies from state government to local police departments and public universities, to include a clause in contracts requiring businesses to pledge they “will not engage in economic boycotts”.

 
As with all of Alec’s “model laws,” the text of this one has been written by Alec’s lawyers to make it simple; all an obedient legislature has to do is fill in the name of its state. This one is aimed primarily at banks, investment funds and corporations that might refuse to do business with companies that damage the environment or otherwise engage in activities detrimental to democracy or civil society.

The huge investment company BlackRock is among nearly 400 financial firms to have sold off shares in big oil companies over their failure to pursue sufficiently climate-friendly policies.

Some corporations are increasingly concerned that consumer pressure will cause other companies to boycott them over their funding of rightwing politicians and causes, or social positions.

The model legislation follows an Alec meeting in Atlanta in the summer at which participants launched a push against “woke capitalism,” claiming that boycotts may break financial laws.

Hmm…what ever happened to “let the market decide”?

It seems to me that one of the genuine merits of capitalism and market economies is the ability of consumers to choose where to spend their dollars. If I want to confine my investments and purchases and/or those of my company to “woke” companies–or if I prefer to support crazy pillow guys–that’s my right, just as it is my right to hold religious beliefs different from those of Justice Alito and my right to decide who to marry and whether and when to procreate. 

The past few years have certainly illustrated the dishonesty of those “limited government” claims. If we dare to use our liberties to deviate from their preferred behaviors, the GOP will happily invite the government into our bedrooms and our boardrooms.

 

The Strategy

A recent newsletter from Arwa Mahdawi, who writes forThe Guardian outlined one of the many ways the Right attacks American democratic institutions.  Here are her three most important paragraphs:

The far right constantly introduce extreme bills like this into state legislatures with the full knowledge that there is zero chance they will pass. It’s part of a broader strategy to further their agenda that can be summed up as exhaust and inure. Exhaust: the more they overwhelm legislatures with extreme legislation, the harder it becomes for liberals to fight them. It becomes a game of “Whac-a-Mole”. Inure: proposing extreme ideas like this via legislation helps gradually desensitize people and shifts the Overton window to the right; step by step the unthinkable becomes mainstream.

All this isn’t just my personal opinion, by the way: it’s extracted from a playbook written by Christian nationalists. A few years ago a researcher called Frederick Clarkson uncovered an initiative from a coalition of far-right Christian groups called Project Blitz that gave their supporters detailed instructions on how to codify their views into law and gradually destroy the division between church and state. I highly recommend reading Clarkson’s writings on Project Blitz: they are essential for understanding the current moment. As Clarkson said when he first found the playbook: “It’s very rare that you come across a major primary source document that changes the way you view everything, and this is one of those times. This is a 116-page strategy manual hidden away on a website explaining at least what a section of the religious right are doing in the United States.”

Bills like the one in North Carolina, it can’t be stressed enough, are not just frivolous one-offs by extremists. They’re part of a coordinated – and highly effective – strategy to consolidate power by the right. Democrats should really be paying more attention to these tactics and learning from them. So many centrists are afraid that suggesting things like free healthcare will make them look like radicals hellbent on bringing communism to America. You think the right care about looking “radical”? Of course not. They care about power. And they’re very good at doing whatever it takes to get it.

I actually wrote about Project Blitz back in January of 2020. It was launched in 2015 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation, and Wallbuilders–the bogus “history” organization founded by David Barton. (Barton is a Republican operative and thoroughly discredited historian who rejects the separation of church and state and claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.) Project Blitz  is to Christian nationalists what ALEC is to corporate plutocrats–-as I wrote at the time, a number of the extreme anti-choice, anti-gay and pro-Christianity measures that have emerged from America’s legislative chambers come directly from Project Blitz’s package of twenty “model” bills.

Just as ALEC has managed to delay and/or defeat regulatory reforms opposed by the plutocracy, laws supported by Project Blitz move the Overton Window toward the theocratic goals supported by Christian Nationalists.

Project Blitz and ALEC are only two of the numerous Rightwing organizations that have been working patiently beneath the radar for years, intent upon changing America’s culture–trying to erase the wall between Church and State, erode our already tattered and inadequate social safety net, and make both plutocratic and White Christian privilege permanent. The numerous propaganda arms of the Right aid and abet the efforts of these organizations.

Meanwhile, opposition to these co-ordinated and well-financed strategies is pretty accurately described in not-so-funny sayings like “I’m not a member of an organized political party–I’m a Democrat” and rueful observations about circular firing squads. That isn’t because Democratic strategists are feckless; it’s because virtually every American who follows politics and is not a theocrat, plutocrat or bat-shit crazy person has fled to the only alternative, the Democratic Party–and as a result, Democrats represent an incredibly wide range of opinions and ideologies. 

Herding cats would be easier.

The old line about the GOP “falling in line” is true: most recently demonstrated by the willingness of Senate Republicans to vote against a bill they had previously supported.  The PACT Act would have delivered desperately needed healthcare to veterans, but because a Democratic deal to pass a slimmed-down version of Build Back Better caused a fit of pique, they turned their backs on those veterans. The bill had easily passed the Senate in June. But a technical error required another vote, and more than two dozen Republicans switched sides–they fell in line. (After a furious reaction–notably, from Jon Stewart– they caved and passed it.)

Thanks to the intransigence of lockstep Republicans, the machinations of the organizations moving the GOP further and further to the Right, and the ideological heterogeneity of the Democrats, lawmakers who want to actually govern don’t have much of a chance.

The Plutocrats And The Theocrats

As if ALEC wasn’t enough of a threat to citizens of red states, we now have “Project Blitz,” an effort patterned on ALEC’s all-too-successful formula.

The first thing to know about Project Blitz is that it was launched in 2015 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation, and Wallbuilders. The latter is an organization founded by David Barton, the Republican operative and discredited historian who rejects the separation of church and state, claiming that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

I had not previously heard of Fred Clarkson, who has evidently been studying the Christian right for decades, but he came into possession of Project Blitz’s 116-page manual of model legislation in early 2018.  Clarkson says that Project Blitz  is to Christian nationalists what ALEC is to corporate plutocrats–a number of the extreme anti-choice, anti-gay and pro-Christianity measures that have emerged from legislative chambers over the past couple of years came from Project Blitz’s package of twenty “model” bills.

The bills are seemingly unrelated and range widely in content—from requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust” (IGWT); to legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people; to religious exemptions regarding women’s reproductive health. The model bills, the legislative strategy and the talking points reflect the theocratic vision that’s animated a meaningful portion of the Christian Right for some time. In the context of Project Blitz’s 116-page playbook, however, they also reveal a sophisticated level of coordination and strategizing that echoes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which infamously networks probusiness state legislators, drafts sample legislation, and shares legislative ideas and strategies.

A study conducted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State counted 74 bills considered by state legislatures in 2018 that echoed the “model legislation” in the Project Blitz handbook. All are intended to erode the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

There are bills promoting “In God We Trust” on license plates and in public schools. (Here in Indiana, a bill to that effect is being considered by the legislature this year.) Then there are the “Christian heritage” bills, and those emphasizing “the importance of the Bible in history” to promote the notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

The measures which Project Blitz organizers admit might be “hotly contested,” are those seeking to empower licensed professionals to deny health care and other services based on religious beliefs and those that would allow adoption agencies to reject adoptive families on religious grounds.

At least 10 states have laws that allow discrimination by child welfare agencies, most of which have been passed since Project Blitz launched in 2015, and–surprise!– similar measures have been introduced in Indiana.  (I’ve previously blogged about a couple of them.)

Project Blitz–and the Trump Administration–have been described as the “death rattle” of White Christian nationalism. In 2016, Robert P. Jones wrote“The End of White Christian America,” detailing the demographic inevitability of that end.(The linked article has the graphs, and an interview with Jones.)

Project Blitz is part of the Christian Right’s  hysterical reaction to demographic reality, but recognizing that fact doesn’t make its efforts less worrisome–or less unAmerican. Just as ALEC has managed to delay regulatory reforms that would hinder the plutocracy, the legislation supported by Project Blitz would both delay the inevitable and cause considerable damage in the interim.

It’s also worth noting that today’s GOP is almost entirely composed of White Christian nationalists. In the states where Republicans hold sway, that “death rattle” is likely to be prolonged, dangerous and very, very ugly.

 

ALEC’s Priority: Gerrymandering

One of the many problems exacerbated by the loss of local journalism is the increasing nationalization of American politics. Those who follow political news are focused almost exclusively on Washington, and that focus has only intensified since 2016. If there is one thing Donald Trump is good at (and it is the only thing), it is sucking the air out of the newsroom. He’s like the wreck by the side of the road that you can’t help rubbernecking.

But we ignore state politics at our peril.

Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office because the Republican Party has been punching above its weight for a number of years. The GOP  has been able to win elections not because it can claim majority status, but because it has been able to game the system at the state level, primarily through gerrymandering and voter suppression.

And these efforts have been aided and abetted by ALEC.

ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council–is a powerful (and secretive) conservative organization. It is best known for preparing “model” bills favorable to its corporate members, bills that more often than not are introduced–unaltered– by conservative state legislators. ALEC has been incredibly successful in getting these measure passed, and the organization has shaped legislation in policy areas ranging from health care (undercutting the Affordable Care Act) to criminal justice (promoting private prisons). It has worked to lower taxes, eliminate environmental regulations, quash unions, and protect corporations from lawsuits, and it depends upon Republicans to achieve its aims.

So the organization’s current priority is gerrymandering.

In the early August heat, nearly 200 Republican lawmakers gathered in an Austin, Texas, hotel to learn about what one panelist described as a “political adult bloodsport.” The matter at hand — gerrymandering — could lock in Republican power in the states for another decade if successfully carried out again in 2021.

This meeting was evidently a bit less secretive than usual, since reporters were able to attend the sessions on gerrymandering. One was even able to record it.

 This unprecedented level of reporting on the panel uncovered the tactics conservatives plan to employ as they seek to maintain the Republican hold on state legislatures across the country in the crucial redistricting wars to come….

The conservative experts gave attendees a range of tips on how to approach gerrymandering, from legislative actions to legal preparedness. The panelists scoffed at the idea of appointing independent commissions in states to draw districts, a solution to partisan gerrymandering gaining traction in some states, instead urging state lawmakers to secure as much control over the process as possible. One panelist suggested Republican lawmakers work with black and Latino lawmakers to pack minority voters into districts, and another urged them to exclude noncitizens from the population numbers used to determine districts, a move that would dramatically redistribute power away from blue areas. Yet, ALEC also warned state lawmakers to be careful — to avoid using the word “gerrymander” and drawing lines too heavily based on race.

As the linked article points out, other conservative organizations may be focused on the federal government, but ALEC understands that the key to power is at the state level– and that the key to maintaining that power is redistricting.

ALEC’s ultimate goal is to have more influence on state lawmakers than the lawmakers’ voters.

They want people to listen to them and not their voters, and the way they do that is by creating these gerrymandered districts so legislators don’t have to address the concerns of their district.

Gerrymandering does more than skew lawmaking at the state level, of course–it results in unrepresentative, “safe” Congressional districts that send disproportionate numbers of Republicans to Congress. Democrats win more votes; Republicans win more seats.In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans, but Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats than the Democrats. Some of this is due to systemic issues, but much of it is due to gerrymandering.

After the last census, Republicans engaged in a national gerrymandering campaign that was so effective, it put Democrats at a disadvantage for a decade.

That disadvantage gave us the Tea Party and lots of laws written by ALEC .