The Texas Legislature is not in session now, but far-reaching legislation affecting future funding of public schools, teacher pay, environmental quality and a host of other issues, including your health insurance, may be vetted and drafted in downtown Austin this week.
This won’t happen at the state Capitol. Your future will be discussed instead in private meeting rooms several blocks away at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and you aren’t invited to be there. Disregarding your best interests in your absence will be a very select group of well-monied participants intent of transferring more of your hard-earned income to their corporate profits.
The occasion is the annual summer meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of the most influential anti-consumer, anti-public education, anti-environment groups that most people have never heard of. It is a partnership of private, corporate representatives and elected officials from around the country who write and then work to influence legislative enactment of so-called “model bills” to increase the profits of the corporations that helped create the legislation.
The public interest be damned, and that includes the quality of your neighborhood schools, your health care, your paycheck or retirement or anything else important to the quality of life for you and your family.
ALEC and its member corporations often pay the travel expenses of like-minded legislators who are invited to attend its meetings and participate in drafting the model legislation. These lawmakers, nearly all Republicans, then return to their home states and try to pass laws through their respective legislatures, usually without acknowledging that ALEC had anything to do with the legislation.
ALEC, unfortunately, has found a lot of cooperation from the leadership that has dominated Texas’ state government in recent years. At least 58 Texas legislators have ties to the group, according to research by the Common Cause Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy. Gov. Greg Abbott has spoken at ALEC conferences, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry are ALEC alumni.
Through its Texas member and contributor, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ALEC has been an active supporter of efforts to divert Texas tax dollars to private school vouchers. Thanks to TSTA and other public school advocates, those efforts so far have failed. But groups like ALEC will continue to lobby for school privatization in various forms as long as there is a profit to be made from taxpayers.
ALEC was instrumental in the enactment in Texas and many other states of laws requiring voters to have photo IDs in order to cast ballots, part of a voter intimidation effort targeting Americans of color.
ALEC also has been behind efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act, which gives millions of Americans access to health care, including people with pre-existing medical conditions. And it has supported legislation to weaken air and water quality in order to increase profits for the energy industry.
ALEC is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charity, which allows ALEC’s corporate members and funders to deduct their contributions to ALEC on their corporate tax returns. The deductions amount to a taxpayer-funded subsidy for ALEC’s lobbying, even though ALEC insists it is not a lobbying group. It spends a lot of time and money influencing state legislators, though, just not for the benefit of most of those lawmakers’ constituents.