Two new OccuCards! ALEC and Republicrats
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The text as it appears on the back of the card
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is both a state lobbying organization and a corporate front group. Its primary activity is providing corporations with a way to secretly draft bills and get them introduced in statehouses across the country. To do this, ALEC disguises itself as a membership organization for state lawmakers, who pay a nominal fee of $50 per year to sit alongside representatives of corporations and vote on “model legislation.” Under ALEC’s by-laws, membership confers a “duty” upon these lawmakers to get ALEC-approved bills passed in their home states. Operating in secret, ALEC’s legislative members introduce these bills in their own name, without giving any indication they came from ALEC or were pre-approved by corporate interests. Approximately 1,000 ALEC-drafted bills are introduced in state legislatures each year, of which approximately 20% are enacted into law.
Because ALEC has closely guarded its secrecy, not much was known about the organization until July of 2011, when a whistleblower leaked over 800 internal documents to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit public interest group. Thanks to this whistleblower, we now know that much of the nation’s most regressive legislation over the last three decades has come directly from ALEC.
For example, ALEC was instrumental in promoting legislation in the 80s and 90s that privatized state prisons as well as imposed new and longer prison sentences for a wider variety of crimes, particularly non-violent drug offenses. “Mandatory minimums,” “three strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws spread across the country as ALEC-approved bills, helping quadruple the U.S. Prison population since 1980. More recently, ALEC member corporations pre-approved Arizona’s notorious 2010 anti-immigration bill, SB1070, which directly benefits the private prison industry by putting more immigrants behind bars.
In 2011 ALEC legislative members also introduced over 500 antilabor bills, including laws restricting collective bargaining, barring automatic union dues collection, pre-empting local living wage standards, and more. In Wisconsin, public sector unions were severely curtailed by ALEC-approved legislation pushed through by Governor Scott Walker, a former ALEC member.
From tax loopholes for big business and the super rich, to tort reform measures that make it harder for Americans to sue corporations when their products injure or kill; from restrictive voter ID laws to legislation undermining efforts to mitigate climate change, ALEC has reshaped the American political system in the interests of the 1% more than any other lobbying organization. As Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy writes, “It is a worrisome marriage of corporations and politicians, which seems to normalize a kind of corruption of the legislative process, of the democratic process … where the government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not the corporations.”
While ALEC has about 2,000 legislative members, 98% of its funding comes directly from corporations like Exxon Mobil, Pfizer and Altria/Phillip Morris, and from pro-corporate entities like the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Heritage Foundation. Despite its corporate funding and its blatant lobbying activity, ALEC is organized as a “charity” and receives tax-exempt status from the IRS. As of October 2012, this status is being challenged in two separate complaints filed with the IRS, one by the government watchdog organization, Common Cause, and another by Clergy VOICE, a group of Ohio ministers. Whether the IRS revokes ALEC’s charitable status or not, the criminal collusion between corporations and government will continue until a mass movement of education, protest and civil disobedience grows large enough to hold politicians accountable and get money out of politics.
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The text as it appears on the back of the card
The two-party duopoly is a common term used to describe the political system in the U.S., in which two political parties—the Republicans and Democrats—dominate government while holding virtually identical positions on most economic and foreign policy issues. Funded by the same corporate interests, these two parties are sometimes together referred to as “Republicrats” because they resemble two wings of a single party whose policies benefit large corporations and the super rich against the interests of the vast majority (despite holding very different positions on cultural issues in which corporations have little or no interest).
Within the two-party duopoly, third parties are shut out of the political process altogether. For example, restrictive ballot access laws require third party candidates to collect tens of thousands of signatures. In addition, they are systematically ignored by the corporate media and excluded from the Presidential debates. (The Commission on Presidential Debates is a private corporation headed by former Republican and Democratic leaders, and funded by big corporate interests.) The “winner take all” voting system used in congressional and state legislative elections also precludes third-party representation, as runners-up get nothing, even when the margin of victory is narrow. Because of this, the vast majority of democracies in the world—including all European countries—use “proportional representation” (PR) voting systems, in which legislative seats are divided proportionally based on the percentage of votes each party receives. Such voting systems give voters more choice, produce multi-party legislatures, and reduce the ability of monied interests to control the political process.
In the U.S., however, the two-party system easily lends itself to corporate manipulation and control. This is particularly true when neither party holds a wide majority, as small margins ensure that lobbyists need only convince a few legislators from one party to vote with their opposition. By funding candidates from both parties, therefore, corporations do not simply purchase loyalty, but they prevent either party from obtaining a continuous, popular majority that might challenge corporate interests. Also, the culture wars between “liberal” and “conservative” value systems conveniently divide the voters between the two parties by providing them with real yet economically insignificant reasons to prefer one party over the other. As political philosopher Sheldon Wolin writes in his book, Democracy Incorporated, “The point about [these cultural] disputes is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace.”
The proliferation of corporate-funded “Super PACs” (a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, which allows corporations unlimited funding of political campaigns) is only the most recent example of corruption within the U.S. electoral system. Elections have long been rigged in favor of the two corporate parties. For third parties to have any real chance of adequate representation, major, systemic reforms are necessary. These include breaking up media monopolies, having purely publicly funded campaigns, instituting PR voting systems, adding a binding “none of the above” option on all ballots, establishing universal voter registration, and much more. Such reforms would weaken if not destroy the two-party duopoly, and will therefore be strongly resisted by current Republicrats and the powerful interests that back them. Only a mass movement of education, protest and civil disobedience that puts tremendous outside pressure upon the corporate state will be capable of bringing about such a fundamental transformation of the electoral system.
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