The Council, known as ALEC, is a conservative think tank that brings together lawmakers and corporations from around the country to craft model legislation. In Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, ALEC held its annual States & Nation Policy Summit.
ALEC is credited with shaping model legislation that became Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which makes it a state crime to work without documentation. Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce introduced the idea for the bill at an ALEC conference, where a committee of corporate leaders and legislators shaped the idea into a model bill four months before Pearce brought the bill to the Arizona capitol, according to an investigative report by National Public Radio. Among the corporations that sat on ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force that approved the bill was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company, which builds and operates prisons to house detained immigrants. (Pearce was recalled from office by voters in November 2011.)
As ALEC members convened Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, protesters organized rallies against it.
On the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 30, about two dozen Unitarian Universalists joined more than 200 demonstrators in a march to the conference site. The UUs were mostly from two Phoenix-area churches, the UU Congregation of Phoenix in Paradise Valley, and Valley UU Congregation in Chandler. In yellow Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts, the UUs marched to the entrance to the Westin Kierland, where teams of police were stationed, many in riot gear with canisters of pepper spray at the ready.
The majority of the protesters were from the Occupy Phoenix movement. They chanted “Shut Down ALEC,” and held signs saying “End Corporate Personhood” and “ALEC Exposed for Undermining America.” Police made seven arrests and twice used pepper spray to move protesters away from the resort’s driveway entrance.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and leader of the Arizona Immigration Ministry, attended the morning protest before speaking at a press conference at the Arizona State Capitol. The press conference was organized by Common Cause, which had just released a report with People for the American Way Foundation demonstrating ALEC’s policymaking influence in Arizona. The report includes a side-by-side comparison of some 20 ALEC model bills and actual Arizona legislation.
“Unitarian Universalists hold democracy as a core value,” Frederick-Gray told the crowd and cameras assembled on the Capitol lawn. “ALEC is an antidemocratic influence. What we see in ALEC is the enormous power multinational corporations are having over politics and laws in the state of Arizona.”
“As a person of faith, I stand up for family,” she said. “Laws like SB 1070, sponsored by ALEC, criminalize migrant workers and their families, including young adults who have dreams of attending college. We must stand up for the human rights of all people in this country.”
Frederick-Gray was joined by state leaders in education and labor, as well as Erika Andiola, an undocumented woman and graduate of Arizona State University, who is co-founder of an organization of undocumented students who are fighting for passage of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would permit some immigrant students who have grown up in the United States to apply for temporary legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship. Todd Landfried, of the Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, spoke about the severe economic consequences SB 1070 has had on Arizona, leading to a drop in business revenue, jobs, and tax dollars.
ALEC has existed for almost 40 years, with members from state legislatures and corporations such as CCA, Coca-Cola, Koch Industries, and BP. It has drafted laws in many areas of policy, including healthcare, public education, taxes, clean air and water, and the right to vote.
Common Cause has submitted evidence of what it believes are lobbying activities by ALEC to the Internal Revenue Service to challenge ALEC’s nonprofit status.
- Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law. National Public Radio investigation into ALEC, Oct. 28, 2010. (npr.org)
- ALEC in Arizona. A joint report by People for the American Way Foundation and Common Cause. (pfaw.org)
- Getting Smart about ALEC: Standing on the Side of Love in Arizona Demonstrates, Learns, and Gets Ready for Future Advocacy. By Tom Marcinko, on the UUA's advocacy blog, "Standing on the Side of Love," 12.5.11.