WASHINGTON WATCH: Fighting Back Against ALEC And The Koch Brothers (VIDEO)

There is a little known think-tank in Washington, D.C., that has been successfully pushing legislation in states all over the country that overwhelming harms African Americans and others. But this is also the story of what happens when people fight back against injustice. The organization is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Judith Browne Dianis, Angela Rye, Rashad Robinson joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss how ALEC operates and their impact on our lives.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome to “Washington Watch.”

We begin today with the story of a little known think-tank here in Washington, D.C., that has been successfully pushing legislation in states all over the country that overwhelming harms African Americans and others.  But it’s also the story of what happens when people fight back against injustice.  The organization is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.  Now, what ALEC does is create conservative laws for state legislatures to pass.

Now, you may have heard of ALEC during coverage of the Trayvon Martin case and the “stand your ground” law in Florida.  “Stand your ground” was a law pushed by ALEC and has been passed in 16 states, and this week the “Tampa Bay Times” published a story of “stand your ground” cases in Florida and found this not surprising stat:

“Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black.  Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.”

But ALEC is responsible for much more that affects our community than “stand your ground.”  You know those voters I.D. and voter suppression laws around the country that [affect] people of color?  Well, those laws were largely written by ALEC.  And the laws privatizing prisons, which then create a demand for prisoners, filled by young, Black men?  Those laws – largely written by ALEC.

This organization is heavily supported by the right-wing oil billionaire[s] the Koch brothers and many large corporations, many that you are familiar with.  ALEC has had a free ride for over 30 years; but this year, people are fighting back, and three of the folks leading the charge are here today on “Washington Watch.”  They are Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project; Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change; and, Angela Rye, executive director and general counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus.

All right, folks.  Welcome to “Washington Watch.”

Now, what’s interesting when you talk about ALEC [is] when all of a sudden, Rashad, when you begin to see the number of major corporations that we often see who sponsor major, Black events –


MR. MARTIN:  — all of a sudden, people said, “Wait a minute.  I” – “Why are these folks in this organization?”  It really was related to taxes and businesses.  That was the initial deal – right?

MR. RASHAD ROBINSON:  That was part of the initial deal, but taxes and business also relates to social policy.  You can’t cut taxes or cut spending, and it doesn’t – and – and say it doesn’t impact the way that people live and experience their government and their lives every day.  But Walmart, for instance, which is the most recent company to pull out, actually wrote the “stand your ground” laws, along with the NRA.  Walmart is the largest seller of long guns in this country, so this was part of their go-to-market strategy to get more guns in people’s hands.  So, they wrote the “stand your ground” law that they – and pushed it in Florida and then 25 other states around the country.  And so Walmart leaving this past week was a huge victory, because they actually chaired the committee that not only gave us “stand your ground,” but also voter I.D. and voter suppression laws.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, this wasn’t a case where you had folks who were just sort of members of an organization.  I mean they were literally involved in the policymaking decisions.  What other companies are we talking about that folks might be familiar with?

MS. ANGELA RYE:  Well, now we’re up to 18 companies that have pulled completely out of ALEC, so some of those that have pulled out are Mars; Reed, who also is the parent company of Lexis-Nexis.  There’re several companies.  I know that there’s still Verizon and AT&T that are members, but I think that one of the things we should focus on is the fact that there’s now a taskforce completely disbanded because of the pressure that Rashad organization – Rash- — Rashad’s organization and others have put on ALEC.

MS. JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS:  Yeah, I was glad to hear that Amazon.com finally pulled out –

MS. RYE:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  — due to – to Color of Change’s work, because I just got a Kindle for Mother’s Day.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. DIANIS:  So – [chuckles] – I was a little worried I wasn’t going to be able to use it, but I mean I think because we’re seeing this pushback – and I think the point that you’ve mentioned about voter I.D. laws is really important, because what ALEC does is that it sits down with these corporations – corporate interests, like the Koch brothers – who’ve been trying to basically take over the politics of our country so that they can rule for political interests really meeting their own corporate interests – right?  And so what they do is they craft this legislation, and then they send it out as a template for legislation – for legislatures to pass across the country.  So, you know, in 2011, we saw 34 states taking up voter I.D. bills, and they were copycat laws.  The anti-immigration laws that we saw passed in Arizona and Alabama are the brainchild of ALEC.  So, you know, it doesn’t – it’s not just about “stand your ground,” but it’s everything that impacts our daily lives.

MR. MARTIN:  What other kind[s] of policy issues this taskforce was working on, or trying to implement?

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, this taskforce dealt a lot with privatized prisons, mandatory minimum sentencing.  They were working on a wide range of laws that – that kind of would impact our daily lives, but – but this – while this committee has disbanded, the chairman of this committee actually, when it disbanded, said they’re just going to move these laws – these policies – to other committees.  And ALEC is still working on a wide range of laws.  We know when the state legislatures come back into – to session after the summer and then after the election, that we have to stay vigilant.  And at Color of Change, we know that this – that we’ve had great success over the last couple of months with getting corporations to remove, but this message for these corporations is still clear:  that any law that ALEC pushes ca- — carries the same taint, carries the same brush that “stand your ground” has, that discriminatory voter I.D. laws [have]; that they’re not going to be able to get away with it.

MR. MARTIN:  Some of these folks were – were so cute that, literally, the ALEC language was in the actual bills, including the mission statement as well.  They – they just simply copy-and-pasted.

MR. ROBINSON:  They copied and pasted.  That actually happened in Florida, where a – a legislator submitted a piece – a piece of legislation that was ALEC and forgot to remove it off the stationery in the template.

MS. RYE:  And —

MS. DIANIS:  I mean –

MS. RYE:  — we should [crosstalk] –

MS. DIANIS:  — it’s –

MS. RYE:  — go ahead.

MS. DIANIS:  — it’s important for us to understand that – that this really was a concerted effort – right?  You bring in corporate interests.  You decide to pass these laws that are going to meet your need to make money –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  — but at the same time, with the voting – the voter I.D. stuff, it’s like, “Okay.  We can make money, and we can roll back voting rights, so then people won’t have a say when we come for their” – “for their homes through foreclosures, when we come and sell them guns.  They have no say, because we’ve done away with their voting rights.”

MS. RYE:  And I think, beyond the morality of the actual policies that they’re advocating for, we need to talk about the legality of what they’re doing.  This is a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit entity.  I know the rules and restrictions because I have one.  When you talk about a “substantial part” test for lobbying efforts and that kind of thing, the fact that you are actually doing the work of a legislator is – is beyond an ethical violation.  We are do- — working hard to even try to – to challenge their 501(c)(3) exempt status.

MR. MARTIN:  So – so, what does that entail in terms of – are there attorneys working on that?  Are they going to the IRS to say they should be investigated?

MS. RYE:  There’s an entity called Common Cause that has actually filed a complaint.  I think, on another hand, on the congressional side, there are members who would work towards hearings and reviewing their 501(c)(3) status.  It’s really unheard of for the IR- — the IRS to revoke a 501(c)(3) –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. RYE:  — but I think this is one of those egregious –

MR. MARTIN:  What – what –

MR. ROBINSON:  There – there –

MS. RYE:  — ca- — cases.

MR. ROBINSON:  — was a whistleblower that actually turned over thousands of –

MS. RYE:  Yeah.

MR. ROBINSON:  — documents of – years of documents.  In fact, nonprofits can do a certain amount of lobbying – 501(c)(3)’s – but, actually, ALEC for the last 40 years has claimed zero – zero on their tax forms in terms of lobbying – while pushing – while claiming on their website of having a track record of pushing and getting laws passed all around the country.  And so they’ve got emails – Common Cause has emails back and forth between legislators and – and corporations on the actually Blackberrys and emails of the legislatures that are being paid for through our tax dollars.  And so in many place- — in many cases, what’s actually happened is corporations have been able to give tax-exempt money and get tax breaks to give money to ALEC that – that comes – that comes away from us, and while ALEC goes out and does something illegal by pushing these laws.

And so this Common Cause lawsuit, hopefully, moves forward; but it’s also – it’s also a clear message to these corporations that we will no longer have business as usual in Washington, that – that there’s going to be challenges to the influence of money in politics.

MR. MARTIN:  I – I don’t think the – the average person really understands what takes place in – in the nation’s capital when you have these groups, that you’ve never heard of –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — you’ve never seen their leadership.

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  You – you don’t really understand how they were created –

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — whether it’s the Koch brothers or others who are funding organizations.  I mean Republicans and conservatives have criticized George Soros for funding groups as well, but you sort of have these – these shadowy organizations –

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — who are working behind the scenes, and you think it’s that legislature, or le- — legislator, or –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — you think it’s someone like that –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — but it’s really these kind[s] of –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — groups who really pull the levels of –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — power –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — all across the country, in D.C. and state capitols.

MS. DIANIS:  They’re – I mean they’re the wizard behind the curtain – right?  They are pulling the strings.  They are making the decisions that rule our daily lives, and they’re flying under the radar.  They don’t come on TV.  You do not see anyone from –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  — ALEC on TV.  And there’s a reason:  because they can get away with it, because there’s no transparency.

But, finally, what has happened is that the cover has been taken off, and we are exposing them, and now people know who they are, what they’ve been up to, and the people who’ve been funding them.

MS. RYE:  Yeah –

MS. DIANIS:  And the people who’ve been funding them are the same people that –

MR. MARTIN:  Angela, final –

MS. DIANIS:  — we give money to.

MR. MARTIN:  — comment.

MS. RYE:  — I think therein lies the problem, though.  You’re saying that there’s no transparency, and that’s exactly what a 501(c)(3) is supposed to do.  You’re supposed to be transparent.  So, that’s –

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I’ll –

MS. RYE:  — a problem.

MR. MARTIN:  — tell you what.  We’ve made multiple calls to ALEC to discuss this issue, and – to your point – they refused to come on.


MR. MARTIN:  Folks, we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

MS. DIANIS:  Thanks.

MR. ROBINSON:  Thank you.

MS. RYE:  Thank you.

  • Robinsoniimarvins

    what gets me, is that professionals from the OUTside will report and talk about this type of issue and completely erase, over-look or IGNORE the impact- power that the Koch Brothers already yield with Kansas Corporation Commission where they are OPENLY are allowed to RULE like gods with EXTREMELY expesnsive UTILITY cost and fees: which are throwing VeterAns out of their homes, and taking the neighborhood through some of the most expensive water, lights and natural gas fees-

    Which will block,  Veterans in the poor low-income Black areas, the November 2012 privilege to VOTE: nobody chooses to connect the dots on the almost invisible THRESHOLDS, of just taking the rights for VETERans to be able to have access to our homes, because they control the state utility regulatory authority, out Wichita and Topeka- and are just wiping out entire sectins of our poor low-income Black African American neighborhoods in Kansas City.

    ALL that to try and convey, that it’s much larger than just privatizing prisons, or ALEC- it’s right NOw and our DeprivAtion of RIGHTs against Utility GIANTs of ExTREME cost and fees, could toss those of still clinging-ON by the Prayer-LINes, no particiaption in the upcoming ELecTIONs-

    PRAYers for un-EMPLOYED  VETERANs, in Kansas who are now being DENIED UTILITIES in Kansas, unless you go pay $5k to $9k to begin Probate procedures from the same identical homes / houses, that we have called home most of lives.  IT is rather critical to be able to try and point-out this specific scenario, because, NO MEDIA, or governmental jurisdictional authority has offered to extend any humane courtesies that would assure that come NOvember, registerd VOTers who are HOMeless, or may become HOMeLeSs, will have a format to PrOTEct our Rights to VOTE-

    thank you and may God Bless, somebody out-there to UNDERsTand that while, yaLL broadcast about the Koch Brothers and Alec, yall need to consider how the new, and possibly daMNed near HOMeLeSs will be able to VOTe come NOvember and why are they being allowed to stop Veterans from having Utility services / and NOBOdy in Kansas can correct these horrific wronGs !!!

    Thank You from this Navy Vet

    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    Quindaro Ruins / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2013