By Mark Pocan on Aug 7, 2011
According to Wikipedia, a “secret society” is defined like this:
“A secret society is a club or organization whose activities and inner functioning are concealed from non-members. The society may or may not attempt to conceal its existence. The term usually excludes covert groups, such as intelligence agencies or guerrilla insurgencies, which hide their activities and memberships but maintain a public presence. The exact qualifications for labeling a group as a secret society are disputed, but definitions generally rely on the degree to which the organization insists on secrecy, and might involve the retention and transmission of secret knowledge, denial of membership in or knowledge of the group, the creation of personal bonds between members of the organization, and the use of secret rites or rituals which solidify members of the group.”
After spending the last three days at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual convention, I find this definition extremely on-target. The part I found especially relevant was the description of acting as a covert group that hides their activities and membership but maintains a public presence. That is ALEC.
Their membership lists are kept secret. We don't know who is a member, legislative or corporate. We don't know how much money they get from these corporations. The public is kept in the dark about just who ALEC really is.
The level of paranoia at the convention by the ALEC staff was intense. They had added security to keep outsiders away. Even people who tried to register for the convention from outside groups like the Center for Media and Democracy were kicked out and the person’s picture was known by all the staff.
When two people from the Center for American Progress were kicked out, they even had altercations with them. Outside of one of the secret evening events, they were physically accosted and one person left bleeding by the end.
No video cameras were allowed. They nervously paced the hallways at all levels looking for suspicious characters. When you went to one of the Task Force meetings where they actually approve the corporate model legislation, only task force members can even get a copy of what is presented. And since members are selected by their state delegation leaders, no one like me would ever get on a task force.
At night, there were multiple additional more secretive events and parties not listed on the agenda, all sponsored by corporations and conservative special interests. But unless you were “invited” (supposedly an ALEC membership would suffice), you wouldn’t even know about them. I received only one such invite that must have mistakenly got to me, because when I showed up and entered I was kicked out by an ALEC staff member. Of note, I am an ALEC member and paid to go to the convention. Also, of note, the event was a corporate sponsored event, but clearly the line between corporations and ALEC are non-existent.
I understand why they have such intense secrecy. They should. They are nothing more than a front for passing on corporate and special interest wish lists to conservative legislators, really a matchmaking service as I have described before. Call it corporate match.com I guess. But it is clear what goes on.
Corporations and conservative interests are in charge; after all, they fund the organization. They call the shots. They write the legislation. They vote on the legislation. And, they give advice on how to pass their bills.
At a workshop I attended, one Texas legislator, who moderated the forum, went as far as to say that that we are a big football team. The legislators are the football players and the corporate lobbyists and special interest group presenters are “our” coaches.
If found that analogy spot on.
So when they discuss legislation that will end public education and replace it with a “free market” alternative, or when they propose to eliminate and reduce corporate and other taxes, or when they propose we gut public pensions and take away collective bargaining rights, we should be wary. It’s not for the public good. It is for the corporate good.
And they gave good advice at their secret sessions as well. Governor Bobby Jindal told the crowd, “It pays to be stubborn,” describing how the GOP did so well in the recent debt ceiling negotiations.
At an education workshop, legislators were told to avoid introducing legislation one bill at a time, as opponents can gather opposition and defeat it; instead, introduce a multi-point agenda with multiple fronts much harder to focus on.
And at a task force meeting, they presented warmed over Taxpayer Bill of Rights legislation (TABOR) with a new name and description, because they are having problems getting the old version passed in blue states. They admitted just changing to try to deceive people and get it passed.
So there are many good reasons why ALEC should be a secret society. If the public really knew what they were and what they do, a lot of legislators would have some explaining to do. But fortunately for them, most media will never report on this. That allows the “secret” part to keep going, unfortunately for us, at a very successful pace.
Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who coined the term FitzWalkerstan on the floor of the State Assembly, served three terms on the state’s budget committee, including one as its co-chair. He also served as the vice-chair of the non-partisan National Council on State Legislature’s Budget and Policy committee. Pocan’s Assembly district includes both the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion, making Governor Scott Walker his most infamous constituent.