At first glance, it might not appear that Trayvon Martin and public service workers in Wisconsin had much in common. Martin lived in Florida about 1,300 miles away from Wisconsin. Martin was a bright teenager with a promising future ahead of him. Those serving the public in Wisconsin are adults, most of whom are well into the public service careers. The one common thread connecting them is that both are the victims of state laws inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC’s members are state lawmakers with a pro-corporate agenda. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, members pay an annual membership fee of $50, but 98 percent of the group’s funding comes from corporations and sources other than the annual fee. ALEC provides model legislation and research support that pro-corporate state lawmakers and social conservatives use to advance their legislative agendas.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed one night a month ago as he was walking home from a convenience store. His killer George Zimmerman has not been arrested because state prosecutors think Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch leader, was acting under the authority granted him by Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which ALEC helped write.
Stand Your Ground authorizes the use of deadly force by a civilian who believes that a crime is being committed and that his or her life is in danger. Zimmerman, who the Miami Herald reports, followed Martin after he left the convenience store because Martin ”looked high, walked too slowly in the rain, and appeared to be looking at people’s houses.” The fact that Martin was a young African-American male wearing a hoody also led Zimmerman conclude that Martin was a “suspicious character.”
The two exchanged words, and what happened next is still unclear. What is clear is that Zimmerman used his pistol to shoot Martin, who was armed only with a bag of Skittles he purchased earlier.
The Herald today reports that police officers investigating the incident originally recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, but that the local police chief decided not to do so because he thought Zimmerman was acting under the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
(Martin’s parents are pushing state prosecutors to continue investigating the case and to prosecute their son’s killer. They are asking supporters to sign a petition to this effect and have so far gathered more than 2 million signatures.)
In his column that appeared in last Friday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman observes that ALEC’s model legislation, like Stand Your Ground, doesn’t always directly help corporations, but it helps create “a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.”
In the case of Stand Your Ground, its passage was as much about mobilizing social conservatives to vote for candidates who would support pro-corporate legislation like the privatization of Florida’s prison as it was to enhance the right to carry and use weapons. (The Teamsters killed the prison privatization attempt.)
In Wisconsin, ALEC’s influence in the passage of the infamous 2011 Act 10 is undeniable. Act 10 cut benefits of public service workers and denied them their right to bargain collectively, which advanced ALEC’s goal of weakening the labor movement.
Unlike Stand Your Ground, Act 10 was not a piece of model legislation, but ALEC was heavily involved in its passage. Gov. Scott Walker while a state legislator was an ALEC board member. Both the Wisconsin Senate Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, and the state Assembly Speaker, his brother Jeff Fitzgerald, are ALEC members.
The Center for Media and Democracy reports that while Act 10 wasn’t written by ALEC, it ”comports with ALEC’s sweeping anti-union agenda,” which mirrors Corporate America’s anti-union agenda.
ALEC’s corporate benefactors, which number in the hundreds, include Walmart, Koch Industries, AT&T, Verizon, State Farm, and UPS. (You can find a more extensive list at the Center for Democracy and the Media’s ALEC exposed website.).
ALEC’s executive director is Ray Scherbele, who before he assumed the leadership of ALEC, worked as a lobbyist for Verizon. While he was working for Verizon, he represented Verizon on ALEC’s board of directors.
“ALEC is a one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced,” reads a report by People for the American Way. “It’s win-win for corporations, their lobbyists, and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder.”