Lee Fang: ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council, they're existed for some thirty years, but they've been in hot water recently, because they've been exposed to everything from the Stand Your Ground Law to efforts to ban the minimal wage, or to ban the living wage. What Alec does is they have a corporate lobbyist in State legislature, you know, state assemblymen, state senators, and they get into a room, and they come up with bills; and these model pieces of legislation are then distributed around the country to be enacted. This has been the subject of a New York Times Investigation. Bill Moyers has done some great work exposing what they're doing.
But what hasn't been reported and what's new in my article is that the SPN has quietly formed an official partnership with Alec to basically act as their public relations firm. So to walk you through this process, let me take the online school debate. Some of the big online k-12 school companies like Connections Academy, they'd like to have virtual charter schools where taxpayer money is used to buy education for kids where it's 100% virtual education. Where the kids, let's say your a fourth grader, you take your voucher, you give it to this for-profit online education school. They get the money, and then you receive your instruction at home on your computer. This is a very controversial practice. It's very untested, and they have high dropout rates, very low test scores, but Wall Street sees this as a big growth area.
How did they enact all these laws in the last four years expanding virtual charter schools? This is how it works: the big companies went to ALEC, they drafted legislation that legalizes these vouchers for for-profit online education companies. When the legislator submits the bill, whether you're in Annapolis or in Sacramento, it basically works the same way. As soon as those bills are introduced from an Alec member legislator, the SPN think tank in the representative state will then write opeds, letters to the editor, they will do press conferences, they will work with American's for Prosperity, the Tea Party Group, tol then organize big rallies in support of these bills. They'll go to the Capitol with some of their representatives to push for that bill. They'll commission studies saying that it's so popular.
Basically, they'll do everything they can to give legislators the impression that there's a groundswell of public support for this legislation that ALEC has submitted, until the legislation is accepted. They've helped create the publicity, the PR strategy, to see ALEC's agenda enacted. They basically work as fingers in the same glove with a similar agenda. In fact, in 2009, Tracy Sharp, the President of the SPN, was given an award by ALEC thanking her for this new partnership, and they've gone on to fight many battles together.
Rob Kall: So what does the Left have to counter this? What are they doing?
Lee Fang: Well, the Left has some similar groups. I wouldn't say that they use the same type of unscrupulous tactics of lying about their opposition, and some of these smear campaigns and conspiracies, but they do have these permanent political organizations in many states. The big difference, though, is that they're simply much smaller. There's a group called The Progress Now Network that has set up these local think tanks and organizing institutes that are dedicated to promoting increasing the minimum wage, promoting health reform, fighting for better labor laws, like paid sick leave. The problem is they're just (chuckles) very small. They receive their donations from some family foundations, a little bit from unions; but if you look across the states, and they just don't really match up compared to what's out there on the Right, in terms of the SPN, the Franklin Center, Americans for Prosperity, and some of these other groups.
Look at a state like Michigan: There's the union backed Progress Now Network, "Progress Michigan" there; but they've got less than $1 million they're running on per year. But if you look at the SPN network think tank in that state, it's called "The Mackinaw Center," and you look at what American's for Prosperity is spending, it's something like close to $5 million. They've got a 5-1 advantage, and that's why you see even in a state like Michigan, the cradle of the private sector labor movement, the battle of Detroit, the very first big union contract with the auto makers, you see even that state moving towards the Right and getting rid of their unions? Well, it's thanks to this imbalance in political infrastructure, in my opinion.
Rob Kall: Where do the Democrats fit in to this?