How to Play the ALEC Game

How to Play the ALEC Game

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No, it wasn’t the Arab Spring.  And, it wasn’t the Summer of Town Halls.  But what is clear is that social media and social networks again played a crucial role in how policy making is conducted in the United States. The Goliath this time is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The role of David was played by the grassroots online organization known as Color of Change.

Few media outlets want to give that kind of shout out to an advocacy organization dominated by people of color.  And ALEC is certainly feeling like the Boston Bruins when Afro-Canadian Joel Ward made that series winning shot.  Yet, people of color made a major impact in the digital sphere by exposing ALEC.

In a message to its members, Color of Change accused a number of large American corporations of supporting legislation designed to suppress the voting privileges of minorities. The clearinghouse for these funds and primary drafter of the discriminatory legislation, according to Color of Change, is ALEC.  “You can’t come for Black folks’ money by day and try to take away our vote by night,” said Color of Change’s Executive Director Rashad Robinson in a recent interview.

Others followed suit, piling it on ALEC.  Entered Common Cause with its website “ALEC Exposed” which also took the organization to task for actively lobbying for “Stand Your Ground” laws in state legislatures.

Overnight, ALEC became synonymous with the BORG.

ALEC is admittedly a conservative advocacy group that has historically drafted and promoted legislation aimed at limiting government, promoting free markets, ensuring federalism, and protecting individual liberty. The group was started in 1973 and is made up of conservative state legislators and policy makers.

Color of Change called the group out for supporting voter ID laws that have been passed in seven states and introduced in 27 others. It argues that the requirements in these laws – that individuals present picture identification such as driver’s licenses – are particularly onerous on minorities and the elderly.

Color of Change’s online activity has had significant impact. Some ALEC’s sponsors, including Coca-Cola, have left the organization apparently preferring to maintain good relationships with consumers and protecting their bottom lines.

But, their defection is indicative of a bigger problem that corporations have faced for decades: that given their commercial positions, corporations have, even with increasing rights to individual speech, preferred to avoid political speech.

Coca Cola probably has no interest in voter ID laws. Their attraction to groups like ALEC is probably based on this particular group’s emphasis on limited government which translates to lighter regulation. Corporations need surrogates in state capitals that can advocate a company’s position on corporate property taxes without the company having to bare itself to its potential customers.

While the minority community may have seen some benefits from Color of Change’s online efforts, the political advocacy and clout movement model ALEC follows can’t be overlooked. It’s proven to be an effective tool for promoting legislation that promotes the organization’s conservative agenda. ALEC also shows that social media advocacy can only go so far; that a strong organizational structure is necessary in order to be a significant player in policy.

It’s a model people of color should replicate.

Just look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement had a strong social media presence on Twitter, but after a year of existence, it has not managed to garner significant political traction … or votes.

In addition, suppose minority groups had a traditional brick and mortar advocacy group model for advocacy in the state capitals, one that also spoke out for minority business issues. Maybe we would have proactively countered these very voter ID laws that we are facing now.   It might be time to stop hating the player – and start learning more about how to play the game.

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