It began with a March 15 blog post – University of Wisconsin Professor of History William Cronon’s fist blog post on his new blog, Scholar as Citizen – a blog post entitled “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here) . It delivered on what the title offered.
Telling Your State Legislators What to Do:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
The most important group, I’m pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft “model bills” that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)
If you’re as impressed by these numbers as I am, I’m hoping you’ll agree with me that it may be time to start paying more attention to ALEC and the bills its seeks to promote.
You can start by studying ALEC’s own website. Begin with its home page at
First visit the “About” menu to get a sense of the organization’s history and its current members and funders. But the meat of the site is the “model legislation” page, which is the gateway to the hundreds of bills that ALEC has drafted for the benefit of its conservative members.
You’ll of course be eager to look these over…but you won’t be able to, because you’re not a member.
Becoming a Member of ALEC: Not So Easy to Do
In Cronon’s own words in a follow-up post, “My little ALEC study guide succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.”
Last week was quite a roller coaster for me. I spent the weekend of March 12-13 drafting an op-ed for the New York Times (published on March 22, and available at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html) about the several ways in which I believe that Scott Walker and the current leadership of the Republican Party in Wisconsin have departed not just from the longstanding culture of civility and good government in this state, but in fact from important traditions of their own party. In the course of writing that op-ed, I did some research trying to figure out where the current wave of conservative legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere might be coming from.
Within two days, the blog had received over half a million hits, had been read by tens of thousands of people, had been linked by newspapers all over the United States, and had been visited by people from more than two dozen foreign countries. Many readers expressed considerable interest in the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and said they were grateful for the guidance I had tried to provide for people wishing to learn more about it. (A smaller number of readers were much more hostile, and you can read their comments on the blog.)
All this was welcome, and I’m greatly heartened by the thought that an organization that has exercised such extraordinary but almost invisible influence over American political life for the past forty years may finally start to receive more of the scrutiny that its far-reaching activities deserve.
In response to Cronon’s blog post, the Wisconsin Republican Party made a request to the legal office of the U of WI under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law for
Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.
The acronyms you may not recognize are unions. The names that may be unfamiliar are Wisconsin Republican state officeholders, including the eight who are currently the subject of recall campaigns because of their votes to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin. What could be the purpose of this request?
One answer is that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has explicit policies about appropriate use of its email accounts. In general, students and faculty members are only supposed to use their state email addresses for communications clearly related to the educational mission of the university.
Much more important, there is an explicit prohibition against individuals using state email addresses for partisan political purposes. Here’s the crucial sentence: “University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum.” (You can read these policies for yourself at http://www.cio.wisc.edu/policies/appropriateuse.aspx.)
Ah, we get the drift. What is best married to a coordinated stealth campaign to alter American society via state-level legislation that repeatedly hides the true nature of its intent? Why, a campaign to intimidate and bully those who may oppose or seek to expose this activity. For Cronon has already stated that he has nothing to hide in the matter, and the University is obligated to comply with the request, but any of us knows that most people do not have the stomach to enter into and resist this kind of hardball politics. Will, perhaps, Cronon now hesitate to fully engage this or any other issue of investigation for fear of bringing the police dogs down on him?
I use that last term purposefully. Today is the forty-third anniversary of a march Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr. led through Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. Because of the violence that greeted the marchers, King chose to return to Memphis the following week to renew his support. He met his fate. However, all throughout the Civil Rights Movement, oppressive local governments used existing law to thwart protest and intimidate those who waged campaigns in pursuit of greater justice. You can watch the footage – frequently during marches they set police dogs on the protesters.
Recall, too, that Southern Sheriff’s were not ashamed to stand for what they defended. They were not shamed by how they behaved. Neither has Scott Walker been ashamed, nor the Wisconsin Republican Party, which has been roundly criticized for its attempt to intimidate a critic. (Cronon offers an account of the reaction and links to the many responses here.) The Wisconsin RP attacks again – like a police dog, it jumps forward, snapping against the leash.
In response to Professor William Cronin’s deplorable tactics in seeking to force the Republican Party of Wisconsin to withdraw a routine open records request, Executive Director Mark Jefferson released the following statement:
“Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.
“I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.
“Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.”
Jack Shafer, at Slate, wearing either a fool’s blinders or disingenuously passing them out for others to wear, offered the most obtuse response to the affair in There’s No Such Thing as a Bad FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] Request.
[The Wisconsin statute’s] opening words unambiguously declare that “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.”
I find nothing in that sentence that sounds remotely McCarthyesque. Do you?
No, Jack Shafer, it’s not the sentence that’s McCarthyesque – it’s the use of it. (Would that be duh?) What McCarthy did was not illegal either. It always seems so reasonable on the face of it to request information. What could be wrong with that? What have you got to hide?
It could actually be that the Wisconsin law is too broad. Or is Shafer, I wonder, a supporter of Julian Assange, who so far has been charged with no illegality in his release of U.S. diplomatic cables. Would Shafer like to see the sentence above applied federally? It offers no qualifiers, conceptually, about national security. Could it be that the concept is not quite so simple? That it is legal does not make it right, and it is the nature of the right, and the Right, that is at issue in Wisconsin.
What about the nature of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that Cronon has now exposed? Read his accounts of what it is and who is a part of it. It calls itself “nonpartisan,” yet every member of its board of directors is Republican. It’s “Private Enterprise Board” (would that be funders?) is a who’s who of corporate America, including, of course, Koch Industries.
Do you know how the Right has demonized George Soros? #Soros on Twitter is like the mark of the devil for the righteous Right.
It could be Cronon has brought to light the real George Soros.
And it’s not George Soros.
And it’s on the Right.
- “Wisconsin’s Most Dangerous Professor” and related posts (mostlywater.org)
- Wisconsin Republicans Seek Return to McCarthy Era (skydancingblog.com)
- Wisconsin GOP Launches Witch Hunt Against Professor William Cronon (bigthink.com)
- Wisconsin GOP: You’re friggin’ right we want that one friggin’ college professor’s friggin’ emails (dailykos.com)
- The Wisconsin Republican Party uses Open Records Law to get emails written by the Wisconsin professor William Cronon. (althouse.blogspot.com)