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AFT affiliate leads effort to move ALEC out of New Jersey

Earlier this year, a number of major corporate funders, including Coca-Cola, Intuit, Kraft, McDonald's and Pepsi, cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, a nationwide organization designed to push a pro-corporate conservative agenda in state legislatures, has faced well-deserved criticism for promoting model legislation that undermines public health services, limits voting rights, and privatizes government services at a cost to taxpayers.

AFT vice president Ann Twomey

"We are all affected by ALEC and its extreme legislative agenda, whether it's focused on voter ID, defunding public healthcare services, or privatizing public services," says AFT vice president Ann Twomey, who heads New Jersey's AFT-affiliated Health Professionals and Allied Employees. "The legislation hurts those we represent in the community at large."

The ALEC agenda prompted HPAE to head up a broad coalition to encourage New Jersey-based corporations to end their membership in ALEC.

On Oct. 1, representatives of the New Jersey ALEC Exposed Coalition held a press conference to unveil a new report showing the influence of ALEC on the New Jersey political process. The new report, "ALEC in New Jersey: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of New Jersey's Legislature"—which was jointly produced by the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, People For the American Way Foundation, and ProgressNow—shows how legislation written by ALEC lobbyists has been introduced or enacted into law in New Jersey.

"There have been a surprising number of bills promoted by ALEC in the New Jersey state Legislature," Twomey says. "Fortunately, we have a Democratic majority in the Assembly and the Senate. But we have a governor who would support the ALEC agenda."

The work of the coalition to pressure New Jersey-based corporations likely pushed the pharmaceutical giant Merck to decide not to renew its ALEC membership next year. Members of the coalition sent letters to the CEO of Merck and had a chance to speak with company leadership to discuss its participation in ALEC. Merck ultimately joined the numerous corporations, nonprofits and elected officials who have resigned from the organization this year.

In a NJ.com article, an ALEC spokeswoman responded to the report with the following statement: "It's ridiculous that job creators are facing intimidation attacks from special interest groups because they might belong to a group that promotes free-market ideas. This is a sideshow lead by the same type of people that have been 'occupying' American cities. The primary concern should be getting the economy back on track … not attacking job creators."

Twomey responded by noting that "the coalition we have established is primarily one made up of people who work for a living, and ALEC's agenda is designed to undercut their rights. The statement is a representation of who ALEC is. If they wanted to create jobs, they could. But ALEC's agenda has nothing to do with the creation of jobs and everything to do with the creation of more money for fewer people. "

The coalition's job is not done, says Twomey. There are at least four more corporations that the coalition is targeting—Celgene, Daiichi Sankyo, Honeywell and Novartis. Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company based in Bridgewater, N.J., that was on the coalition's list decided to drop its ALEC membership just before the press conference.

"We are happy to talk to the CEOs of these corporations, but we will put more public pressure on them if they don't end their membership in ALEC," Twomey says. "This is an important fight and one we plan to win." [Adrienne Coles, NJ.com]

October 4, 2012