Monday, March 26, 2012

Write Your Own Damn Laws

Paul Krugman turns his attention to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying organization sponsored by a number of large corporations that cranks out ready-made boilerplate laws that then get passed by Republicans in state legislatures, many without changing a word from the factory.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

What’s getting ALEC noticed is that it is the group that basically drafted Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Which makes me wonder if ALEC will be held accountable when, if not now in the Trayvon Martin case, someone decides to sue the state of Florida or one of its agencies over the law.

That is really what is at the heart of the matter: who will be held accountable. That’s basically what justice is all about: who caused the injury, who will make the amends, who will face the consequences of the action? In the Martin case, will the National Rifle Association and ALEC be the ones to answer for the injustice? Can they be hauled into court by the family for complicity in passing a law that any reasonable person could see the inevitable conclusion that at some point someone would kill an unarmed and non-threatening person and basically get away with it?

As the law stands now, of course not. Lobbyists are not held to account for pushing through laws that they want because they can claim that all they did was point out the benefits of the legislation — and the consequences (both electoral and financial) to the elected representatives who vote against them. The corporations and the interest groups are shielded, if not in the legal sense, because when it comes right down to it, they’re not the ones who printed out the templates, filled in the blanks, and passed it off as their own work like a college student buying a term paper from an on-line paper mill.

But if we did hold them accountable, I wonder if they would bite that hands that feed them.