By: Jack Nelson
He had been the people’s choice, he had wanted to help his country and its citizens. “I used to be a respected politician…” Carter thought out loud. As he sat in the most comfortable leather recliner in his study, mulling about the bill’s success and drinking a fresh cup of coffee with a splash of half and half and a spoonful of sugar, just how he liked it, he reflected on how it had all started.
Just elected to be Texas’ new senator, his name, “Noah Carter”, filled every political magazine. There was little to complain about, besides a few extreme newspapers, those so far conservative and radical that they received little attention from the majority, it was positive. He prided himself on his success in finding answers and solutions that appeased all parties involved. The first few months were just what he had expected from the job, he met with advisors, took part in fundraisers and briefings, sat in on on hearings, and from time to time took part in floor debates and votes. It was good, he helped people and got to be involved in making his country a better place everyday.
Then it happened, a few months into his term, a fellow senator he had recently met with contacted him offering advice. He had said that Carter should join the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC1. Carter had heard of them, seen their representatives at conferences, but thought little about them. Some of their ideas he agreed with, some he thought were ridiculous, but they were suspect and violated what our democracy stood for2 so he had stayed away from them. But he had liked the senator, respected him even, he had decided to look into it. The more he looked, the more he realized how deep ALEC’s connections ran3. He was surprised to find that in Texas alone there were at least eight senators and dozens of house representatives working with ALEC. He hadn’t realized that the problem ran that deep.
Several weeks later he had long forgotten his worries about ALEC, his time taken up completely by his duties as a senator. It seemed as if there was never enough time in the day to fulfill his duties, seeing to all the debates and votes, constantly in meetings, and most of all writing legislation. What made it even worse is that even though even with all his time he spent trying to help people, it seemed as if there was never enough money4. Whether they were advertising or trying to raise additional money and support for important legislation, it always seemed like they were short. But no matter, he always did his best to give the people what they needed.
A month or two later Carter attended a conference which aimed to get the legislation on politicians minds written down on paper. As soon as the conference ended, Carter gathered his things and prepared to leave, it had been pretty successful with several pieces of new legislation translated into writing. He opened the door for a fellow senator and after a courteous nod began to follow them out.
“Hey! Hold up Noah!” someone shouted. Carter stood aside and began searching the crowd. There. someone was pushing their way through the horde of legislators trying to get out of the convention hall. It’s that senator again, thought Carter, the one who tried to get him involved in that whole ALEC business.
“Hi Mr…” Carter fought to remember the senator’s name.
“It’s George Hannon, you can call me George,” George sounded a little irked that Carter had forgotten his name.George continued on, questioning Carter. “ You never got back to me about joining ALEC so I checked to see if you got in touch with them directly and they said you hadn’t contacted them either. What happened?”
“Oh I just forgot is all, been terribly busy” Carter quickly responded. He hadn’t forgot.
George’s eyes lit up as he began to speak, “I thought that might be the case, that’s why I decided to talk to some of my friends at ALEC and they’re very interested to meet you. In fact I told them i’d find you right after the conference and we’d all have a chat about the future and our interests in it.”
“You know… i’m really in a rush, maybe some other time?” responded Carter. He wasn’t in a rush.
“It will only take a few minutes, trust me it’ll be worth it” said George. Not wishing to be outright rude, Carter tipped his head signaling his willingness to go with the senator. They made their way back through the crowd, across the hall, and through a door in the side of the hall. It seemed as though a small crowd had gathered, it appeared to be made up of a few of the more senior and influential conservative senators as well as others who seemed more akin to businessmen than legislators5.
George cleared his throat to get the attention of the room, “Here’s that new senator from Texas I was telling you all about, I have to go… but I think you’ll have plenty to talk about.” He shook a few of their hands and said his farewells before slipping out the door they had come through, but not before giving Carter a particularly excited wink. All eyes turned back to Carter. There was a moment of silence that unnerved Carter deeply, it felt like he was standing in the center of a pack of wolves that were busy deciding who would take the first shot at taking him down. Eventually one of the senators he thought he might have seen before approached him hand outstretched and grin wide. One by One Carter shook each of their hands.
“I won’t waste time introducing myself,” started the original senator, “what matters is why we’re all here… and why you’re here.”
Carter began to question him, “And why is that?”
“Because we want to help the American people of course” answered the senator with that same wolfish grin, he continued, “we all share that goal, and we all share something else… we’re part of ALEC, we understand that there are some pretty negative things being said about us but just hear us out.”
Another senator who had been quiet until that point continued, “all you have to do is help push the occasional bill6 that we write up, you put it forward as your own idea and you get all the credit of course, and you may happen to get a nice donation from our friends here7-,” he gestured to the men Carter had thought looked out of place, “-and you get to keep helping the American people, only now you’ll have more financial backing and a lot of new friends to help you out.” Carter swayed a little, he was feeling a little light headed as he tried to comprehend what was happening here. This is corruption! he thought. What happened next was a blur, the men said a few more things, something along the lines of not wanting him to make such a big decision so fast and that he had a big future ahead of him if he played his cards right, someone handed him a business card, and then the next thing he remembered was closing the front door to his house.
Try as he might to forget the encounter during the next few weeks he couldn’t shake what had happened. It was the card that plagued him most, he looked at it every night before he went to bed. And after every day, every day that he tried to fit all that had to be done into his schedule, every day that he was forced to make a decision about what budget cuts and financial support would mean, he looked at the card and was disgusted by their coercion. That is until one night, when after weeks filled by hard decisions and annoyance caused by his inability to help those who really needed it, the card just angered him. And even that eventually turned to confusion. And then one night, in bed drinking a fresh cup of coffee with a splash of half and half and a spoonful of sugar, just how he liked it, he sat holding the card, and considered for a second what it would mean for him to be a part of ALEC.
And then it was that thought, the one that considered how much more he would be able to help if he were a member of ALEC, that plagued him. It’s true he would be a puppet8 of men just like those as the conference months prior, wolves looking to use or tear apart whatever stood in front of them to get farther ahead. But he would have more funding to advertise and pass bills that could do real good, with the additional time not taken writing bills he could meet with likeminded individuals who wanted to change the future for the better, and with the allies and ties in ALEC he would have considerably more leverage. Little by little the idea grew on him. And then one day he sent an email to the address and the card. The response, among other things, had said “Congratulations! I’ll handle the rest so you can consider yourself a member of ALEC now!”
There was still the hustle and bustle of the life of a senator, but now the majority of Carter’s day’s were filled with satisfaction as he approved plans he would never have had time for and watched supporters for his initiatives grow whether due to the advertisements and campaigns he wouldn’t have had money for or from his connections in Alec, and carried on with his other duties. But every now and then he shuddered his way through signing or introducing a bill made by ALEC. It was manageable he thought, he told himself that the number of people he was helping was far more than those he might be betraying by signing a bill created by ALEC, and it was with this thought that the next few weeks flew easily by.
But eventually he was introduced to a piece of legislation he was told to help push, just like any other he had helped with they said, but it wasn’t. This new legislation would hurt the lives of a large portion of the people he was supposed to serve. A bill that allowed businesses to make a few more dollars in exchange for the help to get bills for funding public education through, he could do that, but a bill that was unequivocally bad for millions, that he couldn’t. He sent an email back informing his contacts that he would have to abstain from pushing that legislation. His decision got a quick response. Taking a sip of his coffee, with a splash of half and half and a spoonful of sugar, just the way he liked it, Carter remembered opening an email from his contact that very concisely informed him that they were very sad to hear his response and that they were likewise very sad to inform him that this would likely be his last term. Something about a shortage in funding, a lack of support from fellow senators, and the possibility of ads against him by some very powerful corporations. After reading the email, he had gotten a feeling eerily similar to the one that night in the back room of the convention hall with the wolf pack. He also remembered that it only took a day for him to write back that he had made an error in judgement and that he would be happy to help push the legislation through9. Carter had reasoned to himself, convincing himself everyday likewise, that he could do no better if he was out of office. And so it was with a considerable amount of convincing and very little sleep, that he helped the bill pass.
He was rewarded for his help with another term. And while he was no longer known as a senator of the people who worked to reach conclusions that helped as many people as possible, he was much more connected and known through many political circles, he helped to bring others into ALEC and regularly pushed bills that would one have troubled a younger Carter. But again, he had connections and power and his career was just starting.
Noah Carter reflected on this transformation all before he finished coffee, with a splash of half and half and a spoonful of sugar, the way he always did. Because if there was one thing that the years had granted him, it was perspective, and if there was one thing perspective revealed, it was shame and regret. For all that he could have been and all those he could have helped had it not been for his own greed and for a system that encouraged corruption, a system that allowed for partnership between ALEC and Legislators. He had been a politician who the people could trust, who could have helped to positively shape the future of his nation, but he had traded it for a quick and easy route to power, where he would be dictated and controlled by companies looking to use the very people he was supposed to be serving to make a quick buck. It was a shame that it had taken him so long to realize the kind of effect a system like that had, where even in the best cases, with senators who wanted to do right by their country, could be corrupted and turned against their people.
1 ) There are many ways that people can join ALEC including paid memberships, however due to their nature as a private organization and suspect nature it is impossible to tell all the ways people can be involved. Carter’s offer to join ALEC from a fellow senator just chosen for the sake of storytelling.
2 ) Our country is founded on the principles of Democracy, nobody can deny that(whether it lives up to it is a different topic altogether), so when super powerful corporations that represent one ideology come together and use money to overpower the people, it is undeniably against our principles and morals. Some people will state that progressives or radicals are just complaining because they’re mad because they don’t have an organization as influential, but there’s a reason why representation in the government isn’t based on population, because a bunch of conservatives complained they wouldn’t be represented. It’s easy to be hypocritical when you’re ahead. These topics are discussed both here, and here.
3 ) Texas has 67 former and current politicians who are members of ALEC (not counting those who have left). Further information on politicians associated with ALEC in other states can be found here, and here.
4 ) According to a Washington Post article, when examining what factors made a legislator more likely to be associated with ALEC, they found that those from conservative states who received less funding, spent less time crafting legislation, and were less experienced were far more likely to rely on ALEC’s bills.
5 ) Three times a year ALEC gathers state legislators and companies alike so that companies can tell legislators what they want to see happening. Hundreds of state legislators attend. More can be read here.
6 ) ALEC’s involvement is far more prevalent than some would assume, a quote found in this New York Times article may give you a good idea: “ALEC lawmakers typically introduced more than 1,000 bills based on model legislation each year and passed about 17 percent of them.”
7 ) Companies, such as AARP who have gone on record confirming it, pay ALEC to be able to influence our legislators, you can read further about the practices in these meetings here.
8 ) ALEC regularly controls it’s politicians, not only telling them what to vote for, but even what to say at important events and or when making news statements. Examples and related material are mentioned in a New York Times article here.
9 ) Prominent politicians are often used by ALEC to control the success of legislation, take Bill Seitz, who wrote to a fellow lawmaker saying: “the considered advice from our friends at ALEC was that such legislation is not well taken and should not be approved.” This quote can be found in an article here.