by Bruce Dunlavy      

(My blog home page and index of other posts may be found here.)

There are those who believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be an existential threat to American freedom.  There are those who believe the same about a Donald Trump presidency.

The people who believe this way are worried about the wrong possibility.  The United States is a resilient nation with a powerful Constitution that has allowed it to survive secession, a Civil War, the near-impeachment of Andrew Johnson, a history of violence and racism, two massive World Wars, and numerous bad presidents – most notably Richard Nixon, whose attempted “Imperial Presidency” caused a Constitutional crisis that was resolved only when he skipped town one step ahead of an impeachment jury.

No, the America we know and love will not be destroyed by a presidency of either of the major-party candidates running this year.  That is not the electoral threat that should frighten us.  We should be frightened – nay, terrified – at the threat posed in elections hardly anybody cares about.  In the 1932 Supreme Court case of New State Ice Company v. Liebmann,  Justice Louis D. Brandeis developed the metaphor that the States are the “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can be tried in a more controlled environment than the national government.

Brandeis may have been right in theory, but this theory is not borne out in practice.  The primary reason is that once you get outside of a State capital and its suburbs, nobody gives much of a damn about State politics.  I’m confident that 75 percent of Americans cannot name a single member of their State legislature, not even their own representatives.  As a result, a small number of determined, well-organized, and well-funded people can conceivably implement a plan which might destroy the USA as we know it.

State legislatures have enormous power.  They can enact laws having much more effect on the everyday lives of citizens than most acts of Congress do.  In almost all States, they can effect control over the national legislature by creative gerrymandering to draw Congressional districts favorable to whichever party controls that State’s government.  That’s how, in the 2014 election, Democratic candidates for seats in the Pennsylvania delegation of the U.S. House of Representatives totaled 44 percent of the votes cast, but won only 27 percent of the seats (five of 18).  Democrats in North Carolina fared even worse, getting 44 percent of the vote but only three of 13 seats.  It’s been estimated that, in order to gain a majority in the U.S. House, Democrats would need ten million more votes than Republicans in House races nationwide. [Update: I have expanded coverage of this pernicious problem in another post. Find it here.]

Of course, gerrymandering is only part of the story, but it is the largest part, and it is dependent on the actions of State legislatures.  So we must ask: Who controls State legislatures?  The answer seems not to be “the citizens of the respective States.”  Who, then, controls State legislatures?  In most cases, the answer is “ALEC.”

Who, you ask, is this “ALEC” person?  ALEC is not an individual, although it is a relatively small group.  ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation which is – in its own words – “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” Behind this nebulous and platitudinous verbiage is the real power behind the State legislatures that are the real power behind the Federal legislature. ALEC calls itself an “educational” organization, and what it does is “educate” State legislators about how to use corporate money to achieve corporate ends.

ALEC is an amalgamation of wealthy corporations and individuals, and what they want to bring to American life is this: more influence by the power of money.  The two most prominent individuals behind ALEC are the well-heeled (and politically active) Charles and David Koch, who are tied for ninth place on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest people in the world.  Together they plan to spend 900 million dollars to influence American elections in 2016.  The network they work through is exemplified by the top sponsors at the ALEC annual meeting two months ago: big tobacco company Altria, transportation giant Burlington Northern, AT&T, Comcast, Dow, Exxon Mobil, Lilly, and several other of the most powerful players in the most powerful industry groups.

Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and political gadfly Jim Hightower describes this cohort in plain terms: “ALEC essentially functions as a full-service whorehouse, hooking up high-dollar corporate customers with governors, legislators, and other state officials who’re willing to carry whatever pieces of legislation the corporations desire.”  The way it works is that the corporate shills at ALEC write legislation.  Notice I did not say “propose” legislation or “suggest” legislation.  ALEC and its team of experts actually draw up bills in legislative form that can be distributed to any or all State legislatures, where they are introduced by ALEC-funded members.

It is not uncommon to see bills that are nearly identical, word-for-word, introduced in several States, often at or near the same time.  The ALEC handouts are templates, with only State-specific language left blank.  Every once in a while, in fact, a legislator has failed to fill in the blanks, resulting in a bill reading, “Be it therefore enacted that the State of {insert state}….”  Through this method, ALEC has been able to midwife corporate-friendly and people-hostile laws into being.  However, this overtly political organization of influence-peddlers is officially a 501(c)3 non-profit (and by “non-profit” is meant “tax-dodging”) corporation, contributions to which qualify as “charitable” tax deductions.

It’s a secret, tax-exempt “Legislation Factory” that is writing – at the behest of the interests of money – the laws we all have to live by.  This is pretty hard to believe, and just so you don’t think I’m making it up, click this link to watch an unnerving investigative report from television station WXIA in Atlanta.
See the source image
Image credit:

That’s pretty sad, and pretty scary.  But it’s not the really scary part.  What’s really scary is that ALEC has quietly been running a scheme to overturn the Constitution of the United States.  Article V of said Constitution provides that a Constitutional Convention to rewrite our nation’s controlling document must be called whenever the legislatures of two-thirds of the States say they want one.  So far, ALEC has surreptitiously spread through the nation a proposal to convene a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of adding an amendment requiring a balanced national budget.

Never mind that a balanced national budget (as most people understand the concept) is not a good idea. The frightening thing is that the balanced budget amendment is just a dog-whistle to attract support for the proposed Convention.  A Constitutional Convention is not called for one proposed amendment alone.  Once it is in session, it may consider any changes to the Constitution, including or ignoring that for which it was ostensibly called.  And ALEC and its cronies have already prepared amendment proposals they plan to introduce if a Convention is called.  Texas governor Greg Abbott listed nine of them in a January 8, 2016, speech.  Reading them sends a chill through my body, and they would be only the beginning.  One could imagine a litany of amendments (and repeals of existing amendments) proposed by religious fanatics, xenophobes, and sociopolitical troglodytes that would turn the United States into something resembling a fascist plutocracy.

How likely is a Constitutional Convention? Two-thirds of the 50 States works out to 34 State legislatures petitioning for it.  As of this writing, 28 petitions have been passed, meaning just ten more will accomplish the task.  ALEC/Koch is actively working in at least eleven more State legislatures.  When you vote this fall, look down the ballot.  Know where your candidates for State legislature stand – and who owns them.