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Profit Above All
According to figures from ALEC's own IRS filings from 2007 to 2009, made public by CMD, the organization raked in more than $21.6 million from corporations (with members including Exxon Mobil, Altria, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer); institutions like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; and nonprofits including the NRA, the Goldwater Institute and the Family Research Council. In all, private-sector contributions account for nearly 98 percent of ALEC's funding, while the dues paid by member lawmakers, pegged at about $50, came to just more than $250,000, or about 1 percent of its haul during the same time period.
In exchange for these hefty—though tax-deductible donations—ALEC's private-sector members get to ensure that individual pieces of ALEC legislation, by and large, serve a narrow band of very specific corporate interests: education measures benefit for-profit education firms and harm unions; healthcare measures benefit insurance companies and drug manufacturers; tort reforms benefit corporations in general by limiting their liability to consumers.
More "insidious," as Graves put it, is ALEC's drive against voting rights.
"It's deeply cynical and quite sinister—an outlandish effort by ALEC and others to make it harder for Americans to vote," she says. "At the end of the day, depending on which analysis you're looking at, it's possible that these measures remove maybe 1 percent from the pool of votes that would be part of the election. You still have an election, but you've shaved off this percentage; you have the appearance that you have an election."
If voting rights get in the way, well, as notorious mob accountant Otto Berman once said, "Nothing personal. It's just business."
"I think it is a little more class-oriented," says Alexander Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and a frequent speaker and writer on voting-rights issues.
"The core interest in the suppression that's going on is partisan, it's not racial," he says. "If African Americans voted predominately Republican, or 50–50 Republican, I don't think their neighborhoods would be targeted for suppressive efforts. I think that it's a community that now votes 95 percent Democrat, and if you want to knock out Democrat interests, that's a good place to start."