A Study Guide for Those Wishing to Know More

After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges–ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on–I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from.

The Walker-Koch Prank Phone Call Reveals A Lot, But Not Nearly Enough

The prank phone call that Governor Scott Walker unhesitatingly accepted from a blogger purporting to be billionaire conservative donor David Koch has received lots of airplay, and it certainly demonstrates that the governor is accustomed to having conversations with deep-pocketed folks who support his cause. If you’ve not actually seen the transcript, it’s worth a careful reading, and is accessible here:

But even though I’m more than prepared to believe that David and Charles Koch have provided large amounts of money to help fund the conservative flood tide that is sweeping through state legislatures right now, I just don’t find it plausible that two brothers from Wichita, Kansas, no matter how wealthy, can be responsible for this explosion of radical conservative legislation. It also goes without saying that Scott Walker cannot be single-handedly responsible for what we’re seeing either; I wouldn’t believe that even for Wisconsin, let alone for so many other states. The governor clearly welcomes the national media attention he’s receiving as a spear-carrier for the movement. But he’s surely not the architect of that movement.

So…who is?

Conservative History Post-1964: A Brilliant Turnaround Story

I can’t fully answer that question in a short note, but I can sketch its outline and offer advice for those who want to fill in more of the details.

I’ll start by saying–a professorial impulse I just can’t resist–that it’s well worth taking some time to familiarize yourself with the history of the conservative movement in the United States since the 1950s if you haven’t already studied the subject. Whatever you think of its politics, I don’t think there can be any question that the rise of modern conservatism is one of the great turnaround stories in twentieth-century American history. It’s quite a fascinating series of events, in which a deeply marginalized political movement–tainted by widespread public reaction against Senator Joe McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and the massively defeated Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964–managed quite brilliantly to remake itself (and American politics) in the decades that followed.

I provide a brief reading list at the end of this note because many people from other parts of the political spectrum often seem not to take the intellectual roots of American conservatism very seriously. I believe this is a serious mistake. One key insight you should take from this history is that after the Goldwater defeat in 1964, visionary conservative leaders began to build a series of organizations and networks designed to promote their values and construct systematic strategies for sympathetic politicians. Some of these organizations are reasonably well known–for instance, the Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, a Racine native and UW-Madison alumnus who also started the Moral Majority and whose importance to the movement is almost impossible to overestimate–but many of these groups remain largely invisible.

That’s why events like the ones we’ve just experienced in Wisconsin can seem to come out of nowhere. Few outside the conservative movement have been paying much attention, and that is ill-advised.  (I would, by the way, say the same thing about people on the right who don’t make a serious effort to understand the left in this country.)

It’s also important to understand that events at the state level don’t always originate in the state where they occur. Far from it.

Basic Tools for Researching Conservative Groups

If you run across a conservative organization you’ve never heard of before and would like to know more about it, two websites can sometimes be helpful for quick overviews:
Right Wing Watch: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/
SourceWatch: http://www.sourcewatch.org
Both of these lean left in their politics, so they obviously can’t be counted on to provide sympathetic descriptions of conservative groups. (If I knew of comparable sites whose politics were more conservative, I’d gladly provide them here; please contact me if you know of any and I’ll add them to this note.) But for obvious reasons, many of these groups prefer not to be monitored very closely. Many maintain a low profile, so one sometimes learns more about them from their left-leaning critics than from the groups themselves.

I don’t want this to become an endless professorial lecture on the general outlines of American conservatism today, so let me turn to the question at hand: who’s really behind recent Republican legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere?  I’m professionally interested in this question as a historian, and since I can’t bring myself to believe that the Koch brothers single-handedly masterminded all this, I’ve been trying to discover the deeper networks from which this legislation emerged.

Here’s my preliminary answer.

Telling Your State Legislators What to Do:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

The most important group, I’m pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft “model bills” that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)

If you’re as impressed by these numbers as I am, I’m hoping you’ll agree with me that it may be time to start paying more attention to ALEC and the bills its seeks to promote.
You can start by studying ALEC’s own website. Begin with its home page at
First visit the “About” menu to get a sense of the organization’s history and its current members and funders. But the meat of the site is the “model legislation” page, which is the gateway to the hundreds of bills that ALEC has drafted for the benefit of its conservative members.

You’ll of course be eager to look these over…but you won’t be able to, because you’re not a member.

Becoming a Member of ALEC: Not So Easy to Do

How do you become a member?  Simple. Two ways.  You can be an elected Republican legislator who, after being individually vetted, pays a token fee of roughly $100 per biennium to join.  Here’s the membership brochure to use if you meet this criterion:
What if you’re not a Republican elected official?  Not to worry. You can apply to join ALEC as a “private sector” member by paying at least a few thousand dollars depending on which legislative domains most interest you. Here’s the membership brochure if you meet this criterion:
Then again, even if most of us had this kind of money to contribute to ALEC, I have a feeling that membership might not necessarily be open to just anyone who is willing to pay the fee. But maybe I’m being cynical here.

Which Wisconsin Republican politicians are members of ALEC? Good question. How would we know? ALEC doesn’t provide this information on its website unless you’re able to log in as a member. Maybe we need to ask our representatives. One might think that Republican legislators gathered at a national ALEC meeting could be sufficiently numerous to trigger the “walking quorum rule” that makes it illegal for public officials in Wisconsin to meet unannounced without public notice of their meeting. But they’re able to avoid this rule (which applies to every other public body in Wisconsin) because they’re protected by a loophole in what is otherwise one of the strictest open meetings laws in the nation. The Wisconsin legislature carved out a unique exemption from that law for its own party caucuses, Democrats and Republicans alike. So Wisconsin Republicans are able to hold secret meetings with ALEC to plan their legislative strategies whenever they want, safe in the knowledge that no one will be able to watch while they do so.
(See http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dls/OMPR/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf for a full discussion of Wisconsin’s otherwise very strict Open Meetings Law.)

If it has seemed to you while watching recent debates in the legislature that many Republican members of the Senate and Assembly have already made up their minds about the bills on which they’re voting, and don’t have much interest in listening to arguments being made by anyone else in the room, it’s probably because they did in fact make up their minds about these bills long before they entered the Capitol chambers. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a good expression of the “sifting and winnowing” for which this state long ago became famous.

Partners in Wisconsin and Other States: SPN, MacIver Institute, WPRI

An important partner of ALEC’s, by the way, is the State Policy Network (SPN), which helps coordinate the activities of a wide variety of conservative think tanks operating at the state level throughout the country. See its home page at
Many of the publications of these think tanks are accessible and downloadable from links on the SPN website, which are well worth taking the time to peruse and read. A good starting place is:

Two important SPN members in Wisconsin are the MacIver Institute for Public Policy:
and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI):
If you want to be a well-informed Wisconsin citizen and don’t know about their work, you’ll probably want to start visiting these sites more regularly. You’ll gain a much better understanding of the underlying ideas that inform recent Republican legislation by doing so.

Understanding What These Groups Do

As I said earlier, it’s not easy to find exact details about the model legislation that ALEC has sought to introduce all over the country in Republican-dominated statehouses. But you’ll get suggestive glimpses of it from the occasional reporting that has been done about ALEC over the past decade. Almost all of this emanates from the left wing of the political spectrum, so needs to be read with that bias always in mind.

Interestingly, one of the most critical accounts of ALEC’s activities was issued by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council in a 2002 report entitled Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States. Although NRDC and Defenders may seem like odd organizations to issue such a report, some of ALEC’s most concentrated efforts have been directed at rolling back environmental protections, so their authorship of the report isn’t so surprising. The report and its associated press release are here:
There’s also an old, very stale website associated with this effort at

A more recent analysis of ALEC’s activities was put together by the Progressive States Network in February 2006 under the title Governing the Nation from the Statehouses, available here:
There’s an In These Times story summarizing the report at
More recent stories can be found at
http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6084/corporate_con_game (about the Arizona immigration law)
and there’s very interesting coverage of ALEC’s efforts to disenfranchise student voters at

For just one example of how below-the-radar the activities of ALEC typically are, look for where the name of the organization appears in this recent story from the New York Times about current efforts in state legislatures to roll back the bargaining rights of public employee unions:
Hint: ALEC is way below the fold!

A Cautionary Note

What you’ll quickly learn even from reading these few documents is that ALEC is an organization that has been doing very important political work in the United States for the past forty years with remarkably little public or journalistic scrutiny. I’m posting this long note in the conviction that it’s time to start paying more attention. History is being made here, and future historians need people today to assemble the documents they’ll eventually need to write this story. Much more important, citizens today may wish to access these same documents to be well informed about important political decisions being made in our own time during the frequent meetings that ALEC organizes between Republican legislators and representatives of many of the wealthiest corporations in the United States.

I want to add a word of caution here at the end. In posting this study guide, I do not want to suggest that I think it is illegitimate in a democracy for citizens who share political convictions to gather for the purpose of sharing ideas or creating strategies to pursue their shared goals. The right to assemble, form alliances, share resources, and pursue common ends is crucial to any vision of democracy I know. (That’s one reason I’m appalled at Governor Walker’s ALEC-supported efforts to shut down public employee unions in Wisconsin, even though I have never belonged to one of those unions, probably never will, and have sometimes been quite critical of their tactics and strategies.)  I’m not suggesting that ALEC, its members, or its allies are illegitimate, corrupt, or illegal. If money were changing hands to buy votes, that would be a different thing, but I don’t believe that’s mainly what’s going on here. Americans who belong to ALEC do so because they genuinely believe in the causes it promotes, not because they’re buying or selling votes.

This is yet another example, in other words, of the impressive and highly skillful ways that conservatives have built very carefully thought-out institutions to advocate for their interests over the past half century. Although there may be analogous structures at the other end of the political spectrum, they’re frequently not nearly so well coordinated or so disciplined in the ways they pursue their goals. (The nearest analog to ALEC that I’m aware of on the left is the Progressive States Network, whose website can be perused at
but PSN was only founded in 2005, does not mainly focus on writing model legislation, and is not as well organized or as disciplined as ALEC.) To be fair, conservatives would probably argue that the liberal networks they oppose were so well woven into the fabric of government agencies, labor unions, universities, churches, and non-profit organizations that these liberal networks organize themselves and operate quite differently than conservative networks do–and conservatives would be able to able to muster valid evidence to support such an argument, however we might finally evaluate the persuasiveness of that evidence.

Again, I want anyone reading this post to understand that I am emphatically not questioning the legitimacy of advocacy networks in a democracy. To the contrary: I believe they are essential to democracy. My concern is rather to promote open public discussion and the genuine clash of opinions among different parts of the political spectrum, which I believe is best served by full and open disclosure of the interests of those who advocate particular policies.

I believe this is especially important when policies are presented as having a genuine public interest even though their deeper purpose may be to promote selfish or partisan gains.

Reasserting Wisconsin’s Core Values: Decency, Fairness, Generosity, Compromise

ALEC’s efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote Democratic, for instance, and its efforts to destroy public-sector unions because they also tend to favor Democrats, strike me as objectionable and anti-democratic (as opposed to anti-Democratic) on their face. As a pragmatic centrist in my own politics, I very strongly favor seeking the public good from both sides of the partisan aisle, and it’s not at all clear to me that recent legislation in Wisconsin or elsewhere can be defended as doing this. Shining a bright light on ALEC’s activities (and on other groups as well, across the political spectrum) thus seems to me a valuable thing to do whether or not one favors its political goals.

This is especially true when politicians at the state and local level promote legislation drafted at the national level that may not actually best serve the interests of their home districts and states. ALEC strategists may think they’re serving the national conservative cause by promoting legislation like the bills recently passed in Wisconsin–but I see my state being ripped apart by the resulting controversies, and it’s hard to believe that Wisconsin is better off as a result. This is not the way citizens or politicians have historically behaved toward each other in this state, and I for one am not happy with the changes in our political culture that seem to be unfolding right now. I’m hoping that many of my fellow Wisconsinites, whether they lean left or right, agree with me that it’s time to take a long hard look at what has been happening and try to find our bearings again.

I have always cherished Wisconsin for its neighborliness, and this is not the way neighbors treat each other.

One conclusion seems clear: what we’ve witnessed in Wisconsin during the opening months of 2011 did not originate in this state, even though we’ve been at the center of the political storm in terms of how it’s being implemented. This is a well-planned and well-coordinated national campaign, and it would be helpful to know a lot more about it.

Let’s get to work, fellow citizens.

William Cronon


P.S.: Note to historians and journalists: we really need a good biography of Paul Weyrich.


An Introductory Bibliography on the Recent History of American Conservatism

John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, 2004 (lively, readable overview by sympathetic British journalists).

David Farber, The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Brief History, 2010.

George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 1976(one of the earliest academic studies of the movement, and still important to read).

Lee Edwards, The Conservative Revolution, 2002 (written from a conservative perspective by a longstanding fellow of the Heritage Foundation).

Bruce Frohnen, et al, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, 2006 (a comprehensive and indispensable reference work).

Jerry Z. Muller, Conservatism, 1997 (extensive anthology of classic texts of the movement).

There are many other important studies, but these are reasonable starting points.


290 Responses to “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here)”

  • Susan:

    Now it’s time for equal time on who runs the Democrat party

  • Brand:

    You have to pass this information on to as many people as possible. I will do the same. Wow. This is a lot more than dirty politics as usual.

  • valerie:

    Vos and his republican cronies in the legislature are intimidating UW Professor Bill Cronon for exposing the GOP’s ALEC connections using the freedom of information act. There are also efforts to split off UW Madison from the rest of the system -which would also allow the current Governor to appoint a new board of regents- and huge cuts are being made in public university education on the state and national levels.—and as a part of the political party enacting these sweeping changes, Vos is receiving lots of negative feedback including some from university email addresses, and his response is—-That the people sending these emails should all be severely disciplined. (btw, students also have .edu email addresses)

  • Jane:

    After poking around on the ALEC site to get an idea of what they were doing I found it easier to take a look at what they ‘oppose’; the following is a list of their ‘Resolutions’ opposing or against various topics:

    Opposing Any Increase in the Starting Wage
    Opposing Employer-Paid Health Care Mandates
    Opposing Federal Regulation to Extend Unemployment Insurance Benefits to New Parents
    Resolution opposing increases in minimum wage linked to the CPI
    Resolution Opposing Federal Mandates on Unemployment Insurance
    A Resolution Opposing A Federal Commission on State Workers’ Compensation Laws
    Opposing Disruptive Union Organizing
    Opposing Violence in Labor Disputes
    Resolution Opposing “Card Check” and Forced, Compulsory Binding Arbitration

    Resolution Opposing Taxpayer Financed Political Campaigns
    Resolution in Opposition to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
    Resolution Opposing Federal Takeover of State Election Procedures
    Resolution in Opposition to Pay-to-Play Legislation
    Resolution in Opposition to the REAL ID Act

    Resolution in Opposition to EPA”s Regulation of Greenhouse Gases from Mobile Sources
    Resolution In Opposition To EPA”s Plan To Regulate Greenhouse Gases Under The Clean Air Act
    Resolution in Opposition to the EPA’s “Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule” and the Treatment of Biomass Energy
    Resolution in Opposition of Carbon Dioxide Emission Standards
    Resolution in Opposition to S. 1602: The “Chemical Security Act of 2002”
    Resolution to Oppose the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA)
    ALEC Resolution Opposing State and Local Mandates Requiring Warning Labels on Wireless Devices and Packaging

    Resolution Opposing Unfair and Unbalanced Insurance “Bad Faith” Legislation
    Resolution Opposing Anti-Indemnity And Anti-Additional Insured Legislation
    Opposing Federal Legislation to Repeal or Modify the McCarran Ferguson Act (exempts for Insurance Co)
    Opposing Government Mandated Disclosure of Proprietary, Trade Secret Information
    Opposing Comparable Worth Legislation
    Opposing Ergonomic Regulations Based on Unsound Science
    Resolution in Opposition to a Consumer Financial Protection Agency
    Opposing Government-Imposed Caps or Elimination of ATM Fees
    Opposing “Pay at the Pump” Automobile Insurance
    Resolution Against Federal Weight-Distance Tax Proposal
    Resolution Opposing Federal Non-Commercial Driver’s License Standards
    Resolution Opposing the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Proposal on Truck Driver Hours of Service
    Resolution Opposing the Transportation Equity for All Americans Act and the Transportation Act for All Americans
    Opposing Federal Standards for Monopoly Bargaining
    Opposing Frivolous Complaints and Permits Extortion
    Resolution Against U.S. Participation in International Agreement in Copenhagen
    Resolution Opposing Government Involvement in Commercial Negotiations

    Resolution Against Amnesty

    Resolution to Oppose NCCUSL Effort to rewrite the Uniform Division of Income for Tax Purposes Act
    A Resolution in Opposition to Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting
    A Resolution in Opposition to Value-Added Taxes
    Resolution Opposing the United Nations Drive for Global Taxes
    A Resolution in Opposition to Discriminatory Food and Beverage Taxes
    Resolution Opposing a la Carte Cable Offering Requirements
    Resolution Opposing the Expansion of the Federal Trade Commissions Rulemaking Authority

    It’s hard to imagine they have the average American’s interests at heart. Their resolutions, model ‘acts’ and statments numbered close to, if not over, a 1,000. How can so many Republicans, who say they are against big government, belong to an organization that churns out resolutions and model legislation on every topic under the sun? Who’s actually writing this stuff and, as they issue ‘Guides for State Legislatures’, how many legislatures are using the guides, pushing ALEC model acts? And when do they get time to work on legislation their constituents might actually need and want? If the State Legislatures are looking out for ALEC, who’s looking out for the American citizen?

    • Mel:

      I think the key to cracking this will be found in their non-profit status 501(c)3. Non-profits cannot lobby and a host of other rules, primarily they have to be NON-profit. Who is making profits? Is it hidden profit, cooked books? ALEC has a strong legal team, but they are not part of the “27 person” office in DC. ALEC lawyers did at one time register as lobbyists in North Dakota. Is that significant, has anyone notified the IRS? Where else have they violated 501(c)3 status? If everyone in their own state starts doing research, hitting the databases we have wonderful access to, we can find where they violate 501(c)3 status.

      • Jane:

        According to ALEC, they are “classified by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) non-profit public policy and educational organization” and they claim, in one publication, that nothing they write “is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the American Legislative Exchange Council, its Board of Director, or its membership,or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the Congress or in state legislatures.”

        However, in the same document they say:
        “ALEC’s Asbestos and Silica Claims Priorities Act, which has been adopted in Florida, Texas, Georgia and Ohio,…”,
        “Over 20 states have enacted versions of ALEC’s Commonsense Consumption Act…”

        If they are not attempting to “aid or hinder” the passage of bills why brag about the enactment of their model legislation? And why state:

        “ALEC is able to respond immediately on issues that correlate to its model legislation on both the state and federal level, essentially communicating policy directives from the states”

        “Interacting with state legislative leaders on a daily basis, ALEC policy experts have in-depth knowledge on state legislative issues and activity. In addition, ALEC staff, legislators and advisors provide authoritative testimony before state legislatures and Congress.”

        Providing full contact details for their experts.

        Furthermore they claim
        “Legislators also contribute to advancing the ALEC agenda by serving on ALEC’s Board of Directors, or as State or Task Force Chairs. Among the leadership of America’s state legislatures, ALEC members hold an impressive presence: 38 speakers and speakers pro tempore; 25 senate presidents and senate presidents pro tempore; 31 senate majority and minority leaders; 33 house majority and minority leaders. ALEC alumni include six sitting governors, four lieutenant governors, two senior cabinet-level positions, and 96 members of Congress.”

        This is an explicit statement that the legislators who join ALEC ‘advance’ ALEC’s agenda and, by implication, actively work on getting ALEC’s model legislation enacted at both State and Federal levels.

        And in their Corporate Membership Brochure they claim “To date, ALEC has considered, written, and approved hundreds of model bills, resolutions, and policy statements. Historically, during each legislative cycle, ALEC legislators introduce more than 1,000 pieces of legislation based on these models, approximately 17 percent of which are enacted.”

        “A DYNAMIC PARTNERSHIP – One of ALEC’s greatest strengths is the public-private partnership. ALEC provides the private sector with an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated, by the legislative members…The two groups
        work in unison to solve the challenges facing the nation. The results are policies that will define the American political landscape in the 21st century.”

        Implicit in the literature is
        (a) our members are State Legislators, Members of Congress and Senators
        (b) you get full access to them, and
        (c) they will work with you on designing the policies you want

        It is extremely difficult to see how they are not a politically ‘active organization’ attempting to influence legislature in contradiction to the IRS statement that “In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).” In fact, all of ALEC’s activities appear directed towards that one aim.

        • Tamara:

          Thank you for all your research. It sounds like a compelling idea. Get ALEC’s not-for-profit tax status revoked. How do you believe this will affect them?

      • Tamara:

        Actually, not-for-profits are permitted to lobby. There are restrictions on this that may seem byzantine. But there you are, it’s our tax code.

    • Tamara:

      The model legislation you found appears to be the cartels’ wish list. I recall McCain during the presidential election attempting to cast himself as another Teddy Roosevelt. Yet I don’t remember him mentioning Trust Busting, one of TR’s major planks. Neither did Obama for that matter, but he didn’t mention Roosevelt either. Yet at no other point in our history, not even the ‘golden age’, has our society been more in the grip of monopolies than now. When we hear “business friendly” what are they really saying? Who significantly finances these multi-million dollar political campaigns and the PAC advertisers?

      On a separate note, it is not factually true that a 501(3)c cannot show a profit. Further, it seems highly unlikely not to mention organizationally impractical that ALEC performs as some kind of direct cash conduit. I think most people see that. It is true that as a not-for-profit, they receive support. Maybe it’s interesting where that comes from. It should be publicly available information.

    • Ed Denver:

      Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integration_of_Theory_and_Practice and you will find the answer to your questions. As you continue your research you will see how ALL conservative issues are related to and guided by this document. Thank you.

      • Tamara:

        Thank you Ed! This is really interesting reading.

        • Ed Denver:

          I’m pleased to find you have found it to be of interest to you and would ask you to pass it around. I’m sure you experienced the same reaction I did, which was, “A-ha! So this is why they say this and attack that!” From then on I have found that literally everything I hear or read even remotely related to some conservative issue is confirmed in the ‘Theory’ document. And they have become masters of propaganda and brainwashing techniques which explains the Tea Party movement, for example. ALEC is a product of this ‘Theory’ along with every other conservative organization you can find. Just follow names and links and you will see. And never forget, they are at war and are not playing games.

  • Ok, so now I’m hearing that OHIO is going to try and privatize there prisons.

    anyone else smell ALEC in this too? It’s just a guess, and I doubt I’m wrong based on the similar actions that Governor is doing.

    I tried to dig around on Google to find out some stuff but no luck

  • Christopher Hanks:

    Regarding ALEC, one of Professor Cronon’s favorite quotations perhaps applies:

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    —Margaret Mead

  • Christopher Hanks:

    Ms. Lewis,

    Their motivation, I suspect, has mainly to do with the fact that the United States, from the local to the federal level, is headed towards bankruptcy unless fundamental changes are made in how public resources are managed.

    • Fiona Mackenzie:

      Indeed, we are accelerating toward bankruptcy — a process they don’t want to see interrupted by the awakening of the victims-er, voters.

    • Tamara:

      Is the sky falling? To which bankruptcy are you referring? Moral, intellectual, representational, participatory? Which is it? As a people we are not particularly distinct from any other for whom opinion and emotion runs ahead of being informed and rational. After all who has time for the latter when the former is so instantly gratifying? When you are done with the popular libertarian myths of how the country was settled by rugged individualists, manifest destiny, and the agency of a purer capitalism. When we finish with electing officials whose stated mission is to not perform their duty of office but instead strive to cripple governance Then perhaps we will finally be free to be ruled by unfettered monopolies and cartels whom we feed with our sweat, blood and dying breath.

      If on the other hand, you’d like to seriously attempt to make a case for the federal government or the United States declaring financial bankruptcy, what d’ya think chapter 13?, then please by all means do. That might be interesting to read.

  • Cecilia Lewis:

    I am finding this information incredible and valuable – I have a question – a serious question. why is this happening – what do these people want to achieve by taking over the country. is it a moral superiority they are after – is it money and control of America assets. or is it just control? I really would like to know what the motivation is…anyone??

    • Tamara:

      Possibly the best way to approach broad, important questions like yours is to first try to answer them for oneself. While actually getting to a worthwhile answer may take time and effort, along the way one’s understanding of the question itself improves immensely. My opinion is your question is really the same as Bill Cronon’s when he started this blog. It seems we are all still exploring its parameters … with the exception perhaps of the hydra-headed, shape-shifting troll. One popular book on the topic, mentioned elsewhere in this blog by another participant, is Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.” If nothing else, it’s an interesting read. I hope this attempt is helpful. Anyway, that’s what I intend.

      • Cecilia Lewis:

        Thank you very much. I will be at the bookstore this weekend.

      • Cecilia Lewis:

        I am in the first 3 chapters of the “Shock Doctrine”. Excellent reading leaving me even more depressed when contemplating what an average citizen can do in an effort to make a difference. I also bought the movie about the outing of Valarie Plame, “Fair Game”. I turn it on when I need some comic relief. I apologize for the sarcasm and I will not stop doing my small part as long as there are people out there like Prof.Cronon and the knowledgeable people who post on this site. thanks again.

    • Ed Denver:

      In answer to your question, I’ll repeat what another reader wrote. All you need to know about why Republicans are attempting to destroy unions, among most other institutions you can think of, is contained in a document that is the ‘Bible’ of the conservative movement. You can review it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integration_of_Theory_and_Practice. I strongly urge you and all readers to read this. As I have stated in previous responses, you must realize that this entire issue has nothing to do with the obvious but all to do with the attainment of permanent power. This is not a political game. It is war and they are not fooling around. Please take the time to read it. Thank you.

      • Tamara:

        Ed Denver, I don’t know where the reply button got off to on your posted reply to me above. It appears to be missing. So I’ll attempt to reply this way. The wikipedia article you cited like so much else to be found on the disinformation superhighway is indeed interesting to read. And again thank you, I had not seen it before. However, it is not by any means all one needs to know. Indeed there is not much to be found there but a poor man’s Cliff Notes(tm) to the New Traditionalist Movement. Some of it unsubstantiated, some good references at the end, but the rest are cherry picked snippets and the document mentioned is never produced. All in all I did not find much there that anyone who has had their eyes open for any part of the past 36 years might not already be familiar with. I feel we should be keenly interested that people be well informed. This begins at home. I already get enough political junk mail and am not eager to produce more. Double ditto for the bumper stickers. One requires sufficient clear eyed understanding to plan well and act effectively. I am far less interested in engaging in warfare with my neighbors than in successfully contributing to what our diverse democratic society does well. Survive extremists like the NTM. Both within the group of our common interest and from the opposition there will be many that encourage us to expend resources on bootless and misguided efforts. Beware. Instead of warfare, I see that there is required a long term effort. Truly, this is no game. The immediate threat to public employee unions, as we’ve seen, is but one plank of many in a complex, long term agenda. One that is moving on all fronts and has been for quite awhile. As someone posted in another thread recently, the silver lining is that this has been a real eye opener for many. Let’s carry that forward. “Shock Doctrine” and similar works already cover in greater depth Heubeck and his crowd. Amazingly, those folks are not nearly the whole picture.

        By the way, I must have missed it. Where exactly did brainwashing figure in Wikipedia article on ‘”Integration of Theory and Practice?”

        • Patrick Pulley:

          Tamara: propaganda and brainwashing figured into the Wikipedia article:

          ‘The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture…’

          ‘The essay describes as “hopeless and self-delusional” the political activism efforts of conservatives to “compensate for their weakness in the non-political sectors of society.” Instead it called for fostering an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of conservatism in American society which would in turn convince the American people that conservatives can be trusted to take over political structures: “to do that we must win the people over culturally — by defining how man ought to act, how he ought to perceive the world around him, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered.” Weyrich’s 1999 A moral minority? An open letter to conservatives from Paul Weyrich[3]’


  • observer:

    The Wisconsin Chairmen for ALEC (as well as other officers) in 2010 can be found toward the end of this document:


  • Rick:

    Are you kidding me? To make things “right” you propose we should make everyone’s life miserable. People in the private sector has had every right to organize and fight for fair wages and working conditions. Don’t take it out on others who did organize and fight for a better way of life.

    If you want to make things more evenly spread across the board, why don’t you focus on the 5% of the wealthiest Americans in the this country who hold $40 trillion of wealth and don’t get taxed proportionately. This unequal distribution of wealth has far more importance and graver consequences than your insidious reasoning to take away from the workers in the public sector.

  • Gregory Howard:

    I work for the government through the education system and 9% of my paycheck goes toward my health insurance premium. Although I have received raises in the past three years, my take-home pay has decreased so I am bringing home less than what I was making when I began the job. If you cut my income half I will be below the poverty line!

  • ifailatliving:

    no war but class war!

  • Cecilia Lewis:

    Thank God for people like Prof. Cronon.

  • buckyblue:

    Me thinks the GOP protesteth too much. I had never heard of ALEC, and I follow and teach this stuff. When I read the rather reasoned blog posting, and then the REPUBLICAN RESPONSE. I thought, “I must have missed something, this is important.” Like many things, the Republicans can’t seem to help themselves, even when it would help them.

  • Robert:

    I’m surprised that no one has cited this 2002 American RadioWorks documentary, also aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/corrections/index.html. It features then-Rep. Walker freely admitting that he used ALEC’s model “truth-in-sentencing” bill, and its “research” on the effectiveness of such laws, before leading passage of the bill in Madison. (Click on “Corporate-Sponsored Crime Laws” to read or hear the relevant segment.)

  • Dave Skinner:

    Dear Professor Cronon:
    Your pleas ring hollow. You are in fact an activist beyond academics, as are many in the university system. Your involvement with the Wilderness Society is not apolitical. Nor is the Trust for Public Land since it is so dependent on public finance, a political outcome.
    Anyone who knows your work and your history is not surprised that, when you decided to public take sides, you chose to take ALEC to task. Not Center for American Progress or whatever institution on the Left serves the same function.
    When an academic takes political positions, then guess what? Your academic work becomes forevermore in a political context. Your New York Times op-ed (which I presume the Times requested?) took a political position on a current topic. Furthermore, you are using state-provided equipment to conduct this overtly political, NOT academic, act?
    Double standard, mister. Welcome to the real world.

    • Sean:

      ALEC, if they indeed not doing anything illegal, nefarious or underhanded, should be able to endure the scrutiny, surely.

  • Mikel:

    Bottom Line is Competition. You never had to compete. Gov workers have to learn how to keep your thier pay down so that the Private workers can keep up with you.


    Look at the Graph and see the difference. This is probaly an average but It gets a person thinking.

    I have watched for 50 years as the salaries and wages have steadily risen for Government workers and persons who contract to the government. Fed and State alike. The Prevailing wage protected all of those workers.
    Yet I watched the protections for private workers get swept away with Free Trade policies. It was Import tax or other fees to make it fair competition with the private US workers. The politicians dropped that tax which was the Wage Protection for the US workers.
    Now surely the Gov workers pay taxes, but The taxpayers pay for the taxes that they pay back to thier Employer, the US. So Gov worker taxes are just making a circle. It just means that the Taxpayers just have to pay more tax to cover the Gov workers’ taxes. Sort of a free ride. The Gov Unions base thier raises on the tax % from last year, etc.

    Most Gov workers don’t know what thier true cost is. Those that have been in some sort of accounting background do understand that thier paycheck is not the only cost to the Gov. I remember talking to a person working for the School district saying we get our HealthCare for free. Ha Ha. They love thier paid Holidays and vacations as well. I knew a man who drove a Garbage Truck who back in 70’s told me that thier Union told them at a meeting that They should not dicuss the pay outside the city because they make more then the other Truck Drivers.
    I think the Congress should Repeal the Prevailing wage Act (Davis-Bacon-Act)and lower the wages of ALL employees at least 50% or more.
    To raise Tariffs on goods coming in this country would only make Enemies of all our Friendly Countries and should not be considered.
    Also Those Government employees have benefited greatly in last 50 years and the Private worker has had to pay for all the Government Raises and Benefits. It time for them to give back to the Country so that The Private Enterprise System can start producing jobs and then compete with Foriegn products. And keep up with Gov Emplyees’ wages.

    Plus if the wages and salaries were lowered and no one was laid off, Unemployment Pay would not have to be paid. And no services would have to cut.

    These Unions and Gov Employees have benefited while others (Private Workers) have been let go and then had to take a lower paying job to survive. Most likely not being able to keep up with the next door neighbor that works for the Government.
    We need to get our costs down to be able to compete with those other Countries. That means not to lay people off, but to lower thier wages. Simple. Why should we have to change everything wew read for them?

    And all Illegal Immigrants out of here. Even ones who have been over 20 years. Make them come back and apply and learn how to speak English.
    And Stop the Abortion Mills.
    The Unions should not be the only people to take a cut. Everyone in the Country should share and share alike.
    Including Proffessional persons as well. We need to get our total Government costs down to Compete.
    Shalom….. God be with you

    • Chadnra:

      Cut everyone’s pay? People are already losing their homes! A better plan would be for corporations to pay their workers a decent amount of money out of all the record profits they are making. Instead of giving useless CEOs golden parachutes and massive bonuses. Unionized workers do better because the rest of us have been getting [the shaft] from greedy employers for years, and not doing anything about it. The economy is in trouble of because Bush’s policies of trickle down economics and rampant tax cuts actually harm the economy, not to mention shipping all our manufacturing jobs overseas. The economy is in trouble because the wealthiest 2% of the population have more money than the rest of us combined.
      Quit spouting neocon memes and do some research. [..]

    • James P.Morgan:

      You are so correct sir! We should all sacrifice so that Corporations can pay zero taxes and pass the profits through to their share holders and executives while stacking up tax credits that tax PAYERS will owe. While the puppet masters kept us busy flapping our lips about the eight Billion in TARP bail outs, they were secretly handing out Thirteen Trillion dollars to financial institutions. Thats thirteen times what ten years of war profiteering have cost. Who in the world profited from that war but the wealthy non taxpaying elites. All done on the backs of wage earners and brainwashed young men who fight for them. Now we should break out some fresh whips and build a nice new Pyramid to the glory of capitalism. Thanks for your time.
      J. P. Morgan

  • donviti:

    I’m banging my head trying to remember where I heard of ALEC from….


    NPR did a piece on them having to do with the AZ Immigration law and how they were behind a strategy to increase profits on their private prison system.


    Great Job by the way sir

  • Linda Cooke Johnson:

    Dear Bill Cronin, You are conducting a tremendous defense of the principles of academic freedom and the right of public inquiry.

    I am an AHA member and fully support you. Keep at it!!

    Linda Cooke Johnson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita
    Department of History (Chinese history)
    Michigan State University
    currently living in San Carlos CA

  • Gov. Walker has just named Phil Montgomery, a former ALEC director who was also ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year” in 2005, the new Wisconsin Public Service Commission chairman:


    Please see that topic for more information about Phil Montgomery and ALEC.

    The PSC has oversight of the telecommunications industry in Wisconsin.

    And according to Progressive States Network, whose report on ALEC I quote and link to in that topic, “ALEC honored Wisconsin State Representative Phil Montgomery with its ‘Legislator of the Year’ award for his Wisconsin legislative efforts against local government plans for municipally-owned broadband networks and his role in ALEC in taking the campaign national. This campaign both reflects ALEC’s effective representation of its own corporate telecom clients, and the way it serves that narrow if powerful economic base at the expense of the broader economic interest.”

  • John Blutarsky:

    Weyrich? “Way rich”. What more do we need to know?

  • Cave Canem:

    Esteemed Professor Cronon:

    Thank you so much for condescending to shine the light of your brilliance upon what are indeed most insidious, shadowy institutions of certain partisans, who I dare not name lest my pragmatic, centrist fingers be seized with paroxysms of righteous indignation. And for illuminating their sway over our spear-carrying governor (oh dear gaia! was that racially charged?). I applaud your most exhaustive and scholarly efforts!

    Yours is truly a most gifted mind, to be so richly endowed with professorial inquiry! Indeed, there must be a dark closet from which the odious puppet masters pull the partisans’ strings, for the benighted right are most certainly not capable of thinking for themselves. You, most excellent Professor, have exposed it! If only that sycophantic, right-wing Milwaukee newspaper owned but a tenth of your diligence in its research and reporting, the partisans would come to appreciate and share the correctness of your vision.

    The confiscation of wages on behalf of the champions of labor to give to their preferred legislators so that they might effectively negotiate with them for sacred and fundamental rights, the sense of entitlement, the abdication of legislative duty, the sick-outs, the boycotts, the trashing of the capitol, the intimidation, the rancor, the invective, the death threats… These are truly democratic methods superior to those espoused by the hateful partisans of the right. I know I speak for all the free-thinking, enlightened, pragmatic, centrist posters here when I note that, if only those partisans would comport themselves to more democratic methods, Wisconsin would be rightfully cherished for its neighborliness again.

    Your most admiring pupil,
    C. Canem

    P.S. And please, please dear Professor, please do not give my name! I fear I do not share your courage and fear to be dragged into the Star Chambers of their churches; I do not think I could bear to name names; I am too much the coward to be persecuted by the likes of He Who Must Not Be Named along with you!

    • Angry Democrat:

      [..] You obviously didn’t read the blog post.

    • NormalPerson:

      [webmaster: personal attack on commenter removed]

    • boiling frog:

      cave canem – some dogs have gotten so accustomed to their leash they no longer know it’s there and tightening. they bark happily and wag their tails when the master approaches, but there’s a little less kibble in the food bowl each night. but the good guard dog can be trained to bark at the few remaining dogs on the block who still get a sufficient ration of kibble, rather than at the master, who after all, controls the portion in all the food bowls. eventually the leash tightens so much and the food ration gets so small that oxygen fails to reach the brain and a soporific state sets in. eventually you can’t even get up anymore. no problem for the master, though. he can get a cheaper replacement from one of his many cheap labor enclaves in China (or Mexico or Indonesia). so the good dog becomes obsolete and of no further use to the “free market”, at which time his remaining useful protein can be “processed”. Keep apologizing for your masters, cave. no doubt you crave the scooby snack and the head pat. the rest of us will just have to work around you.

    • Cecilia Lewis:

      Sir, no offense, but I think you may have a case of intellectual indigestion

  • Patrick Morris:

    Is there a list somewhere of legislators who are members of ALEC? I will call my Legislator and State Senator tomorrow and ask them, but I’d like to know ahead of time.

  • Aladante:

    It is depressing to see what is going on in America. We have a political system that has learned how to manipulate the masses and get thanked for doing so. What is needed is not the Right V. Left battles, but for Americans to begin to realize that the swing has gone back and fourth for the last 20+ years and all the while the same people have remained in control. It is so closed minded to think that this is an ALEC thing or a Republican or Democrat thing. This country has been on a huge slide for years, running a retirement Ponzi scheme, and is run by a government that cow-tows to the highest bidder. We have a majority of millionaires in the House and Senate who keep writing legislation taking away from the middle class working people and giving to themselves. They spend repulsive amounts of money to get $200,000 a year jobs. Then they tell you the problem with the U.S. is your neighbor…and you believe them! Please stop with the he said, she said, and start to use your minds. We have 30 members of the house and senate who have been there for 35 years or more. We have politicians in office who have done nothing else in their lives except be a politician. They have made a living out of spending other peoples money. People tell me that they felt they had to vote for the least of two evils in the last presidential election because both major candidates had never worked in the private sector, and I was so confused. Last I checked th ere were 8 names on the ballot in most states for the position of President. When we realize that thinking inside this tiny box we have created in our government IS the problem, then maybe we can learn from the likes of George Washington who said, “If I am serving a party, how can I serve the American people.”

    • dskadal:

      well said. i believe you are very correct. we need to start cleaning up our politicians instead of fighting between partisan groups.

    • WTF-FTW:

      The problem with effective bipartisanship at this juncture is the bifurcation of the political interests where we have on one side the people and entities which control roughly 80% of the assets versus the interests of the other 80% of the country’s population. You can’t possibly advocate for the interests of both because of the internal dynamics that sustain this imbalance are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Thus no bipartisanship. If one party asserts primacy of assets and social control versus another party which is essentially a milder version of the first party…wait.
      Yeah, there is no reason why there can’t be bipartisanship. It’s not like the unions are in a position to challenge corporate hegemony. You would think Republicans would recognize how effective they are at keeping middle class people content with that imbalance, and socially managing the rest of the lower castes with ineffectual rallies.
      I guess pushing social chaos way up will just clear away the chaff as they move towards singularity, the Rapture, or both. Maybe one in the same? Did I say that out loud?

    • James P.Morgan:

      Lets hear suggestions on how to make that happen when only the corporations have and can provide the funds. The rest of us live on a AFTER TAXES budget. GE Corp paid ZERO taxes and OBAMA made him part of his crew? WTF? The elite puppet masters strike again, and we bought it AGAIN! Add Insult to injury the failed supreeem courtier system made the psycopath corporations into real peaple free of anyt tax obligation. So what is new there is nothing new under the sun and history repeats it’s self. Woe to us all! Wake up, get off the couch! Go to the square and stand in front of the tanks with your grocery bags before it is to late. Already the major media sources (exclude the web) limit the information we are exposed to.

      I’ll bet you didn’t hear about this attempt to control the wwweb and it’s power of information, Below the guilty parties make AN ATTEMPT to defend their assault on the only source of truly free information.

      To Wit;
      Tags: Act, bill, National, Protecting, SecuritySen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), along with one Republican and Democratic senator, introduced a bill late last week that would allow the President to effectively disconnect the internet by emergency decree.

      The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act would allow the President to disconnect Internet networks and force private websites to comply with broad cybersecurity measures.

      Future US presidents would have their Internet “kill switch” powers renewed indefinitely.

      The bill was introduced by Lieberman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). A parallel bill was drafted last year by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) which would allow the federal government to unilaterally “order the disconnection” of certain websites.

      “For all of its user-friendly allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets,” Lieberman said in a release announcing his bill. “Our economic security, national security and public safety are now all at risk from new kinds of enemies — cyber-warriors, cyber-spies, cyber-terrorists and cyber-criminals.

      “The need for this legislation is obvious and urgent, the Connecticut senator added.

      “We cannot afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before our government realises the importance of protecting our cyber resources,” Sen. Collins said.

      One news site notes:

      The bill would give a newly-formed National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications the authority to monitor the “security status” of private websites, ISPs and other net-related business within the U.S. as well as critical internet components in other countries. Companies would be required to take part in “information sharing” with the government and certify to the NCCC that they have implemented approved security measures. Furthermore, any company that “relies on” the internet, telephone system or any other part of the U.S. “information infrastructure” would also be “subject to command” by the NCCC under the proposed new law.

      Lieberman’s bill would also create a cadre of cybersecurity agencies and order strategy planning with private firms. The legislation is supported by anti-virus giant Symantec.

      “The Internet may have started out as a communications oddity some 40 years ago but it is now a necessity of modern life, and sadly one that is under constant attack, Lieberman added in his release. “It must be secured… The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 is designed to bring together the disjointed efforts of multiple federal agencies and departments to prevent cyber theft, intrusions, and attacks across the federal government and the private sector. The bill would establish a clear organizational structure to lead federal efforts in safeguarding cyber networks. And it would build a public/private partnership to increase the preparedness and resiliency of those private critical infrastructure cyber networks upon which our way of life depends.”

      If that fear mongering excuse to control the web makes sense to you… go sit on the couch and wait for what is going to happen next.

      • Alphabet Soup:

        Of course the legislation is supported by anti-virus giant Symantec…
        After all they sell Norton Antivirus Security (NAS) 2011. Wait a minute; “NAS” is an anagram of National Security Agency (NSA) – OMG!
        And if I want everyone to have my monitoring software on their computer well what better way than to have them all install it as antivirus protection on their personal computer? Come to think about it my computer uploads information to them when it updates the software!
        So McAfee must be code for the CIA… And they offer a free version. Wow!
        Screw the couch, I’m shutting off the power to my house until I can ensure my privacy and safety… :P

        BTW, on a serious note thanks for enlightening us William Cronon in our Republic’s democratically challenged environment more people need to understand the levers being manipulated and who’s pulling them… Keep it up!