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)”

  • Daniel:

    Professor Cronon,

    Is there any chance you have an enlightened opinion on why politics in America seem to be increasingly polarized? I assume the ambiguous nature of internet posting (the ability to rant without being held accountable for your opinions), and a skew effect propelled by news-media are responsible, but I have little basis to make said assumptions. Additionally, it seems to me that we are in a sort of perpetual pendulum swing regarding shifts in the way moderates vote – when conservative legislation is primarily enacted, moderates overwhelmingly vote democrat/independent and vice versa. That seems like an unhealthy way for moderates to vote to me. In my opinion the largest problem and obstacle the nation faces politically is the nearly nonexistent willingness of people with differing views to have openminded discussions with the intent to solve problems.

    Also, I am a UW student, and I very much appreciate the additional information you have provided regarding the context in which the recent legislation resides. Cheers, and good luck with all of that FOIA business!

    • Tamara:

      Obviously Dr Cronon will have his own take on the subject. I have this to offer. It is a very old tactic indeed and not one invented by the actuary Carl Rove but skillfully employed by him and his mid-20th century predecessors. Say one is a member of a determined and disciplined minority that desires to seize levers of power in a democracy. The most effective way to do this, short of compromise and modifying ones agenda to reach a broader base, is to bring a wide array of tools to bear to fragment and polarize opinion within the larger groups. If one can bring this to a pitch of hysteria the groups will lose their identities entirely and subsequently control of their constituencies.

      Note the purges that began in the Republican party in the late 70’s and were all but complete by the end of the 80’s. A minority group seized control of the larger party having correctly perceived that forming an independent 3rd party was too risky a route. The clique in control of the Republican party is not conservative in any political sense, they are definitely not Christian in any moral sense, or any of the other things you may have been led to believe about them. Back in the early 50’s McCarthy believed that a similar thing had begun to occur among the Democrats and more seriously the government. Historically speaking he wasn’t entirely wrong. What we vilify about McCarthy are his tactics, his narcissistic fear mongering and the serious damage he did to thousands of innocent people.

      Marketing and actuarial techniques applied to political statistics are part of the toolkit. Remember one basic rule of marketing involves what motivates people. There’s greed of course and then there’s the even more useful and powerful FUD … fear, uncertainty and doubt. Marketing as we can appreciate has become such a fine ‘science’ that for only an investment of money in the effort most individuals can be induced to become interested in or buy nearly anything. Remember the swift boat folks? The folks that set up and successfully neutralized Dan Rather? Gov. Walker’s conversation where he claims to have planned to use agitators to push the peaceful pro-labor protests over the line so the police could intervene and make arrests? How about the many ‘colorful’ things Palin has come out with? The smart folks orchestrating this have and continue to develop lexicons of trigger words to use in their speech that are intended to be polarizing. There are actually professionals who specialize in measuring the effects specific words, phrases, images and sounds have on groups of people. There is a whole lot more to this effort but this may give you the idea. I’d say the hysteria is already running high and the carnival isn’t nearly over.

  • asdf:

    Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements


  • Wandering Star:

    I want to thank you for doing this important investigation of what’s going on behind the curtain. Since independent media institutions in the US seem to have disappeared, I guess academics and others are going to have to do more of the heavy lifting in the job of enlightening the citizenry to the causes, influences, and consequences of the radical social and political changes now taking place across the US.

    As a higher education instructor who is deeply committed to engaging students in critical thought and research, I barely have time to even read (much less write or investigate much on my own) what you and others have written on the issue. Additionally, this work you are doing will also be very important to future historians when they attempt to dissect the causes of the demise of the US and the “American Dream” as we have known it for the past fifty years or so. This may sound pessimistic or cynical, but it’s probably a result of the extreme frustration of a single mother with a child on food stamps and no health insurance because of the severe assault now taking place on education, teachers, and the freedom of thought. Keep up the good work!

  • dave:

    What you say about ALEC being a commonplace and understandable tool for conservatives might wash better without the thunderous and draconian response to a professor’s first ever blog post

  • Buckley:

    First off, how can one mention the turnaround of Conservatism without discussing William F. Buckley? The “Father of Modern Conservatism” requires no mention of the growth of Conservatism, but he was unfortunately not as easy to smear as others in the party because he rightly dismissed the John Birch Society as a fringe group with radical views. Also, you complain about ALEC because elected officials use its templates to pass bills that they agree with. Shocking as it may be, elected officials do look for help from like minded individuals, just as Liberals go to Public Unions, Amnesty International, and other Liberal groups when looking for campaign contributions and legislative ideas. Being a member of ALEC does not mean that they have to try to enact everything espoused by it. I assume you support Kloppenburg for Wisc Supreme Court, and therefore have no problem with The Greater Wisconsin Committee spending $3 million in ads against Prosser, despite the fact that The Greater Wisconsin Committee is a widely known leftist organization. All of your accusations are based in groundless scare mongering used so often by Liberals, who assume that if it is Conservative and secret then it must be sinister.

    • bytewench:

      I’m not sure how you could imply you actually read the Prof’s entire blog, and then mischaracterize it as containing ‘accusations’. Several times he states that the associations of Republicans with ALEC is entirely legal and understandable. His point (which you seemed to have overlooked in your haste to be needlessly defensive, is that more transparency in the relationship of such groups – Right or Left – with our legislative process would be more in alignment with the democratic process. Most people would like to know where their legislation is coming from and whether its authors have any overarching agenda. Before you go getting your lower lip all puffed out about how ‘unfair’ this blog’s characterization of ALEC was, just imagine the treatment Glenn Beck would’ve given it if ALEC was a Left Wing group. He’d scribble his piece of chalk down to a nub with arrows and circles ‘proving’ it to be the nexus of a vast Communist/Socialist/Fascist (note to self: send Beck a dictionary – these terms are not interchangeable) conspiracy. Be fair. The blog said no such thing.

  • Marc Guidry:

    Professor Cronon, Great blog and great post about ALEC. It sounds like the domestic equivalent of the Project for the New American Century, which underwrote American foreign policy in the Bush II administration, particularly in Iraq. I agree that progressives have taken the intellectual underpinnings of the conservative movement far too lightly. Like George Lakoff says, Democrats don’t understand the value of framing ideas in language that will shape people’s perceptions. Republicans have figured this out, in large part due to the influence of groups like ALEC.They are organized and “on message.” If progressives don’t get their act together, this is going to become effectively a one-party country. Thanks for the work you’re doing outside the classroom.

  • JoeYnot:

    The conspiracy goes deeper than that. My research has discovered that for over 200 years, the United States has been governed by a secret document called simply “The Constitution.” It is in this document that readers can find the source that has allowed these “conservatives” to freely influence our political process! That is how these “conservatives” are permitted to freely assemble, write and publish their “opinions,” even vote, and unbelivably, run for office and, should the political process be so corrupted as to deny the votes of the overwhelming majority, take office should they somehow “win.” (HA!)

    It’s like Hitler or something.

    Thank you, William Cronon, for your bravery and scholarship. I am including a link of my own to this “Constitution” document. Prepare to be shocked: [..] http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html

    • webmaster:

      @joeynot: I edited your comment link to a Constitution website. It was a commerical site which violates the Terms of Service. However, I included a substitute link to the National Archives.

    • forest gump:

      EVERYTHING is so simple in your world of black and white’s only, eh? In your freakishly over simplified world conspiracies are ONLY theories, never actually carried out by gangster banksters out to make BILLIONS. What a fool you are; they couldn’t get away with their numerous crimes without your naivete. People murder each other over misunderstandings that don’t even exist, food, even SHOES!; but ALL business men are ethical gentlemen!??! History soundly refutes that one. TRY HARDER!

      • webmaster:

        @forest: Reminder that comments should be civil and comply with the Terms of Service, regardless of your viewpoint.

      • nita:

        I am trying to understand where you are going????? did you read carefully?? was it really simple to you?? or pretend it is? the business men are not ethical; they go by divide and conquer. State workers are not that different from private workers … they are surviving … a little longer.

    • Aladante:

      Hate to disillusion you JoeYnot, but just as constitution does give them the right to do it gives me the right to see what they are doing if they are my legislators. They work for me!

      • JoeYnot:

        My point is simply that everything being describes with such horror by Prof. Cronon is simply part of the system. In fact, it is the system. There is nothing ominous about ALEC or SPN or Walker taking a call from Koch (who he obviously had never spoken to before).

        Legislators work with ALEC because they believe it furthers the interest of themselves and their constituents. Walker takes the call from Koch for the same reason; after all, he’s not just a political contributor, but the part-owner of a huge business. ANY governor would take that call. As long as people don’t break the law, there’s nothing wrong with all of this.

        This is the way a gigantic democracy works. By all means learn about your opponents and seek to understand them, especially if you want to persude them to your own way of thought. Incidentally, insults and the assumptiuon of stupidity/mendacity/ignorance/innocence on the part of those who disgree with you is a less effective way to accomplish this than a lot of commentors on this site seem to be aware of.

        • Your “take” on Cronon’s article is interesting for the nits it picks so as to insinuate an attack on the institutions discussed. The article clearly defends the right and the righteousness of these institutions, yet you try to imply otherwise. This is because you obviously believe that any deviation from rightardedness is sinful and a Satanic conspiracy to defraud the true representative people of the United States. It can be seen that you believe a fraud is being perpetrated against those who inherited all the land and the wealth from ancestors who (for a large part) stole it from the previous inhabitants. That is, of course, the reality of conservatism. And any deviation from these religious principles of inheritance and debt to the past is heresy. The current “conservatives” want to dress themselves in the armor of “earned” privilege and biblical “righteousness”, and now “Constitutional Righteousness”. Yet for the most part, the persons being defended by this ruse are not “earning” and never did “earn” and are seeking to remain privileged in spite of their succubus activities. The article discusses the right wing organizations and their supporters without declaring them in any way unconstitutional or anti American. The current overzealous and ignorant interpretations of the United States Constitution by the rightrarded do not serve the real Americans very well. The intent of the Constitution is well set forth in the preamble. And if the framers wanted supreme “states rights” they would have simply amended the “Articles of Confederation”. They quite pointedly DIDN’T.

        • webmaster:

          @Michael. You’re new on the blog, so a reminder that attack language like “rightarded” is not allowed here and in your future posts. We welcome all points of view but they should be made with more civil adjectives, please.

  • David Estes:

    Professor Cronon,

    As a future academician and present admirer of truth and openness in government, I extend my sincere gratitude to you for your fearless and deeply patriotic research. Wisconsin is lucky to have you!

  • Joe Davenport:

    This hits home at so many levels. I too am a higher education worker. Food Service at University of Washington. So I look at your piece as instructional-and hope my employer does the same. The issue of public records requests impacts the members of my union as much as any faculty member or administrator. This case is proof that the good idea of open records can be used as a club to try to silence people. While I lean left as a union activist-I’ll freely admit that anyone of any stripe could abuse these laws.

    Until recently it tended to be the media going on fishing trips in search of worker misconduct or waste fraud an abuse stories to boost ratings. Now it’s political ‘gottcha’

  • Ida:

    Thank you so much for shining a light on this organization and for your work. I would like to mention two groups for others to look into. The first is The Family – Jeff Sharlett wrote a terrific book chronicling the secret dealings of the conservative Christian ideology and how it wove itself into the fabric of our political system, who the major players were and are, what their philosophy is, and who the current members of the legislature still “rent” rooms in the building owned by The Family. I believe their church status was recently changed by the IRS, so while they continue to host the annual prayer breakfast and hold considerable sway with politicians, they won’t get a tax break at our expense.

    The second is the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The foreign policy they push is conservative internationalism. The players in this group were the architects of the Iraq invasion and subsequent bungling occupation. The chairman is Bill Kristol, and I suggest looking at the Statement of Principles and all the signers at the bottom of the page. Yes, apparently America is to be the World Police if we are to retain our greatness.

  • Jason Brill:

    Thank you, Professor.
    Lights like your need to be shined on all the dark places. You are indeed an educator and I envy any who have had the good fortune to be in your classroom. Thank you for teaching me. I have been asking the questions but now my questioning will be even more focused.

    ALEC has done us all a favor by leading us to your blog. I guess they don’t know about sleeping dogs.

  • Robert Chaison:

    When people disagree about political issues I think they should meet at dawn somewhere. Then draw loaded dueling pistols and do what feels best. The winner takes ALL!

  • Cathryn Carroll:

    I want to add another message of support. Always behind in everything, I just read and learned about you and your blog from Paul Krugman’s excellent column.

    The Right has become scary and strong. Although I shudder at comparisons with pre-WW2 Germany, comparisons absolutely exist. In Munich last summer, we sat at the table where HItler meet weekly for lunch with the rich and powerful men who would later be called “military industrialists…” We think it was just anti-semitism and craziness that empowered this man and his party. No.

    I would like to suggest that someone investigate all those “Right Wing Think Tanks in DC.” These folks provide the din about people “who will shop for insurance and thus bring down the cost of health care” and “the unions that have bankrupted cities…” I bet that they are funded by the same folks who fund the tea party: the Koch brothers & the fraction of that 2% that wants to keep the majority of American income in their own bursting pockets.

    I hope that you keep writing.

  • Catherine:

    Prof. Cronon-

    As a graduate student in Music History and Ethnomusicology–two fields that require difficult conversations about power and politics–I thank you for having a firm opinion and speaking it. Being in academia doesn’t mean we put on a face of neutrality when we talk to our students or to our communities, quite the contrary, having a specialist’s knowledge of history and society leaves us responsible to speak up and speak out about the past and what it tells us about our present and future.

    Thanks again for being a credit to your profession.


    • Rick Kellis:

      Just got the long-time-coming M.A. in psychology of music. You are right on it with the politics connection. My thesis concerned consonance as the link between psychology and music, with special emphasis on just intonation versus equal temperament. The research into this past century’s history led me into a study of Theodor Adorno, so much so that I had to back away from him–he’s a two year studio himself, coming out of the Frankfurt school of the 1920s, up through his critique of Leo Strauss (father of Neo-Conservatism) and the work on the F-scale (“f” for fascist, more or less). That work received a lot of conservative backlash–but led to the academic contributions of Bob Altemeyer and the Authoritarian Submissive (his seminal work, distilled into a more relaxed style, is still available online, as a free pdf, at the University of Manitoba site–titled “the Authoritarians”). Both works were referenced by John Dean in his book “Conservatives Without Conscience.” It’s all worthwhile reading, offering some solutions to the current problem of the conservative movement-gone-radical.

  • Wes Wieland:

    I appreciate your work as well as the way you have presented it. Thank you for the primer! It appears I have a bit of reading to do. This is what academic professionals should be doing: finding the less obvious, presenting it professionally, and thus giving us the opportunities to explore and discuss in whatever forum we choose.
    Again, Well done!

    Thank you

  • Sue Smith:

    Thank you Prof. Cronan and NPR,

    We’ve been wondering where Maine’s new Governor Paul LePage was getting his anti-labor, anti-environment orders from. Is there any evidence that “ALEC” is also behind The Patriot Act, Citizen’s United, etc. ?

  • Mike:

    Martin Niemoller ,
    From the Congressional Record,
    October 14, 1968

    “When Hitler attacked the Jews
    I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
    And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
    I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.
    And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
    I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
    Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church —
    and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

  • Ross Sutherland:

    Thank you for the type of discussion and framework-for-thought that I believe this country was founded on.

  • nestor makhno:

    @nestor: Failing to heed prior warnings about verbal abuse in comments per the Terms of Service has now resulted in your entire comment being redacted.


  • gerald hoffman:

    People need to be reminded or made aware of how closely the priorities of ALEC resemble those of the NAZIs when one of the first actions of the NAZI party was to outlaw unions.

  • Meg:

    Thank you for helping to bring ALECs activities to light. In your list of journalistic efforts to educate us about ALEC you didn’t list Laura Sullivan’s two part expose she did on ALEC and its role in drafting AZ 1070 the anti-immigration bill that is costing the broke state of AZ millions of dollars. The story was done on Oct 29 and 30, 2010 here is the link http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130891396 ALEC + the United Citizens decision by the highly politicized Supreme Court = really the end of American democratic freedom and I believe a threat to our Constitution.

  • Excellent muckraking, Professor. We Ohioans, who are subjects of a similar right-winger, Gov. Kasich, watch your state to see what is next on OUR agenda. Both of these guys are playing from the same playbook which you have identified. Thanks for exposing these cads and best of luck fighting the fascists who now control your state.

  • Martin Zechman:

    Professor Cronin;

    Thank you for your articulate op ed piece in the NY Times. You clearly stated why I, like so many others, am so upset by Governor Walker’s attack on Wisconsin’s spirit of cooperation, even in politics. Your ALEC post also raises many questions about serious threats to our democracy.

    Please continue to resist efforts to intimidate your research. If historians are prevented from investigating these types of questions and then writing about their findings, I fear for our country.

  • Pat:


    You know you speak the truth when the republicans immediately try to silence you. This is our country as much as anyones. The republicans want to direct, to the rich, more money so we can be a controlled populace(food, water, clothes, happiness, etc.. I think there shall be riots in the streets rather than let these weasels take our state and organizations away from us.

    Can you believe what is going on! It sounds like the gestapo is being organized on Germany’s old policy lines again. These hustlers only believe of government of THEIR people, by THEIR people and for THEIR people. You may agree with me that these republian legislatures surely are no ABE LINCOLN’S.


  • Donna Rifken:

    Dr. Cronon,
    Thank you for waking up us baby boomers who thought we could ride comfortably into the sunset satisfied that we had made a permanent place in American politics and government for tolerance, compromise and community. I see that I’ve been asleep at the reins. I’m awake now – what’s the next step?
    Dona Rifken
    Madison, WI

  • Shawn Doherty, health reporter for The Capital Times, has an excellent article out today on ALEC’s cookie-cutter legislation in Wisconsin:

    “State GOP health bills mirror model ALEC legislation”


    She says at the end of the article that she’ll let readers know if more of ALEC’s model legislation pops up.

    We need more reporters like her (and more people like Professor Cronon).

    And we need fewer puppet legislators carrying water for the corporations and the rich via ALEC’s model legislation. None of ALEC’s state-legislator minions took an oath to ALEC. Their oaths were to the Constitution of the United States and their state constitution, not to Koch Industries and the other corporations funding ALEC and guiding the creation of its model legislation. They should all be recalled.

  • nancy sixel:

    Thank you, Mr. Cronon. Academic research gives us knowledge; academic discipline gives us wisdom; academic freedom gives us the power to use knowledge wisely. May universities continue to give us direction that is rational, objective, humane, and independent.

    Understatement: Your work is appreciated and important.

  • Bob Curry:

    Copied and pasted from a MJS comment page about the FOIA request of emails:

    “Last summer the WI Supreme Court held that personal e-mails made on a school system’s computers were not amenable to discovery under the open records law.
    The court held: ‘For the reasons set forth, we too now conclude that while government business is to be kept open, the contents of employees’ personal e-mails are not a part of government business. Personal e-mails are therefore not always records within the meaning of Wis. Stat. § 19.32(2) simply because they are sent and received on government e-mail and computer systems.’ Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School Dist.
    327 Wis.2d 572, 786 N.W.2d 177

  • Cheryl Larson:

    Thank you, Professor Cronen, for this well-written piece that helps me to better understand HOW these things are happening. Your thought-provoking and information-rich blog transcends name-calling and accusations. How it can possibly be viewed as threatening by the Republican Party boggles the mind.

    I’m sorry to see you put in such a ridiculous situation for doing an outstanding job as a historian. I also now understand why it’s so critically important for our institutions of higher learning to have experts in these disciplines, and that they be allowed to conduct research and hold discussions without fear of persecution.

    Again, Thank you!

  • chris:

    my issue I take with this whole subject is not whether the free and open exchange of ideas is welcomed, its that whenever free and open ideas are exchanged they are immediately placed into a crass framework so as to use it against the next topic of free and open ideas and the exchange of them.

    I am 37 and when I was in college I considered myself communist socialist, I hated capitalism and Republicans, despised corporations and wanted to live off the grid. My problem?? I didn’t have any answers as to how to do it better.

    Looking at the global picture I think we are weakening ourselves just because someone is constantly feeding us garbage that just because we may be in a better environment to make more money that somehow that should be someone elses money too when it should be up to that individual as to how to distribute it or just keep it.

    We spend way to much time worrying about other people and not enough time worrying about ourselves. If I chose to join a union then I chose to give up my individual rights.

    I wish my situation was good enough to the point where I could take time out of my day to protest how unfair something was but I am too busy working to improve my life for myself and my children.

    I wish my work would allow me to take time off to not work so I can protest in the very halls that have created laws to make my life better for myself and my children and I sure hope that one day I make enought to say my life is not fair.

    But then again I guess I would have to be in college to do that and think that way now wouldnt I?

    Long live the rights of self governance. Thanks you for letting me speak my mind.

    • Ben Fenton:

      “My problem?? I didn’t have any answers as to how to do it better.”

      The fact that you perhaps lack imagination or didn’t do the work required to find another way does not mean that there is no alternative to capitalism or majority-rules & representative democracy. No one should expect to single-handedly de- and re-construct an existing system. You also claim that organizing revokes an individual’s individuality. That’s bull-puckey. Either of those trains of thought would never been viable excuses for the authors of the Constitution to give up on seeking an alternative to the oppressive British monarchy.

      Maybe the problem was that you looked to the failed Communist/State Socialist paradigm for the answer.

      • Eliza Monroe:

        Hey ….. Stop your bickering!! Read ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. She reveals the master narrative of our time. Professor Cronon’s Study Guide and Klein’s book present terrifying evidence that fair minded people everywhere need to be informed and actively resist corporatist objectives. Milton Friedman’s economics just like this ALEC organization are redefining the history of our era while most Americans sit on the sidelines unaware or too busy or just not interested. READ KLEIN’S BOOK!!

  • Joni Bosh:

    Mr. Cronon,

    Thank you for speaking out so clearly on ALEC. The Republican response is totally predictable – destroy the messenger, ignore the message – keep the public’s eye off the ball. Always play the victim (can you imagine the howls if someone filed FOIAs regarding legislators communications with ALEC?), never negotiate.

    We have been plagued by ALEC “model” legislation in Arizona for years, most notably the nasty anti immigrant legislation of last year (SB1070). But that was hardly the first model law we have had to deal with; much of the anti environmental legislation, starting with the ridiculous “takings” efforts of the early 1990s, originated with ALEC members. It has become so common place in Arizona to simply introduce ALEC models, either new or shared from other states, that one legislator dropped a bill, without even reading it closely enough to realize it did not reference Arizona, but another state. A review of the legislation of the last 10 years in Wisconsin, at least that introduced by conservative Republican members, would probably reveal a startling number of ALEC based legislation. It is time for total transparency nationwide, not just in Wisconsin.

    Paul Weyrich might be your next topic!

    With gratitude and appreciation for what your principled stand,

    Joni Bosh

  • Techie Patriot:

    Professor Cronon,

    Thank you for bringing all of this information to light. You sir are a true patriot!

    We must all continue to EXPOSE the underhanded dealings of BOTH parties – both the Democrats AND Republicans. They both are controlled – not by WE THE PEOPLE but by corporations and big banks. We must all be on the lookout for GOOD THIRD PARTY candidates – DO NOT be sucked into the false left/right paradigm – in fact BREAK FREE from it. You have more choices than just Republican or Democrat. As we are seeing with what is happening here in Wisconsin – we see Gov. Walker and his “cronies” are controlled by the Koch Brothers and the Republican Party (which by the way is HEAVILY influenced financially by the Koch’s – so is Gov. Walker). But we must NOT let our eyes be blinded to the fact Democrats are EQUALLY controlled by BIG corporate $$$$. People need to do what Professor Cronon is doing and RESEARCH, RESERARCH, RESEARCH. Find the FACTS and expose them!

    WE THE PEOPLE need to take our country BACK!

  • Mike Muoio:

    Thank you for this effort . It is very helpful in understanding just what is going on in our state….and elsewhere.

    It is very alarming indeed.

    This has been enough to get me activated for progressives in the state.

  • Bruce Coppola:

    Excellent article. I have sent the following email to Michigan Gov. Snyder and my Republican state house member and Senator. I hope others do the same in their states:

    Dear Gov./Rep./Sen. [name] As a Michigan voter/constituent I’d like to know: Are you a member of, in any way affiliated with, or have you based your legislative proposals on any model legislation authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)? They are, I understand, very influential in state Republican politics and have been for decades. I believe the public has a right to know what influence they have on you and other elected officials. Thank you.

    My address and phone number:
    [street address]
    city, state, zip]

    • Bruce Coppola:

      Also: I plan to publlsh their responses (if any) on my Facebook page. Publishing the responses on your FB page, blog, Website, etc. would be a good idea. Call me a cynic, but I wonder how many words they’ll spin to avoid a simple “yes” or “no”.

  • Bob Curry:

    Thanks, Dr. Cronon for shedding light under their rocks. This two months is the scariest thing I’ve witnessed since Watergate and the Saturday Night Massacre. Well, okay, the entire reign of W was over the top in its assaults on democracy, too. The Fitzwalkers are despots determined to take over government by any means, regardless of legality. They aren’t too bright, but they’re clever in carrying out the agenda (ALEC, The Bradley Foundation, Kochs), and they will stop at nothing, even the laws of the state. Van Hollen has lost any credibility he had in asking that the open meeting case be grabbed up by the appeals and supreme courts.
    We all need to speak truth to this aspiring tyranny, because that is what it is, and it must not be allowed to get a foothold in this state. I am thoroughly a Democrat, have never been tempted to vote for a Republican in my life, for this very reason — the modern Republican Party has been taken over by dangerous people who have nothing but scorn for a two party democracy, not to mention human beings. But if the Democrats tried something like this, I would work to take them down for the same reasons we are all talking about here.
    How can anyone with a mere acquaintance with 20th Century history not recognize this power grab as a try for one-party, strongman rule? We have lived through Hitler and Mussolini, Stalin and Kruschev and Castro and the Shah of Iran, and Saddam and Baby Doc and the Balkans, and on and on. Just because this is happening in a US state doesn’t make it different. This swift and blatant and aggressive records request of Dr. Cronon is intimidation 101 right out of KGB state. Thinking it can’t happen here would be a catastrophic mistake. I urge Fitzwalkers’ apologists and backers to open their eyes to the comparisons and to see that this isn’t normal brass-knuckled politics, but something new and systemically different. I stand with you, Dr. Cronon, to the end.

  • richard kaller:

    i understand that the republican party is requesting information from the university where you teach. pls tell the university to charge them for providing such information (in the same fashion as various republican elected officials are requesting large sums of money for providing information requested under the foia).

  • Dr. Paul Carver:

    Thanks for the excellent information. Rick Perlstein’s books Before the Flood and Nixonland are indispensable in helping to understand the current manifestation of the anti-federalist Right, otherwise known as the modern conservative movement. Another, published in 2009, is Kim Phillips-Fein’s Invisible Hands; the making of the conservative movement from the New Deal to Reagan. Keep up the great work!

  • AnnieJo:

    A fascinating note from an ALEC spokesperson via Saturday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel All Politics blog: “Raegan A. Weber, an ALEC spokeswoman, replied via e-mail that ALEC had not worked with ‘Gov. Scott Walker or any of our members on any of the governor’s proposed legislation.'”

    Granted that the way the sentence is quoted leaves some wiggle as to how she actually framed it, but it ought to be pretty easy to prove the connections via Open Records.

  • Jim Crandall:

    This finally provides the seed of the answer to the question I had when this all started taking place here in Wisconsin. I couldn’t understand how newly elected governor Walker could come up with such a comprehensive program to turn our state’s heritage on it’s head. Thanks Professor Cronin. Now, how do we get the forces of progressivism to come up with the tools to get back on track?

    • Alan Gramprie:

      May I suggest that the answer might lie in first identifying viable progressive primary candidates to run against the current conservative Democrats who control the DNC and the DLC, and second, making contributions to those candidates directly rather than making contributions to the national Democratic leadership, which seems bent on preserving the center-right policies of the Democratic party. Of course, President Obama must be re-elected (consider the alternative), but must we continue to see our funds sent to the likes of Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln? I remind one and all that one of the first things Nancy Pelosi did after the 2008 election was to remove Henry Waxman from the House committee that conducts investigations into governmental wrongdoing. Would the Right be in the position it is now had Waxman been able to investigate Choice Point, Cheney’s secret energy meetings, the use of the Department of Justice to discredit Democratic candidates in the 2006 and 2008 elections etc, etc.? And would health care reform turned out as it did had Harry Reid uses his position to reform the filibuster? I’ve joined Sen. Feingold’s new organization, Progressives United. I’d like to see a candidate search become a high priority for that group.

  • William Cronon has long been a scholar’s hero whose works have revolutionized the importance of the environment in any historical understanding. May these new studies to identify the forces shaping (and in too many cases, degrading) American democracy go on and become much more widely known. How ironic and yet familiar that the forces who promise to “get government off our backs” are constantly found to be driving their own authoritarian agendas down the American throat—and worst of all, with every kind of fakery imaginable to make it look like “the people’s will.”

  • unitron:

    It would have been better to characterize Governor Walker as a water-carrier than as a spear-carrier.

    A water-carrier is a low-level functionary who nonetheless performs a necessary service.

    A spear-carrier is a costumed extra on stage in a scene in an opera whose only function is to stand there.

    (also the phrase spear-carrier may cause unease in the reader because of subliminally bring up the racially charged phrase “spear chunker”)

  • Anon:

    Some of you might find this interesting.

    [webmaster 8:19am: file sharing site link provided by the commenter deleted by webmaster]

    I’ve also found a few accounts that work, though there doesn’t seem to be much of interest after the login:

    [webmaster 8:19am: sorry, we don’t disclose personal logins of anyone]

  • snapples:

    Professor Cronon:
    We have been following your interaction w/ the Wisconsin Republican Party. Keep going. You are 100% correct about their association w/ ALEC. Obviously, you have shown a light on a subject they would rather not discuss. Your work here has been impressive.

  • Arturo:

    Prof. Cronon you are a true patriot, and individuals such as yourself renew my hope for the future of our nation. I have been very depressed feeling hopeless these past few weeks because of the aggressive turn of events from the neo-cons. You have helped to restore my faith. Adelante!

  • Dave Yost:

    Professor Cronon has provided a document that goes beyond a column. He gives us a framework to dig deeper and pass on to anyone we know, espectially those who believe some of these ultra-conservative positions. I was particularly impressed that he knew about Maciver, a Madison based organization that was created just before Walker announced he would run for governor of WI. This group was set up with money from the Bradley Foundation. Bradley has a direct link to the John Birch Society. I have been spending a lot of time digging into these organizations and every word Mr. Cronon has written is right on the money.

  • Heather G:

    I did a search for “bargaining site:alec.org”. One of the results was this 2007 paper by a Koch employee arguing that public sector pay is higher than private and that collective bargaining is why.


  • You are a true academic because you have the courage to speak the truth to power. That is the greatest compliment I can give.

    When you are dragged into the Star Chamber and asked to name names, please give them mine. It would be an honor to be persecuted by the likes of Scott Walker along with you.

    Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, JD, PhD
    Professor of Labor and Employment Law
    Indiana University
    Maurer School of Law

  • JEP:

    Viva la blogs!

    “first, they came for the bloggers”

  • Daniel Butt:

    Professor Cronon,

    You are greatly appreciated as citizen and scholar.

  • Jim Sieger:

    Mr. Cronon,

    We used to have a term for people like you in this country and the one I am thinking of is patriot. Thank you for your thoughtful and well written articles, the one that was in the NY Times was sent by me to brothers and friends. I see the FOIA as a sad reflection of a paranoid administration. I was under the impression that free speech was one of the things that made this country great. This is another self inflicted wound on the part of the Walker administration. It’s another in a series of sad missteps which I suspect will cost him and the Republicans politically.