How State Media Turned A Blind Eye To ALEC's Influence On The Voter ID Debate
Research ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL
Dozens of voter ID laws have been introduced in state legislatures over the past two years, including particularly strict measures passed in seven states in 2011 -- Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. There is widespread evidence that this surge of voter ID laws stems from model legislation crafted in 2009 by a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But a Media Matters analysis has found that the largest newspapers in the seven states that enacted voter ID laws in 2011 have largely ignored ALEC's influence. Indeed, of the newspapers examined, only Rhode Island's Providence Journal mentioned any connection between the state's voter ID bill and ALEC.
What Is ALEC?
ALEC "Exists To Bring Business-Friendly State Lawmakers Together With Lobbyists For Corporations." From Fortune magazine:
The organization, founded in 1973 and funded mostly by corporations and conservative foundations, exists to bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations, including AT&T (T), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Wal-Mart (WMT), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). It drafts model bills related to its goals of free markets and limited government. Issues that ALEC has influenced include Arizona's anti-immigration law, tort reform in Mississippi, and the opposition to Net neutrality. [...]
In the 2009 legislative session, by ALEC's reckoning, state lawmakers introduced 826 bills the group conceived -- 115 of which made it into law. That's quite a record, and it's going to get stronger. One overlooked aspect of the Republican resurgence has been its revolution at the state level. The GOP picked up more than 700 seats in state legislatures and now controls 25 of those bodies outright, from 14 before November. [Fortune, 1/10/11]
"Close To 1,000 Bills" Based On ALEC Model Legislation Are Introduced In State Legislatures Each Year. From ALEC's website:
To date, ALEC's Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law. [ALEC.org, accessed 3/15/12]
NRDC: ALEC Is "The Ultimate 'Trojan Horse' For Industry Forces Seeking To Bend State Laws." From the Natural Resources Defense Council:
"While the Congressional debate over campaign finance reform has focused the nation's attention on corporate influence over politics at the federal level, ALEC provides a chilling example of even more brazen manipulation involving state legislatures," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "ALEC is the ultimate 'Trojan Horse' for industry forces seeking to bend state laws to maximize corporate profits, often at the expense of citizens and the environment."
ALEC touts itself as a membership association of state legislators. But corporations and trade associations finance virtually all of ALEC's activities. [NRDC.org, 2/28/02]
There Has Been A Surge Of Voter ID Bills Introduced Since ALEC Published Their "Voter ID Act"
USA Today: "Record Number" Of Voter ID Bills Passed In State Legislatures In 2011. From USA Today:
State legislatures across the country have passed a record number of laws this year requiring photo identification to vote, a controversial move pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
Proponents say the measures prevent vote fraud. Opponents say they are designed to stifle turnout among students, poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats but might lack government-issued IDs, such as driver's licenses and passports.
Buoyed by big Republican gains in the 2010 elections, six states have enacted photo ID laws since January -- Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bills in New Hampshire and North Carolina await gubernatorial action. [...]
"It's remarkable," Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said of the proliferation of new laws. In all, 33 states have considered new voter ID laws this year. "I very rarely see one single issue come up in so many state legislatures in a single session," she said. [USA Today, 6/20/11, emphasis added]
Associated Press: Surge In State Voter ID Laws Is "Springing From" ALEC's Model Policy For Voter ID. From the Associated Press:
A proposed constitutional amendment to require a photo ID for Minnesota voters is part of a surge of similar legislation nationwide, much of it springing from a conservative organization that's well-known to politicians but operates largely out of public view.
Six states enacted a strict photo ID requirement last year, and this year lawmakers in 31 other states are considering it. [...]
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has offered its ideas on voter ID for anyone interested in taking them. Established in 1973, the organization offers state lawmakers a menu of model bills on a range of issues: from business-friendly changes to the civil legal system to reducing regulations backed by environmentalists.
About 2,000 legislators around the country are ALEC members, joined by 300 corporate or private members. Companies such as Wal-Mart, AT&T and ExxonMobil pay between $7,000 and $25,000 to belong, and for various fees such companies can sit on task forces that draft model legislation.
ALEC approved its model policy for voter ID in 2009. [AP, 3/5/12]
AP: "Lawmakers Integral To Passing" Voter ID Laws In Five States "Have Either Confirmed Or Reported ALEC Ties." From the AP:
Five states passed a strict photo ID requirement last year: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, Texas and South Carolina. In each case, lawmakers integral to passing the bills have either confirmed or reported ALEC ties. A sixth state, Mississippi, enacted a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID in an initiative process begun by a lawmaker reported to have served on an ALEC task force. [AP, 3/5/12]
PFAW: ALEC "Is Directly Tied To The Emerging Trend Among State Legislatures To Consider Voter ID Laws." From People for the American Way:
ALEC is directly tied to the emerging trend among state legislatures to consider voter ID laws. Using false allegations of "voter fraud," right-wing politicians are pursuing policies that disenfranchise students and other at-risk voters,--including the elderly and the poor--who are unlikely to have drivers' licenses or other forms of photo ID. By suppressing the vote of such groups, ALEC's model "Voter ID Act" grants an electoral advantage to Republicans while undermining the right to vote. In addition, ALEC wants to make it easier for corporations to participate in the political process. Their Public Safety and Elections taskforce is co-chaired by Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, one of the most vociferous pro-corporate election groups, and promotes model legislation that would devastate campaign finance reform and allow for greater corporate influence in elections. [PFAW.org, accessed 3/14/12]
Center For Media And Democracy: "Around 34 Voter ID Bills Modeled After The ALEC Template Were Introduced In 2011." From PRWatch.org, the website of the Center for Media and Democracy:
Wisconsin's voter ID law bears many elements of the ALEC model Voter ID Act. ALEC began to focus on voter ID shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years swept America's first black president into office with strong support from college students and African-Americans. Soon after the 2008 elections, "Preventing Election Fraud" was the cover story on the Inside ALEC magazine, and ALEC corporations and politicians voted in 2009 for "model" voter ID legislation.
Around 34 voter ID bills modeled after the ALEC tem plate were introduced in 2011. Those bills have been coming under increasing scrutiny in recent months. [PRWatch.org, 3/13/12]
ALEC "Task Force" Members Are Pushing ALEC Legislation. From Campus Progress:
Many of the state proposals appear to stem from model legislation known as the Voter ID Act (also known as Photo ID) that was developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
In a 2009 public report [PDF], ALEC described Voter ID legislation as "proactive" and offered up examples of states successfully passing the legislation as providing "a helpful guide" for other states to follow.
Deemed the "political player you've never heard of" by Fortune magazine earlier this year, ALEC was launched in 1973 by Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich and is funded by conservative organizations including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation. [...]
ALEC's efforts seem to be working. Out of the eight states that have legislators currently listed as members of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force, five are either considering or already have laws that were graded harmful to student voting. New Hampshire and Wisconsin, the two states currently considering the most extreme version of the law, both have ALEC members represented on the committees. [CampusProgress.org, 3/8/11]
Newspapers In States With New Voter ID Bills Largely Ignored ALEC's Influence On The Debate
ALEC promulgated a model Voter ID bill in 2009. Last year alone, seven states -- Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- signed similar bills into law. However, despite the extensive and obvious influence of ALEC on state legislation, state media have largely ignored the group.
The following is a record of mentions of ALEC in the pages of the aforementioned states' largest newspapers (ranked by total circulation, based on numbers provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations) since January 1, 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council") and notes whether or not the group was mentioned in the context of a story on voter ID laws. (NOTE: Wire service reports appearing in a newspaper are not always included in the Nexis database.)
Alabama's Birmingham News
Alabama Passed A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From the Birmingham News' website AL.com:
Alabamians starting in 2014 would have to show photo identification at the polls before voting, with some exceptions, under a bill that won final legislative approval in the Senate today.
The bill will become law only if Gov. Robert Bentley signs it.
The Senate voted 22-10 for the plan, House Bill 19, which the House of Representatives approved in March. [AL.com, 6/9/11]
The Birgmingham News Has Not Mentioned ALEC In News Coverage Since At Least 2009. Since January 1, 2009 (based on a LexisNexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council"), ALEC is mentioned in Alabama's largest newspaper only twice -- in two op-eds amplifying ALEC studies on education and tax policy. Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in the Birmingham News relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]
Kansas' Wichita Eagle
Kansas Passed A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From the Wichita Eagle:
Kansans will have to show a photo ID to vote beginning next year.
But new voters won't have to prove their citizenship to register until 2013 under a bill the House passed 111-11 and sent to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law. [Wichita Eagle, 3/30/11]
The Wichita Eagle Completely Ignored ALEC's Role In Voter ID. The Wichita Eagle, the largest newspaper in Kansas, completely ignored ALEC in coverage of their recently enacted voter ID law. There have been 16 mentions of ALEC on the Eagle's pages since 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council" from January 1, 2009).
- Nine of these mentions come in the form of letters to the editor or one-line comments (some supporting ALEC, some opposed to ALEC, some merely citing their work) submitted by readers.
- The Wichita Eagle published one op-ed by columnist Barb Shelly that more thoroughly delved into the reach of ALEC into the state legislature. [Wichita Eagle, 8/16/11, via Nexis]
- In July 2011, the paper published two op-eds that cite ALEC studies favorably to help make their arguments for tax reform. [Wichita Eagle, 7/3/11-7/10/11, via Nexis]
ALEC is mentioned in the paper's straight news coverage only four times, once each year since 2009 on topics ranging from tax policy to healthcare reform. Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in the Wichita Eagle relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]
Rhode Island's Providence Journal
Rhode Island Enacted A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From Reuters:
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls in 2012, with a photo required before casting a ballot in 2014, his office announced on Wednesday. [Reuters, 7/6/11]
Rhode Island's Providence Journal Is The Only Newspaper Of The Seven Analyzed That Mention's ALEC's Connection To State Voter ID Initiatives. The Providence Journal, Rhode Island's largest newspaper, mentioned ALEC only three times since the beginning of 2009. Two articles related to tax policy, but one of the three ALEC references did note the group's connection to voter ID initiatives in 2011:
- Providence Journal Columnist: ALEC "Devised The Model Vote-Suppression Law For GOP Legislators To Copy Onto Their States Books." From the Providence Journal:
The poll tax that effectively prevented blacks from voting was deleted from the books of Southern states with Lyndon Johnson s historic signing, on Aug. 6, 1965, of the federal Voting Rights Act. He called it a triumph for freedom. But, like Dracula, the issue has popped out of its grave 47 years later, here in Rhode Island and in some 30 other states.
Fourteen Republican-dominated states have enacted requirements for voters to show photo IDs to poll workers in the 2012 elections. A total of 27 states are sewing a crazy quilt of obstacles to voting. It s clear, writes The New York Times, that the purpose is to turn away from the polls people who are more likely to vote Democratic, particularly the young, the poor, the elderly, and minorities. An estimated 5 million voters nationwide would be affected, enough to sway the final election outcome in countless races for office.
Republican-controlled state lawmakers turned to a radical-right organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) of Washington, D.C. Its finaglers devised the model vote-suppression law for GOP legislators to copy onto their states books. [Providence Journal, 10/22/11, via Nexis, emphasis added]
South Carolina's The State
South Carolina Enacted A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From ACLU.org:
The South Carolina Senate late Wednesday passed legislation that will require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle statistics show that nearly 180,000 voters in South Carolina - most of whom are elderly, student, minority or low-income voters - will be disenfranchised as a result of this discriminatory bill. Proponents of the bill claim the voter ID requirement will curb in-person election fraud. The South Carolina Election Commission, however, reports that no cases of fraud exist. [ACLU.org, 5/12/11]
Columbia, SC's The State Completely Ignored ALEC During Voter ID Debate. Since at least 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council" since Jan. 1, 2009), The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, has mentioned ALEC only eight times:
- ALEC was mentioned twice in The State's legislative events calendar, noting that the organization was hosting receptions for state legistlators.
- ALEC was mentioned in three 2009 op-eds that debunked their claims about South Carolina's state debt (claims which were being pushed by then-Gov. Mark Sanford). [The State, 3/21/09-5/20/09, via Nexis]
- Twice in 2010, ALEC was mentioned briefly in connection with its hosting of a Utah event where then-gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley was accused of engaging in an extramarital affair. [The State, 6/2/09-6/4/09, via Nexis]
- Finally, in April 2011, the paper's "Capital Report" round-up briefly summarizes ALEC's role in a push for tort reform, stating "[l]awmakers are using language by a conservative, business-funded, special interest group -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- as a model for legislation aimed at limiting lawsuits." [The State, 4/17/11, via Nexis]
Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in The State relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]
Tennessee's The Tennessean
Tennessee Passed A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From Tennessee's ABC 24:
A proposal that requires Tennessee voters to show photo identification before they can cast ballots has been signed by the governor. [ABC 24, 6/1/11]
The Tennessean Completely Ignored ALEC During The Voter ID Debate. Since January 1, 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council"), The Tennessean, Tennessee's largest newspaper, has mentioned ALEC only seven times.
- Twice in early 2010, ALEC was briefly named in articles discussing efforts to challenge President Obama's healthcare reform measures.
- In April 2010, The Tennessean published an op-ed arguing against taxes on the oil and gas industries written by State Rep. Susan Lynn (R), identified as a state legislator and "chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force." [Tennessean, 4/18/10, via Nexis]
- In December 2010, ALEC is mentioned in an article on immigration reform, describing ALEC as a "national nonprofit organization for GOP state legislators." Two days later, ALEC was mentioned again in a correction to the previous description which noted, "ALEC is a conservative national organization. Its membership includes Democratic state lawmakers as well as Republicans." [Tennessean, 12/5-12/7/10, via Nexis]
- In 2011, ALEC is briefly mentioned in an August article about the National Popular Vote Initiative and the organization is discussed substantially in May in a look at the way ALEC's model legislation influence state governance. From The Tennessean in May 2011:
Several of the most controversial bills debated in the legislature this year, as well as some that have slipped under the radar without much attention, were written and promoted by groups outside Tennessee, a trend some political observers say reflects an attempt to push the nation in a conservative direction using state lawmakers.
On issues ranging from online instruction in public schools to the risks presented by followers of Shariah law, legislators have worked with an untold number of lawyers and policy experts based around the country to draft bills that could reshape Tennessee.
Supporters say this practice is well established among Democrats and Republicans alike. They also say that outside advisers and groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, bring expertise beyond the help that can be found within the legislature itself.
But critics say outsiders have come to exert too much influence over the legislature, leading lawmakers into controversies and stances that have little to do with the problems facing Tennessee.
"We've taken model bills in the past, but very rarely did you see model bills passed without any changes or amendments," said state Rep. Mike Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman. "Some of this stuff they're running this year is straight out of the ALEC playbook." [Tennessean, 5/15/11, emphasis added]
Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in The Tennessean relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]
Texas' Houston Chronicle
After Trying Since 2009, Texas Finally Passed A Strict Voter ID Law In 2011. From the Texas Tribune:
The Legislature passed the controversial requirement during the regular session that ended in May. [...]
The law in Texas didn't change easily. In 2009, the matter led to a legislative meltdown that killed not only the voter ID measure but hundreds of other bills, too. The issue divided Republicans and Democrats. Republicans said the stricter requirements would ensure integrity at the ballot box. Democrats said there is little or no voter fraud in Texas, and the bill would make it harder for minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled -- those who are less likely to have driver's licenses -- to vote. [Texas Tribune, 8/12/11]
The Houston Chronicle Mentioned ALEC Zero Times In Discussions About Voter ID. Since January 1, 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council"), The Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper in Texas has mentioned ALEC only twice: 1. A brief reference to ALEC appears in a 2010 article on efforts to limit asbestos lawsuits; and 2. ALEC is referenced in a healthcare article citing an ALEC director who encouraged states to amend their constitutions to repudiate elements of the president's Affordable Care Act. Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in the Houston Chronicle relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]
Wisconsin's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Passed A Strict Voter ID Bill In 2011. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
But the law costing more than $7 million in new spending and lost revenue could still face a legal challenge as opponents consider suing to overturn it. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/25/11]
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Completely Ignored ALEC's Role In Wisconsin's Voter ID Bill. Since January 1, 2009 (based on a Nexis search for "American Legislative Exchange Council"), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin's largest newspaper, has mentioned ALEC only eight times. One of these mentions was a letter to the editor which cites ALEC's position on public employee retirement reform. The remaining seven mentions were contained in straight news stories.
- In March 2011, a Journal Sentinel news article noted that Gov. Scott Walker appointed an ALEC director to chair the state's Public Service Commission. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/29/11, via Nexis]
- In March and April of 2011, three mentions of ALEC appear in stories relating to an investigation by the Wisconsin GOP into the emails of a University of Wisconsin professor just a few days after he published a personal blog post about ALEC's relationship to the party. This coverage centered around the GOP's open-records request and the university's response, rather than the potential motives behind the request. For example, in two of the three articles, ALEC is described only as a group that "works on model legislation of interest to conservative legislators around the country." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/27/11-4/18/11, via Nexis]
- In May and June of 2011, two news stories cite sources speculating about ALEC's influence in a union-busting bill and a bail bond reform bill and cite ALEC sources denying involvement. Another story cites an ALEC spokesman as an environmental policy expert, and another article notes that Gov. Scott Walker appointed an ALEC director to chair the state's Public Service Commission. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/8/11-6/19/11, via Nexis]
Since January 1, 2009, no mentions of ALEC in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel relate to voter ID laws. [LexisNexis, 1/1/09-3/16/12]