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Yamashita: This special interest group is rewriting Arizona’s laws


A secretive network of billionaire investors, corporate lobbyists and conservative lawmakers is working behind closed doors to rewrite our laws and limit our freedoms.

As lawmakers consider dozens of cookie-cutter, special-interest legislation manufactured through the American Legislative Exchange Council, it’s time for Arizonans to know who is really writing our laws.

Founded in 1973, ALEC is a Washington, D.C.-area group that distributes special-interest legislation to state governments.

With money from huge, global corporations like Koch Industries, Pfizer, and tobacco giant Altria, ALEC has long distorted public policies to the detriment of working people. Today, it claims to represent nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators, almost all of whom are Republicans.

Each year, ALEC invites lawmakers to be schmoozed and boozed by emissaries from billionaire donors and high-dollar corporate lobbyists at their conventions. There, bills are voted on by legislators and lobbyists voting as equals at closed-door “task forces.” Task force-approved bills end up in the group’s model “policy” library, which politicians use to shape anti-worker agendas across the country, including in Arizona.

ALEC’s involvement in Arizona isn’t new. In 2012, Arizona lawmakers introduced an ALEC model bill to alter how public-sector union members pay dues. Although the bill was eventually struck down in court, it was effective in wiping tens of thousands of workers from union member rolls and robbing countless Arizonans of their voice on the job.

According to a 2017 investigation by state and national media, the Arizona legislature spent thousands of dollars to send staffers to ALEC’s annual conference. That same year, Arizona lawmakers introduced at least 209 bills copied from ALEC models, 57 of which were signed by the governor. According to the papers’ investigation, the only state to pass more ALEC bills in that period was Mississippi.

One of ALEC’s most famous and powerful Arizona members was Sen. Russell Pearce, the key architect of Arizona’s controversial 2010 racial profiling law, Senate Bill 1070. ALEC never condemned him, though Arizona voters did in a successful recall effort.

Lately, ALEC has resorted to more clandestine measures to leverage legislatures. In 2019, ALEC assembled a secret working group led in part by state Rep. Shawnna Bolick to coach its members on voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering strategies. The following year, Bolick sponsored several anti-democracy bills, including a measure to grant the legislature power to nullify the votes of the majority of Arizonans.

ALEC has also helped manufacture controversy surrounding the honest teaching of history, which has been dubbed critical race theory. In 2020, ALEC hosted a virtual workshop deriding CRT. Shortly thereafter, Arizona joined a surge of states enacting anti-CRT bills with the passage of House Bill 2906, which banned it in Arizona public schools. Notably, more than half of the bill’s sponsors had strong ALEC ties.

Today, ALEC’s influence in Arizona is glaring. Senate President Karen Fann is the chair of its National Board of Directors. Sen. T.J. Shope, former Republican House Majority Whip, is ALEC’s Arizona State Chair.

And just last month, Arizona Sen. Vince Leach — who is the co-chair of ALEC’s task force on taxes — introduced Senate Bill 1166, a bill derived from ALEC’s egregiously anti-union “Public Sector Union Toolkit.” This is only one of several ALEC bills under consideration by lawmakers this session.

After decades of corporate giveaways and union-busting, it’s clear that conservative lawmakers have allowed out-of-state interests to supersede the will of everyday Arizonans. As ALEC’s anti-worker legislation continues to silence Arizonans to the benefit of corporate interests, it’s time for our leaders to be honest about who is really writing our laws. Arizonans deserve better.

Editor’s note: Fred Yamashita is the executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, which through their affiliated unions represents over 160,000 working Arizonans statewide.