|NICK OZA/ARIZONA REPUBLIC|
Occupy Phoenix protesters came to protest to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together large corporations and conservative state lawmakers to draft model bills.
By Olivia Ward
Foreign Affairs Reporter
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.—There’s something rotten in the air. A muggy, oniony, chemical smell that wafts over the lines of uniformed riot police, paddy wagons and metal barriers that are holding back a straggle of protesters waving slapdash placards reading “Shut Down ALEC.”
“Get back ma’am, for your own safety,” a courteous voice warns me. “They’re gonna start pepper spraying.”
It’s a surreal touch at the lush, sprawling Westin Kierland Resort, where the air is scented with fragrant flowering bushes and the aromatic lotions of the spa. But the protesters are at the gate, and inside, hundreds of state legislators from all over the U.S., their wives and entourages are meeting with corporate leaders for a three-day annual policy summit. Or, to their banner-bearing foes, a cradle of “corporate profiteering at the expense of our communities.”
“Today only,” blazons a sign hoisted by a silver-haired protester, “Buy One Senator Get One Free!”
The target of this anger is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC — a benign, user-friendly acronym that fits the friendly turf of Scottsdale, where the grass is always greener and everything is for your comfort and safety.
I’m here to learn more about this increasingly muscular organization, formally an educational non-profit — and one that shuns the “L” word, lobbyist. It puts state lawmakers together with representatives from some of the country’s most powerful corporations to advance their legislative agendas. And it’s the most influential organization the majority of Americans have never heard of.
As the coming federal election sucks all the oxygen out of America’s political room, it’s easy to ignore the power of the states, and the changes that are quietly taking place across the country independent of — and often hostile to — the federal government. But, for understanding grassroots America, ALEC, here in God’s golf country, is a good place to start.