‘ALEC Rock’ – The New, More Cynical, Schoolhouse Rock (VIDEO)

For many Americans, this video, I’m Just a Bill, by Schoolhouse Rock, was their very first civics lesson. In three minutes, it explained how a representative democracy works.

Here’s the video:

In those days, the days pre-Citizens United, the passage of a bill was a long and sometimes tedious process. It typically began at the grass roots, where the idea was introduced to a representative of the people. That representative of the people would write the bill, garner some support and hopefully, the bill would be voted on by Congress. Then, it would have go through it all again in the Senate then, it would go to the President’s desk, where it may or may not be signed. You know how it works.

Of course, the Schoolhouse Rock version is overly simplistic. It was made for seven-year-olds, after all, but I’m sure there are many forty seven-year-olds who could use a refresher in how a representative democracy works, because a lot has changed since I’m Just a Bill hit the airwaves.

The most significant change is exemplified by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. ALEC is comprised of a group of multinational corporations and billionaires, such as the Koch Brothers. I don’t believe I’m being hyperbolic in saying that ALEC has accomplished a quiet coup.


ALEC has all but taken the grass roots (the people) out of the legislative process. Here’s more on ALEC from ALEC Exposed:

What is ALEC?

ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.

Who funds ALEC?

More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2009. It has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife family Allegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few. Less than 2% of ALEC’s funding comes from “Membership Dues” of $50 per year paid by state legislators, a steeply discounted price that may run afoul of state gift bans. For more, see CMD’s special report on ALEC funding and spending here.

Regardless of your views on ALEC’s influence on politics, you can be sure of one thing, the bills pushed through by ALEC and their bought and paid for legislators are not written with the public’s interest in mind. One recent example is a discussion on how to market tobacco as the cure for smoking. Despite clear evidence that chewing tobacco is as big a health hazard as smoked tobacco, the newest push is to market flavored chewing tobacco to children and to those trying to quit smoking.

In an attempt to shine some light on ALEC and our new form of “democracy,” Schoolhouse Rock has been updated with ALEC Rock, its evil green (as in money, not the environment) cousin. Produced by Mark Fiore, The ALEC Exposed Project and Alliance for a Better Utah, in just 2:25, the video highlights the very undemocratic way in which ALEC bypasses the traditional lawmaking protocol by inserting its own corporate agenda.

 Here’s the video:

While corporations and billionaires have extraordinary influence over politics and policy, there is some hope. Despite the ability to shower politicians with money, corporations still don’t have the right to vote. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court views billionaires as people several times over (depending on how many corporations they are tied to), they still only have one vote at the ballot box.

People are starting to wise up and their pressure is getting to the corporations. In fact, 30 corporations have pulled out of ALEC, which is proof that people do still have power and the best way to get people to assert their power is through education, like ALEC Rock.

While the video did premier on BillMoyers.com, don’t look for it to receive heavy play on PBS. The Koch Brothers are big sponsors as are other ALEC members. Instead, we can help the video go viral by sharing on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Follow me on my new Facebook page or on Twitter, @wendygittleson