Legislation by corporations

It has often been said the rich man dances while the poor man pays the fiddler. With the the Supreme Court’s recent Citizen United opinion, money is more influential and important in politics than ever before in the history of America. A perfect example of how multi-millionaires and billionaires are influencing America can easily be found in an organization primarily sponsored by the Koch brothers called the “American Legislative Exchange Council,” aka A.L.E.C.

The Koch brothers are intent on making the secondary golden rule a reality in the United States – if not nationally, then state by state. The secondary golden rule is, “Them that has the gold rules.” A.L.E.C. has gained popularity in many conservative states and is the fountainhead of numerous ideological proposals to limit voting, enhance the power of the rich, support regressive tax measures for the middle class while bestowing large favors on such entities as the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, etc.Over 50 reactionary measures have had A.L.E.C. as their birthplace. These bills have all been introduced in one or more states in the union, and many have become law.A prime example of an A.L.E.C.-created statute is the Voter ID law that passed in Texas as last session’s No. 1 priority of Republicans. While the argument, “What does it hurt to present a picture ID to vote?” appeals to some, the measure goes far beyond. Recent studies have shown three cogent facts that justify the Justice Department in disapproving such a statute.

1. Thousands of people in Texas do not have an ID. 2. Many counties in Texas do not have a Department of Public Safety where a Voter ID card can be obtained. 3. The premise that Voter ID cards are needed to stamp out voter fraud is simply not true.

After a study of millions of voters in Texas over a three-year period, only five instances were found where voter identification could have been involved. Of 20 cases looked into by the Texas attorney general, most offenses dealt with mail-in-ballots, an issue not addressed by a picture ID requirement.

Further evidence of A.L.E.C. and the Koch brothers’ efforts to deter voting is a statute recently adopted in Florida that puts severe time limits on volunteer voter registration drives. Massive voter registration has long been recognized as one of the ways ordinary folks can combat the power of money at the polls.

Another area influenced by A.L.E.C. has been the promotion and growth of the private prison industry. This growth has led to a powerful lobby supporting increased incarceration rather than lower costs and more effective methods of correcting bad behavior in this state. In spite of the fact that Texas leads the nation in incarcerated citizens per capita, we are still near the top in our crime rate.

The controversial “Stand Your Ground” statute adopted in Florida is among the vigilante-type bills promoted and pushed by A.L.E.C. and their multi-billion dollar sponsors.Yet another counterproductive area that, in my opinion, hurts the public good is the promotion of charter schools by A.L.E.C. and its fellow travelers. Charter schools have taken a big bite out of the education dollars provided by Texas legislators. While there are a few charter schools that have produced extremely good results, the vast majority perform below average and spend more per pupil than the state allows for public school students. Many proprietors of charter schools operate on meager qualifications and charge exorbitant fees. An example within the confines of Southeast Texas is a charter school with less than half the student population of any of the major school districts within the area and yet its director/superintendent or principal, whatever the title, receives a salary almost equal to that of the major school districts of Port Arthur, Nederland and Port Neches.

The average voter in Southeast Texas should take a hard look at the source of legislation passed and praised by our current, conservative majority in the Texas Legislature. It will take little investigation to discover that A.L.E.C.-sponsored legislation is not in the interest of the average, working Southeast Texan.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas.