The links between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and "voter ID" legislation have been well-documented, but newspapers in the states impacted most severely by the voter suppression legislation have been largely silent on this connection. A new analysis by Media Matters finds that "the largest newspapers in the seven states that enacted voter ID laws in 2011 have largely ignored ALEC's influence." ALEC is a group that brings together right-wing state legislators and corporations to vote on cookie-cutter "model" bills behind closed doors. The bills largely benefit corporations and Republican political interests.
As CMD has previously reported, ALEC began to focus on voter ID shortly after 2008, when 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, "Preventing Election Fraud" was the cover story on the Inside ALEC magazine, and ALEC corporations and politicians approved "model" voter ID legislation in 2009. Around 34 voter ID bills modeled after the ALEC template were introduced in 2011.
The legislation -- which requires that voters show a state-issued ID to vote -- has been criticized as an effort to disenfranchise students, the elderly and minorities, who are less likely to have the appropriate type of ID. According to a 2011 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as 5 million people do not have the ID required under the new laws and as a result could be disenfranchised in 2012.
Only One State Newspaper Noted Link Between ALEC and Voter ID
Since CMD released a trove of "model" ALEC bills in July 2011, including the template "model" voter ID bill, national (and even international) media outlets have documented the ALEC roots of voter ID. Outlets including Rolling Stone, Democracy Now!, CNN, Mother Jones, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, The Associated Press and scores of others have produced pieces documenting the link between ALEC and the nearly-identical voter ID legislation that have sprouted up across the country in the past year.
However, state-based newspapers of the type read by most voters have barely mentioned the link.
Media Matters found that, "of the newspapers examined, only Rhode Island's Providence Journal mentioned any connection between the state's voter ID bill and ALEC." When ALEC does get a mention in state newspapers, it is often in the form of op-eds, letters to the editor, or legislative calendars. The report searched the archives of the largest newspapers in each state, including Alabama's The Birmingham News, Kansas' The Wichita Eagle, Rhode Island's Providence Journal, South Carolina's The State, Tennessee's The Tennessean, Texas' Houston Chronicle and Wisconsin's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The report found that in Wisconsin since 2009, the state's largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has only mentioned ALEC eight times -- once in a letter to the editor and the other times in news reports. These mentions did not include a reference to voter ID legislation. The CMD previously reported on how the newspaper has failed to report on ALEC's extensive influence in the state. It has also reported on the growing influence of ALEC on dozens of pieces of legislation moving in the state.
Why the Silence?
ALEC has over 2,000 legislative and 300 corporate members. It boasts that it introduces 1,000 model bills in the states each year with an average of 20 percent becoming law. Its influence in dozens of areas of law has been well-documented. Beyond voter ID, ALEC has been instrumental in endorsing legislation to privatize education, Medicare and Social Security, to limit consumers' rights and the right of workers to organize, and to sabotage environmental protections.
Now that the model bills are easily available, it is unclear what is preventing these major state newspapers from reporting on the ideological and corporate agenda behind ALEC and its model legislation.
Into the void left by legitimate news organizations come well-funded right-wing outlets such as the "Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity." This news outlet does not disclose its funders, but as CMD previously reported, it has received funding from right-wing organizations such as the Bradley Foundation and the Sam Adams Alliance. Many of its staffers have ties to conservative activist groups and the GOP. While only three years old, the center now claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."
Franklin is so fond of ALEC, it was a "Vice-Chairman" level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference, which in 2010 equated to $25,000.