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2012 Winter Issue 5 (February 10, 2012)

Politics and Money: The MN Connection

February 10, 2012
By Matthew Fitzgerald

Hey Carleton. Happy Friday, I hope this article finds you in good spirits – winter can be a tough term so be good to yourself.  So here is a litany of things that are very serious issues going on in the world: in Libya chaos ensues for a struggling new government; Northern Mali is under fire from hundreds of Tuareg rebels, South Sudan is succumbing to civil war and maybe even worse, and Tijuana Mexico is crumbling under the pressures of drug warfare. Sound pretty grim? It is. Sound pretty distant?  Again, it is. Nevertheless, you are connected to all of these currents.  So making a huge leap from friendly friend advice last time I wrote, I am reaching out today to provoke a conversation about action, agency, and our relationship to the world beyond 300 North College Street.

I don’t offer that list as a source of guilt, rather as a reminder.  The continuous buzzword of Carleton is “bubble”. I know – I use it all the time. It exists and it affects all of us. Yet we do not have the luxury of cynicism or inaction, particularly as a community that prides itself on critical thinking and deliberate living. You guys are smart, damn smart in fact; but you are also really busy, really active people. You can stay informed about world events, but it is easy to remain a passive observer as a result of distance – be it geographic, economic, cultural, or any other reason. I get it. I struggle with the same balance of interest and involvement. If you think about it, sitting on 4th Libe is a pretty safe bet. 

I don’t presume to preach (although I think some will read this column as such), and I don’t intend to offend by omitting other equally important issues that are as relevant and significant as my opening list.  Rather, the point of my article today is to encourage our community to honor the lives and experiences of other human beings, by living intentionally here in Northfield, attempting to be informed, and effecting change in our immediate world. We can’t change everything and we can’t do it alone. You know this. But we can change some things and we can do that now.

So here is something else to throw into the stew of goofy things going on in the world – ALEC. It is a Minnesota issue; close to home, easy to research and one that affects lots of people here in Northfield (and at Carleton). Allow me to explain.

I was involved heavily this fall with the Occupy Movement, and I know at least some of you showed interest as well.  My goal was this: to start a dialogue here on campus and in particular to think about the current sate of affairs in the U.S. as it relates to the intimate ties of corporation and politics – ALEC lies at the center of this debate.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the epitome of corporate politics. ALEC provides prefabricated, cut and paste legislation that is approved and controlled by its members (aka corporations) for any member legislator to use. Enter Common Cause, a bipartisan citizens advocacy lobby founded in 1970 by John W. Gardner, a Republican former cabinet secretary under Lyndon Johnson, with a mission focused on making U.S. political institutions transparent and accountable. Common Cause recently released an 80 page report about the influence and dangers of ALEC. Here are some quick facts that I pulled from the report:
Common Cause has identified more than 60 bills written by ALEC corporate lobbyists that have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature over the past two years. From 2005 to 2010, ALEC corporate members spent $40.3 million in lobbying, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. ALEC receives 98% of its funding from corporations and foundations.  The corporate member list include the likes of: 3M, AT&T, BP Amoco Corp., Cargil, the Cato Institute (an off shoot of the Charles Koch Foundation), Coca-Cola, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Philip Morris, Time Warner Cable, Wal-Mart Stores, and Xcel Energy, among others. In Minnesota, all of the 30 current and former state legislators identified as ALEC members are Republicans.

Here are my sources:
http://www.commoncause.org/
http://alecexposed.org/
http://www.scribd.com Search: Minnesota Common Cause
The list of corporations is absurd. I had to cut the list short because it is so extensive. You all know where this is going.  Minnesota legislature is being bought and sold, plain and simple.
Some past and pending ALEC legislation includes bills that protect corporate tax breaks, stop whistle blowers in agriculture operations, make tobacco more appealing to youth, protect asbestos makers, imprison illegal immigrants (for profit driven prisons), and give immunity to the food industry.
It is tough to conclude a column like this. Where do you go next? There is a petition floating around asking the IRS to investigate ALEC.  This year is an election cycle… etc, etc. Here is the deal:  I don’t write to be condescending and I don’t write to spam your life. I’m just writing to let you know that there are very concrete examples of politics and money mixing. The big players are corporations and that the issues are of dubious nature – all of is happening in our backyard. 

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