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Corporate lobbying group draws fire

A broad coalition of labor, community, environmental and faith groups will protest the 40th anniversary annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

The meeting takes place August 7 to 9 at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe; the rally takes place there on Thursday, August 8 at 12 noon.

Long a major but shadowy behind-the-scenes player, ALEC came to prominence in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, when the group’s role working with the NRA to promote Stand Your Ground legislation became known.

With funding by major corporations and membership by one-third of the nation’s state legislators, ALEC provides model legislation in a wide array of areas.

The group joins corporate America’s economic agenda with a right -wing social agenda, according to In These Times editor Joel Bleifuss.  He joined Rey Lopez-Calderon of Common Cause and Brian Echols of Concerned Black Men on a recent episode of Chicago Newsroom to discuss ALEC.  (Watch it here.)

“They’re a great example of the power of Corporate America in American politics,” Bleifuss says.

In 2011 In These Times first exposed ALEC’s use of model bills — despite its tax exempt status which prohibits legislative activity — to undermine public employee unions and privatize government.

Charge tax fraud

“We think it’s tax fraud,” Lopez-Calderon says.  Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy recently filed a complaint with the IRS charging ALEC with filing fraudulent tax returns.

ALEC has gone after collective bargaining rights, clean energy legislation, and campaign finance reform, Newsroom panelists relate.  The group is behind a series of restrictive voter ID laws as well as SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial “Show Your Papers” law.

Echols notes that, on behalf of private prison corporations, ALEC has pushed the War on Drugs’ harsh sentencing laws, targetting African Americans and vastly increasing the nation’s prison population.  Now they’re pushing laws that will increase the detention of immigrants on behalf of the same corporations, Lopez-Calderon notes.

“They’ve viewed this as a long-term way for corporations to make money,” he says, adding that ALEC helped create the Corrections Corporation of America.

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Local reporting

New reports from the Local Reporting Initiative of the Chicago Community Trust are up at the Community News Project blog:

Highlighting the settlement Tuesday of a lawsuit requiring the state to help nursing home residents move into their own homes (see above), the Neighborhood Writing Alliance tells the story of one man who recently made the transition, with help from Access Living.

NWA also interviews the director of the only domestic violence program for people with disabilities in the Chicago area.

In These Times reports on “The Poverty of School Reform” and the disconnect between top-down reform models favored by corporate and political leaders and the realities of life in low-income communities.

Illinois Health Matters finds a “gaping chasm” between policymakers implementing health reform and South and West Side residents with serious health issues.

Photojournalist Bill Healy seeks out stories of the residents of Auburn Gresham.

Entre Nostoros, a multimedia blog by Radio Arte, covers Latina youth artists, activists and issues.

The Grassroots Collaborative looks at TIF spending in Chicago and finds that “a program meant to address blight in fact reinforces it” – while it also increases income inequality.

Chicago In These Times

As a national publication based in Chicago, In These Times often provides better coverage of the local scene than its rivals – but this week’s issue seems particularly noteworthy on that account.

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