Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster is the lead signatory of a letter signed by 47 AGs in other states that asks Congress to make a small change – two words – in a federal statute that exempts online services such as Backpage.com from any liability for the material posted on their sites. This provision of the 1996 law have been called into question in the wake of recent court rulings holding that state efforts to target online ads that offer minors for sex conflict with the federal law. According to Koster the changes are necessary because when:
… corporations are knowingly generating revenue from what is widely or universally viewed as criminal conduct, the (federal law) should not stand as a shield for corporate revenues.
Koster and his AG pals are on the side of God and family values here, right? Who could fault them for going after human trafficking, particularly when it involves minors? Republicans who, publicly at least, asiduously curry favor with the sexually repressive religious right ought to really like this initiative. If the fact that Democrats like Koster are behind it is a downer for the more avidly partisan of the GOPers, we could at least expect them to hold their peace on the topic.
Well, if that is what you think, you’d be wrong. To start with, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has the AGs’ initiative in their sights. Add in lots of the state-level GOPers who are well-compensated ALEC groupies and you’ve got a good picture of who Koster and his colleagues are up against. These folks are already preparing their counter offensive:
The [ALEC] task force drafted a resolution for adoption by state legislators urging Congress to reject the attorneys general’s request. It could be ratified by the association’s executive board as soon as October.
It’ll be interesting to see if the strongly ALEC-attuned GOPers in the Missouri legislature brings this model resolution or something similar to the floor next session. If they do, don’t say I didn’t warn you it was coming.
What is it that ALEC and its minions object to about efforts to protect sexually exploited children? Most obviously, of course, ALEC is notable for its resentment of any government intrusion into corporate mores unless it takes the form of taxpayer subsidies, tax credits, etc. The specific objections in this case are that regulating the sex ads would pssibly be ineffective, and would impose a unnecessary burden on businesses because it could “force startup companies to keep track of thousands of specific state laws and could lead to government intrusion into other Internet areas.” This, in turn, ALEC claims, would stifle investment in Internet businesses and slow growth in a developing economic sector.
First of all, thousands of state laws? Seems like an awful lot of legislation on one topic – human trafficking – to come out of fifty states. And do you think folks who might turn a profit on an online business wouldn’t invest because the owners might have to do due diligence in regard to relevant regulations? Don’t businesses that function across state lines have to do this type of thing all the time? It does seem credible that folks might not be inclined to invest in operations that derive profit from what Koster described as “criminal conduct” if it put them in the cross-hairs of the law, but isn’t that as it should be? It all seems a little far-fetched to me. But that’s just the way I think. Who knows.
What I really wonder about is how GOP legislators who go along with ALEC on this issue are going to square support for tools that assist in the sexual exploitation of minors with their insistence on trying to regulate women’s reproductive health down to the nth degree, or their rabidly moralistic response to issues of LGBT equality. If they are so worried about female promiscuity and gay sex how can they give the okay to abuse kids in the name of the free market? Will their family values base understand?