American Legislative Exchange Council

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American Legislative Exchange Council
American Legislative Exchange Council (logo).gif
AbbreviationALEC
Motto"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism" [1]
Formation1973
TypeTax exempt, nonprofit organization, 501(c)(3)
HeadquartersArlington, Virginia,
United States
ChairmanJohn Piscopo[2]
BudgetRevenue: $8,425,051
Expenses: $8,642,647
(FYE December 2012)[3]
Websitealec.org
 
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"ALEC" redirects here. For the given name, see Alec.
American Legislative Exchange Council
American Legislative Exchange Council (logo).gif
AbbreviationALEC
Motto"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism" [1]
Formation1973
TypeTax exempt, nonprofit organization, 501(c)(3)
HeadquartersArlington, Virginia,
United States
ChairmanJohn Piscopo[2]
BudgetRevenue: $8,425,051
Expenses: $8,642,647
(FYE December 2012)[3]
Websitealec.org

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives that drafts and shares model state-level legislation for distribution among state governments in the United States.[4][5][6] According to its website, ALEC "works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public".[7]

ALEC provides a forum for state legislators and private sector members to collaborate on model bills—draft legislation that members may customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures.[8][9][10] ALEC has produced model bills on a broad range of issues, such as reducing corporate regulation and taxation, combating illegal immigration, loosening environmental regulations, tightening voter identification rules, and promoting gun rights.[11][12][13] ALEC also serves as a networking tool among state legislators, allowing them to research conservative policies implemented in other states.[13] Some of these bills dominate legislative agendas in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine.[14] Approximately 200 model bills become law each year.[11][15] Many ALEC legislators also laud the organization for converting campaign rhetoric and nascent policy ideas into legislative language.[8]

ALEC's activities, while legal,[16] have received considerable public scrutiny since many of its activities were publicized by liberal groups in 2011. News reports from outlets such as the The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Guardian have recently described ALEC as an organization that gives corporate interests outsized influence by enabling them to collaborate with lawmakers in secret.[9][11][12] Public pressure since then has led to a number of prominent corporations withdrawing their support for the organization, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Bank of America, General Motors, Occidental Petroleum, and Google.

History[edit]

1973 to 2010[edit]

ALEC was founded in 1973 in Chicago as the "Conservative Caucus of State Legislators", a project initiated by Mark Rhoads, an Illinois state house staffer, to counter the Environmental Protection Agency, wage and price controls, and the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.[17][18] Conservative legislators felt the word "conservative" was unpopular with the public at the time, however, so the organization was renamed as, the American Legislative Exchange Council.[17] In 1975, with the support of the American Conservative Union, ALEC registered as a federal nonprofit agency.[19][20] Bill Moyers and Greenpeace have attributed the establishment of ALEC to the influential Powell Memorandum, which led to the rise of a new business activist movement in the 1970s.[21][22]

ALEC was co-founded by conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who also co-founded the Heritage Foundation.[16][17] Henry Hyde, who later became a U.S. Congressman, and Lou Barnett, who later became national political director of Ronald Reagan's Political Action Committee, also helped to found ALEC.[1][23][citation needed] Early members included a number of state and local politicians who went on to statewide office, including Bob Kasten, Tommy Thompson, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and John Boehner and John Kasich of Ohio.[1][24] Several members of Congress also were involved in the organization during its early years, including Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Sen. James L. Buckley of New York, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois, and Rep Eric Cantor of Virginia.[1][24][25]

In the 1980s, ALEC opposed U.S. disinvestment from South Africa, a movement to put pressure on the South African government to embark on negotiations with a goal of dismantling apartheid.[26] In 1985, ALEC also published a memo that opposed "the current homosexual movement", portrayed homosexuality as a result of a conscious choice, and said that pedophilia was "one of the more dominant practices within the homosexual world".[27] After the memo was leaked in 2013, ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling said that ALEC does not draft model bills on social issues, and added, "I'm also sad that the critics would not acknowledge that organizations change over time."

Duane Parde served as the executive director from December 1996 to January 2006.[28] Lori Roman, who served in the same role from 2006 to 2008, had an imperious style that led to financial difficulties and the departure of two thirds of ALEC's staff.[8] According to Dolores Mertz, then a Democratic Iowa state representative and chairwoman of the ALEC board, ALEC became increasingly partisan during that period, with Roman once telling Mertz "she didn't like Democrats and she wasn't going to work with them."[29] Ron Scheberle, became executive director in 2010 after acting as a lobbyist for Verizon Communications (previously GTE) and as an ALEC board member.[16][30]

By 2011, the number of ALEC legislative members had reached 2,000, including more than 25 percent of all state legislators nationwide. Approximately 1,000 bills based on ALEC language were being introduced in state legislatures every year, with about 20% of those bills being enacted.[8]

2011 to present[edit]

Prior to 2011, ALEC's practices and its ties to specific pieces of legislation were little known outside of political circles.[31] In July 2011, however, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) published "ALEC Exposed", a website that documented more than 800 ALEC model bills, the legislators and corporations that had helped to draft them, and the states that enacted them.[31] Meanwhile, CMD launched a series of companion articles in The Nation that showcased some of the bills and described ties to the Koch family.[31] The joint effort, and particularly its coverage of ALEC's push for tough voter ID laws, prompted Color of Change to launch a public campaign to pressure corporations to withdraw their ALEC memberships.[31]

The criticism among media outlets and political opponents was that ALEC was secretly subverting democratic institutions to further the aims of its corporate benefactors.[31] Oregon state representative and ALEC member Gene Whisnant said in December 2011, "We're getting a lot of attention saying we're trying to destroy the earth and everything on it."[8] ALEC viewed itself as promoting public-private partnerships for the advancement of free market principles.[31] ALEC senior director of membership and development Chaz Cirame said, "The hook about some conspiracy or some secret organization is a lot better story than one about bringing state legislators together to talk about best practices around the country."[8]

Opposition to ALEC continued in 2012. That year ALEC was the subject of an Occupy movement protest, an Internal Revenue Service complaint by Common Cause, and calls for attorney general investigations in several states.[32][importance?][neutrality is disputed]

The shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 led to increased public attention on "Stand-your-ground" gun laws that ALEC had supported.[31] Color of Change launched a new campaign in April to pressure ALEC's corporate members to withdraw.[33] More than sixty corporations and foundations, including Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Kraft Foods, McDonald's, Amazon.com, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Apple, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the medical insurance group Blue Cross and Blue Shield dropped support of ALEC in the ensuing weeks or let their memberships lapse.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41] Thirty-four legislative members also left ALEC.[42]

ALEC responded by releasing a statement describing efforts by its critics as a "campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda".[31][43] Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro wrote that liberals intimidated ALEC by "wielding the corpse of Trayvon Martin" as part of a broader anti-capitalist push.[44] Doug Clopp of Common Cause credited ALEC Exposed for the successful campaign, saying that "for 40 years you couldn't get the kind of accountability we're seeing now because ALEC, its members, its legislators, its bills were secret."[31]

Former Visa Inc. lobbyist,[45] Newt Gingrich aide, and GOPAC executive director Lisa B. Nelson succeeded Scheberle as CEO of ALEC in 2014.[46]

Organization[edit]

As of July 2014, ALEC still had more than 2,000 legislative members, or more a quarter of all state legislators in the county.[46] As of December 2013, it also had more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who were considered "alumni".[43] The vast majority of ALEC's legislative members belong to the Republican Party.[8][12] Leaked membership statistics presented at an internal board meeting indicated that the 1,810 current members represented 24% of all state legislative seats across the U.S., and that ALEC members represented 100% of the legislative seats in Iowa and South Dakota.[47] ALEC says it also has approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector members.[citation needed] The chairmanship of ALEC is a rotating position, with a new legislator appointed to the position each year. As of 2012, 28 out of 33 of its chairs had been Republicans.[29] In 2013 the chair was John Piscopo, a Republican member of the Connecticut House of Representatives.[2]

ALEC has nine "task forces" that are responsible for drafting bills: 1) Civil Justice; 2) Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development; 3) Communications and Technology; 4) Education; 5) Energy, Environment, and Agriculture; 6) Health and Human Services; 7) International Relations; 8) Justice Performance Project; and 9) Tax and Fiscal Policy.[48] Public- and private-sector members make up each of the task forces—the public-sector members are state legislators and the private-sector members typically are corporate lobbyists or think-tank representatives. These task forces generate model bills that members can then customize for communities and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. Private sector members effectively have veto power over model bills drafted by the task forces.[15][16]

ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which promoted stand your ground gun laws and voter identification requirements, was disbanded in April 2012. Thereafter, the National Center for Public Policy Research announced the creation of a voter ID task force to replace the one discontinued by ALEC.[49][50]

Bills drafted by the task forces must be approved by ALEC's board of directors, composed exclusively of legislators, before they are designated as model bills.[16] ALEC also has a "Private Enterprise Advisory Council", which meets whenever the board of directors meets.[16] Council members include representatives from prominent corporations such as ExxonMobil, Pfizer, AT&T, SAP SE, State Farm Insurance, and Koch Industries.[51] ALEC says the council provides advice to the board of directors.[51] Former ALEC co-chairman Noble Ellington said in 2011, "I really kind of think of us as one board," although he added, "It’s certainly not our goal to sit there and do everything that business wants to have done."[16]

Day-to-day operations are run from ALEC's Arlington, Virginia, office by an executive director and a staff of approximately 30.[52] ALEC's bylaws specify that, "... full membership shall be open to persons dedicated to the preservation of individual liberty, basic American values and institutions, productive free enterprise, and limited representative government, who support the purposes of ALEC, and who serve, or formerly serve, as members of a state or territorial legislature, the United States Congress, or similar bodies outside the United States."[53]

ALEC also has a "Board of Scholars" that advises and alerts the staff and members to upcoming issues. The board is composed of Arthur Laffer, an economist who served under Ronald Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board; Victor Schwartz, chair of Public Policy at Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Richard Vedder, economics professor emeritus at Ohio University and adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Bob Williams, founder of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.[54]

ALEC also has ties to the State Policy Network (SPN), a national association of think-tanks. The SPN regularly sponsors annual meetings for ALEC, and a number of SPN's active affiliates are members of both organizations. Some of the think tanks in the SPN write model legislation, which then is introduced at ALEC's private meetings.[55]

Notable policies and model bills[edit]

ALEC's website states that its goal is to advance "the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism".[7] In 2003, Donald Ray Kennard, then a Louisiana state representative and ALEC national chairman, said, "We are a very, very conservative organization... We're just espousing what we really believe in."[15] Craig Horn, a North Carolina state representative and ALEC member, said of ALEC in 2013, "It's a lightning rod organization because it has a decidedly conservative bent – there’s no doubt about it."[56]

Although ALEC originally focused on social issues such as abortion, which it opposed, in more recent years the group has focused more on business and regulatory matters.[8][15] According to John Nichols of The Nation, ALEC's agenda "seems to be dictated at almost every turn by multinational corporations. It's to clear the way for lower taxes, less regulation, a lot of protection against lawsuits, [and] ALEC is very, very active in [the] opening up of areas via privatization for corporations to make more money, particularly in places you might not usually expect like public education."[57] A Brookings Institution study of state legislation introduced in 2011-2012 found that ALEC model bills that became law were linked most often to controversial social and economic issues. The study concluded that this phenomenon has hurt ALEC because, "Dirtying its hands with social issues undermines ALEC's ability to exercise influence over fiscal ones."[58]

'Stand Your Ground' laws[edit]

'Stand Your Ground' gun laws expanded to 30 states through the support of ALEC, after Florida passed its law in 2005.[59][60][61] After the Florida law had been passed, ALEC adopted a model bill with the same wording.[5] In the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, ALEC's support for Stand Your Ground laws ultimately led to the departure of high-profile corporate members such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Bank of America, and General Motors.[43]

Voter identification[edit]

Prior to 2012, legislation based on ALEC model bills was introduced in many states to mandate or strengthen requirements that voters produce state-issued photographic identification. The bills were passed and signed into law in six states.[8] Voter identification bills introduced in 34 states would have made voting more difficult for students, the elderly, and the poor.[16]

Immigration[edit]

The "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act", an Arizona law commonly known as "SB 1070", was drafted during an ALEC meeting in December 2009 and became an ALEC model bill.[62] Enacted in 2010, SB 1070 was described as the toughest illegal immigration law in the U.S.[63] Portions of SB 1070 were held by the Supreme Court to be preempted by federal law in 2012.[64]

Bills similar to SB 1070 were passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah, and have been introduced in 17 other states.[16]

Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act[edit]

One of ALEC's model bills is the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act", which classifies certain property destruction, acts of intimidation, and civil disobedience by environmental and animal rights activists as terrorism. This model bill appeared across the U.S. in various forms since it was drafted in 2003. The federal "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" has notable similarities, and at points almost verbatim language, to ALEC's model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act". The Senate version of the "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" was sponsored by Senator James Inhofe, a long-time member of ALEC.[65]

Many ag-gag bills are also similar to ALEC's model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act", which would make it against the law to film, videotape, or take photographs on livestock farms in order to "defame the facility or its owner". People found to be in violation would be put in a "terrorist registry".[66][67]

Criminal sentencing and prison management[edit]

According to Governing magazine, "ALEC has been a major force behind both privatizing state prison space and keeping prisons filled."[15] ALEC has developed model bills advancing "tough on crime" initiatives, including "truth in sentencing" and "three strikes" laws.[68] Critics argue that by funding and participating in ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force, private prison companies directly influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences. Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut Corrections, two of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. (as of 2004), have been contributors to ALEC.[69] ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to allow the creation of private-sector for-profit prisons.[70][71]

Energy and the environment[edit]

ALEC pushed for deregulation of the electricity industry in the 1990s. Maneuvering between two private sector members, the former energy trader, Enron, and the utilities trade association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), resulted in EEI withdrawing its ALEC membership. Enron's position on the matter was adopted by ALEC and subsequently, by many state legislatures.[15]

An April 2012 article in The New York Times stated that while ALEC legislation having to do with public "right to know" laws regarding what fluids are used in hydraulic fracturing (also known as "fracking") has been promoted as a victory for the right of consumers to know about potential drinking water contaminants, even though the bill contains "loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets".[12]

ALEC has promoted a model bill that calls plans in 2011 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions a "train wreck" that would harm the economy, and it has supported efforts by various states to withdraw from regional climate change compacts.[8] ALEC also has promoted a model bill that would call on the federal government to approve the proposed Keystone XL project, which would extend a synthetic crude oil pipeline from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska.[72]

In December 2013, ALEC planned legislation that would weaken state clean energy regulations and penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels and redistribute the electricity back into the grid, whom ALEC has described as "freeriders" because they do not pay for the infrastructure costs of recirculating their generated power.[73]

Telecommunications and information technology[edit]

ALEC supports deregulation of America's telecom system, and has worked with AT&T and Verizon to draft legislation on prohibiting public broadband services and "sunsetting" the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).[74] Names of its 172-member task force, the agenda of a December 2010 meeting, and its minutes that included a resolution regarding traffic pumping have been published.[75] In February 2014, Senate Bill 304 in Kansas was introduced, "prohibiting cities and counties from building public broadband networks and providing internet service to businesses and citizens".[76] The bill contains an "underserved area" exemption for public wi-fi, but it is not met anywhere in Kansas. The city of Chanute, Kansas, which has led broadband development since the 1980s, financed through its public electricity company, including free wi-fi in its college, hospital, and public spaces, and a 4g mobile data network, feels under attack by the bill.

Health care[edit]

ALEC opposes the individual health insurance mandate enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as the "ACA" or "Obamacare"). ALEC filed an amicus brief in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the individual mandate of the ACA .[77] In 2011 it published the "State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare", which has served as a road map for repeal efforts.[8] ALEC has also drafted a variety of model bills designed to block implementation of the law.[8]

In August 2013, ALEC approved the "Health Care Freedom Act" as a model bill that aims to strip health insurers of their licenses to do business at the federal health care exchanges of ACA, if they accepted any subsidies under the system. Sean Riley, the head of ALEC's Health and Human Services task force, said the aim of the proposed legislation was to protect businesses from the ACA's employer mandate.[9] Slate journalist David Weigel has called the bill a "sneak attack" on the ACA.[78] Health insurance experts have predicted that if the bill were widely adopted by Republican-controlled states, it would seriously disrupt the exchange, and threaten the ACA.[9] Wendell Potter, former health insurance executive and CMD fellow, said, "You cannot build the healthcare system based on the free market unless you have subsidies. If they are taken away the whole thing collapses." [9]

In 1989, ALEC published the draft "HIV Assault Act", which made it a crime for someone who is knowingly infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) to have sex with a person who is not infected, without disclosing the HIV infection. The bill made having such sex without disclosure a criminal offense, even when HIV was not transmitted. Alan Smith, who worked on the draft, said the proposed law was a response to worries that people with AIDS were deliberately infecting others, "to make sure more people got it so more research money could be devoted to curing it".[10]

Education[edit]

ALEC has worked to privatize public education.[79] It frequently promotes model bills that expand public-private partnerships in education.[8]

Taxes[edit]

ALEC provided model legislation that led to the enactment of aggressive personal and corporate income tax cuts in Kansas in 2012.[80] Governor Sam Brownback, who promoted and signed the legislation, was advised by the supply-side economist and ALEC board member, Arthur Laffer, who said at the time that the cuts would pay for themselves and lead to increased growth.[81] By fall 2014, however, the tax cuts had led to the depletion of a $700 million budget surplus, and although Kansas had experienced 6.6% job growth from 2010 to 2013, that figure lagged behind the nation's overall 8.8% job growth for the same period.[82]

Tort reform[edit]

ALEC has promoted a model bill that limits liability for parent companies that acquire subsidiaries responsible for asbestos-related injuries.[16]

Outside the United States[edit]

In July 2012, The Guardian ran an article reporting that ALEC had taken action to oppose plain cigarette packaging laws (for generic cigarettes) outside the United States. It is contacting governments that are planning to introduce bans on cigarette branding, including the UK and Australia.[83]

Karla Jones, a task force director for ALEC, told participants at a meeting that proposed laws in Canada, the UK, and Australia would prohibit branding of tobacco products. She said that the brands were the corporations' most valuable assets. ALEC wrote to the Australian government stating that U.S. legislators opposed the requirements for plain packaging. ALEC has stated that generic cigarettes increase cigarette consumption, rather than reducing it.[83]

American City County Exchange[edit]

Training and assistance[edit]

In addition to providing a forum for the drafting of model legislation, ALEC also provides assistance and training to its legislative members. The Oregon co-chairman of ALEC, Gene Whisnant, described the organization in 2012 as a "great resource" for part-time legislators with limited staff resources.[32] Mark Pocan, a Democratic congressman from Wisconsin and former member of the Wisconsin Assembly, said in 2012 that ALEC advises members, "'Don't just introduce a single piece of legislation, introduce 14.' That way people can't oppose any one bill."[18] At one ALEC meeting, media experts gave messaging advice and taught legislators how to use Twitter to move ALEC bills through their chambers.[18] Attendants also offered to write op-ed articles in the legislators' local newspapers and to put lawmakers in touch with other subject matter experts.[18]

Secrecy and transparency[edit]

Although Governing Magazine reported in 2003 that ALEC meetings traditionally had been open to the public,[15] news organizations have reported since then that many meetings are held in private. ALEC's policy seminars are open to reporters and other nonmembers, but public conference agendas, unlike those distributed to members, do not include the names of presenters, the lists of legislative and private-sector board chairs, or the meetings' corporate sponsors.[16][14] Task force meetings and bill-drafting sessions are held behind closed doors.[14][16] Bloggers from ThinkProgress and AlterNet were removed from conferences for attempting to take photographs of such sessions and tweeting the names of ALEC members who participated.[16] In 2013 Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank was turned away from ALEC's annual "policy summit" and told by spokesperson Bill Meierling that subcommittee meetings and task force meetings were closed-door. Meierling said ALEC was introducing transparency gradually, but it "can't just kick the doors open".[84] Shortly after the Milbank incident, the Brookings Institution reported that ALEC's activities during its closed-door meetings are "still a mystery", and that "ALEC could have a tremendous influence over lawmaking in the American states, or it could have none at all – we just don't know."[58] In 2014, Nebraska legislator and former ALEC member Jeremy Nordquist described ALEC as a "faceless organization", saying, "It's allowing these corporate interests to just duck and cover, and hide from really stepping into the public square and putting their ideas forward."[85]

ALEC does not disclose its membership list or the origins of its model bills.[11] Lawmakers generally propose ALEC-drafted bills in their states without disclosing their authorship.[8][15] For instance, in 2012 The Star-Ledger analyzed more than 100 bills and regulations previously proposed by the administration of New Jersey governor Chris Christie and found a pattern of similarities with ALEC model bills that was "too strong to be accidental". The connections were based "not on similarity of broad ideas, but on specific numbers, time frames, benchmarks and language". Legislative staffers in the Christie administration had "mined ALEC for advice on budgetary matters, Medicaid changes and privatizing government services...beginning in the earliest days of Christie's governorship". William Schluter, vice chairman of the New Jersey Ethics Commission and a former Republican state senator, said there was a "clear connection between ALEC and the proposed New Jersey legislation". A Christie spokesperson denied any connection between the two.[14]

One exception to this pattern came in November 2011, when former Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin introduced legislation to call on the federal government to reduce its corporate tax rate. She mistakenly included the boilerplate "WHEREAS, it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty..."[31][86] The bill was withdrawn and resubmitted without the phrase. The American Prospect journalist Abby Rapoport wrote that the incident "seems to confirm what many have assumed was occurring in state legislatures—and while Burgin's bill was hardly a major piece of legislation, ALEC's reach in important policy areas seems hard to overestimate."[87]

Critics sometimes argue that by adopting ALEC's model bills without disclosure, state officials are handing off the duty of doing their own work to a business-centered lobby.[14] In early 2012, Democratic lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin introduced the "ALEC Accountability Act of 2012", which would have required corporations to disclose ALEC funding.[88] Arizona House of Representatives Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley, sponsor of the Arizona bill, argued that corporations have the right to present arguments, but not secretly.[89]

Prior to 2013, access to ALEC's model bills was restricted, and its website required a password to access them.[14][15] On July 13, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy, in cooperation with The Nation, posted 850 model bills created during a 30-year period, and created a web project, ALEC Exposed, to host these model bills.[8][90][91][92] The leak has been credited with triggering critical coverage about ALEC in both left-wing and mainstream media outlets.[8] It also led to ALEC publishing its model bills on its website,[citation needed] although the Brookings Institute wrote in 2013 that there was "reason to believe" its list was incomplete.[58]

On October 1, 2012, Common Cause, a liberal nonprofit advocacy organization, along with the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), filed a lawsuit under a Wisconsin open records law alleging five Republican lawmakers did not disclose whether they had searched personal e-mail accounts for correspondence with ALEC.[93] In one instance, a Wisconsin legislative representative had requested of ALEC in June 2012 that all correspondence be sent to his personal account.[94] According to CMD, the legislators settled the suit in late October 2012, allowing their personal e-mails to be searched and paying $2,500 in court costs as part of the settlement.[95]

In 2013, ALEC's North Carolina state chairman Jason Saine described the organization as "a resource for experts you can tap that follow a philosophy that you do from a less government viewpoint", and said, "It's not just some big secretive organization that it's been portrayed."[56]

Corporate influence and allegations of lobbying activity[edit]

Corporate influence[edit]

The level of influence that ALEC's private-sector members hold over its public-sector members has been controversial. According to The New York Times, "special interests effectively turn ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote, and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes."[12] The Guardian has described ALEC as "a dating agency for Republican state legislators and big corporations, bringing them together to frame rightwing legislative agendas in the form of 'model bills'".[9] The Free Lance-Star has reported that ALEC had "matured into one of Big Business's most effective lobbying tools".[96] Bloomberg Businessweek described the organization as a "bill laundry" that "offers companies substantial benefits that seem to have little to do with ideology."[16] Chris Taylor, a Democratic Wisconsin state assemblyman who attended an ALEC conference in 2013, described ALEC as a "well-oiled machine" and said, "In my observation, it was the corporations and the right-wing think tanks driving the agendas. Corporations have as big a say as the legislators in the model legislation that is adopted."[97]

ALEC legislative members generally deny being overly influenced by the organization or its model legislation, and argue that corporate input in the drafting process helps to promote business growth.[8][98] "ALEC is unique in the sense that it puts legislators and companies together and they create policy collectively," said Scott Pruitt, then an Oklahoma state representative and ALEC task force chair.[15] Vance Wilkins, a former Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and ALEC member, said in 2002, "Just because business writes a bill doesn't make it bad. We get bills from all angles. And we still have to debate the issue."[96] Whisnant, ALEC's Oregon co-chair, acknowledged in 2012 that corporations sometimes write model bills to promote their own interests and added, "But that doesn't mean I'll support them."[32] Harvey Morgan, another former Virginia delegate and ALEC member, said of ALEC conferences, "You know before you go that the big-business view will prevail, and that's not necessarily bad. I still would like them to be a little more objective."[96]

Alan Rosenthal, a former Rutgers University political science professor and expert on state legislatures and lobbying,[99] said in 2012, "Legislators don't sit down with a quill pen and draft legislation. I think legislators should have the right to turn to wherever they want to get the ideas they prefer... I have some confidence that they're not being flimflammed."[32]

Experts agree that, regardless of its propriety, the ALEC model has been very effective. Rosenthal said of ALEC, "You've had the interest groups having access and sitting on other task forces, but here you've really perfected it... You've not only got them gaining access and interacting with legislators but you have them shaping policy together. It seems to me that's a pretty major advance."[15] Edwin Bender, executive director of the nonpartisan[100][101] National Institute on Money in State Politics, has said, "What makes ALEC different is its effectiveness in not just bringing the people together but selling a piece of legislation that was written by the industry and for the industry and selling it as a piece of mainstream legislation."[15]

Allegations of lobbying activity[edit]

In April 2012, Common Cause filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service objecting to ALEC's tax status as a nonprofit organization and alleged that lobbying accounted for more than 60% of its expenditures. ALEC formally denied lobbying,[11][102] although Delores Mertz, who had previously served as chairwoman of the ALEC board, said she was "concerned about the lobbying that's going on, especially with [ALEC's] 501(c)3 status".[29] Reporting on the allegations, Bloomberg Businessweek compared ALEC's work to that of lobbyists, noting, "part of ALEC's mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work," and that being a nonprofit rather than a lobby group allows deductibility of membership dues, and the freedom not to disclose the names of legislators who attend its educational seminars or the executives who give presentations to those legislators.[11] William Schluter, vice chairman of the New Jersey Ethics Commission and a former Republican state senator, said of ALEC's activities, "When you get right down to it, this is not different from lobbying. It is lobbying... Any kind of large organization that adds to public policy or has initiatives involving public policy should be disclosed—not only their name, but who is backing them."[14] According to Governing magazine, ALEC legislators often have their travel expenses paid as "scholarships" and are "wined and dined and golf-coursed" by private sector members.[8] In July 2013 Common Cause submitted a supplemental brief to the IRS complaining about these practices.[103]

ALEC responded to the original Common Cause complaint by denying it engaged in lobbying, while saying that liberal groups were attacking ALEC because "they don't have a comparable group that is as effective as ALEC in enacting policies into law."[104] In 2013 ALEC created a 501(c)(4) organization called the "Jeffersonian Project" that, according to The Guardian, "would allow Alec to be far more overt in its lobbying activities than its current charitable status as a 501(c)(3)".[43]

Funding[edit]

ALEC is registered as a charity in 37 states.[32]

As of 2011, corporation, think tank, and trade group members accounted for almost 99% of ALEC's $7 million budget.[16] Legislators pay $100 in biennial membership dues, or $50 per year, while corporations pay $7,000 to $25,000 to join, and more to participate in the task forces.[8][14][56] In 2010 NPR reported that tax records showed that corporations had collectively paid as much as $6 million a year.[105] ALEC's total revenue in 2011 was $9 million.[56]

In 2010, ALEC received $100,000 each from AT&T, Allergan, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to be named as "president level" sponsors at its annual meeting.[16] Eleven other members, including Pfizer (PFE) and the Institute for Legal Reform, paid $50,000 each to be named as "chairman level" sponsors.[16] Altria, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and BP America are also $50,000 chairman level sponsors.[16]

Koch Industries Inc. was one of 14 "Vice Chairman" level sponsors at ALEC's 2010 annual meeting, which required a $25,000 donation. According to tax records, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave $75,858 to ALEC in 2009. According to Greenpeace, ALEC has received $525,858 from Koch foundations from 2005 to 2011.[106] According to the Center For Public Integrity, ALEC received $150,000 from Charles and David Koch in 2011.[107]

Exxon Mobil's foundation donated $30,000 to ALEC in both 2005 and 2006. Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said the company paid $39,000 in dues in 2010 and sponsored a reception at the annual meeting in San Diego for $25,000. In August 2011, Exxon spent $45,000 to sponsor a workshop on natural gas.[108]

Corporate members also pay $3,000 to $10,000 for seats on task forces.[16]

According to a December 2013 article appearing in The Guardian, ALEC is facing a funding shortfall after losing more than a third of its projected income. Some 400 state legislators have left its membership, along with more than 60 corporate donors.[109]

A number of companies announced they were either quitting ALEC in August and September 2014, especially technology companies. Microsoft publicly announced it was leaving ALEC in August. Google removed its financial support in September 2014, with CEO Eric Schmidt saying that ALEC was "literally lying" in its position in the climate change debate.[110] Facebook and Yelp removed its support the day after Google, with Facebook citing differences on "some key issues".[111][112] Yahoo!, Uber, and Lyft all announced withdrawals later in the week.[112][113][114] Occidental Petroleum announced in the same week that they have no plans to continue membership in ALEC.[115]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]