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|Motto||"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism"|
|Type||Tax exempt, non-profit organization, 501(c)(3)|
(FYE December 2012)
|Motto||"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism"|
|Type||Tax exempt, non-profit organization, 501(c)(3)|
(FYE December 2012)
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in the United States
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501(c)(3) organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives that shares and drafts model state-level legislation for distribution among the United States. 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."
ALEC provides a forum for state legislators and private sector members to collaborate on model bills—draft legislation that members can customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. ALEC has produced model bills on issues such as reducing corporate regulation and taxation, tightening voter identification rules, and promoting gun rights. ALEC also serves as a networking tool among state legislators, allowing them to research conservative policies implemented in other states. Some of these bills dominate legislative agendas in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine. Approximately 200 model bills become law each year. Many ALEC legislators also laud the organization for converting campaign rhetoric and nascent policy ideas into legislative language.
ALEC's political activities have received considerable scrutiny by both the media and liberal groups. The New York Times reported that special interests have "effectively turn[ed] 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." Bloomberg Businessweek stated, "Part of ALEC's mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work." The Guardian 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'."
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 and wage and price controls. Conservative legislators felt the word "conservative" was unpopular with the public at the time, however, and the organization was renamed as the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 1975, with the support of the American Conservative Union, ALEC registered as a federal non-profit agency. 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.
Conservative activist Paul Weyrich helped the new group find a meeting room. 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. 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. Several members of Congress were also involved in the organization during its early years, including Sen. John Buckley and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois, and Rep Eric Cantor of Virginia.
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 of apartheid. 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". 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. 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. 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." The current executive director, Ron Scheberle, was named to the position in 2010 after acting as a lobbyist for Verizon Communications (previously GTE) and as an ALEC board member.
By 2011, the number of ALEC legislative members had reached 2,000, 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.
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In 2011, ALEC's influence was the subject of criticism among media outlets and political opponents who claimed it was secretly subverting democratic institutions to further the aims of its corporate benefactors. Responding to the criticism, 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." Oregon state representative and ALEC member Gene Whisnant said, "We’re getting a lot of attention saying we’re trying to destroy the earth and everything on it."
In 2011, University of Wisconsin professor and historian William Cronon created a blog during protests over the state's 2011 budget bill with an entry about the history of conservative groups, including ALEC, and alleging a link between that budget bill and ALEC. Cronon said that ALEC's activities should be examined more closely and that the organization should conduct its business with greater transparency. The blog received more than 500,000 hits, and protest signs asking about ALEC appeared at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. ALEC denied such a link being behind such efforts. The Wisconsin Republican Party on March 17 made a request under Wisconsin's Open Records laws to obtain e-mail messages sent to or from Cronon's university account, and that of other apparent union supporters who are state employees, containing keywords related to various political issues that were being debated in Wisconsin at the time. Paul Krugman and the American Historical Association defended Cronon against what they characterized as intimidation by Wisconsin Republicans. Mari Jo and Paul Buhle characterized the e-mail search request as an "overreaction" by Wisconsin Republicans in an attempt to hide their political connections to ALEC. Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy, wrote a year later that Cronon's connection between Wisconsin Republicans and ALEC had been "upheld" by a report from ALEC Exposed which showed that an influential bloc of 49 of Wisconsin's 132 legislators were connected to ALEC.
As of December 2013, ALEC had 1,810 legislative members, as well as more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered "alumni". The vast majority of ALEC's legislative members belong to the Republican Party. ALEC says it also has approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector members. 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. In 2013 the chair was John Piscopo, a Republican member of the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Day-to-day operations are run from ALEC's Arlington, Virginia, office by an executive director and a staff of approximately 30. ALEC By-Laws 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."
In addition to the staff and members, ALEC 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 Freedom Foundation.
ALEC is composed of nine "task forces": 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. Public- and private-sector members make up each of the task forces—the public-sector members are state legislators and the private-sector members are typically corporate lobbyists or think-tank representatives. These task forces generate model bills which members can then customize for communities and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. Reporter Alan Greenblatt wrote that private sector members have veto power over model bills drafted by the task forces.
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.
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 is then introduced at ALEC's private meetings.
ALEC's website states that its goal is to advance "the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism". 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." 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."
Although ALEC originally focused on social issues such as abortion, which it opposed, in more recent[specify] years the group has focused more on business and regulatory matters. According to The Nation 's John Nichols, 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."
'Stand Your Ground' gun laws expanded to 30 states after Florida passed its law in 2005 through the support of ALEC. After the Florida law had been passed, ALEC adopted a model bill with the same wording.
On April 4, 2012, after the Trayvon Martin shooting, advocacy group Color of Change urged a boycott on The Coca-Cola Company for its support of ALEC and by implication, its involvement in Stand your Ground.[not in citation given] Within hours, Coca-Cola announced it was ending its relationship with ALEC in apparent response to the threatened boycott. More than 60 corporations and foundations including 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. ALEC responded with a "Statement by ALEC on the Coordinated Intimidation Campaign Against Its Members".
Prior to 2012, legislation based on ALEC models bills was introduced in many states to mandate or strengthen requirements that voters produce state-issued photo identification. The bills were passed and signed into law in six states.
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. Enacted in 2010, SB 1070 was described as the toughest illegal immigration law in the U.S. Portions of SB 1070 were held by the Supreme Court to be preempted by federal law in 2012.
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.
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."
According to Governing magazine, "ALEC has been a major force behind both privatizing state prison space and keeping prisons filled." ALEC has developed model bills advancing “tough on crime” initiatives, including “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” laws. Critics argue that by funding and participating in ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Forces, 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 the ALEC. ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to allow the creation of private-sector for-profit prisons.
ALEC pushed for deregulation of the electricity industry in the 1990s. Maneuvering between two private sector members, Enron, a former energy trader, and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a utilities trade association, led EEI to withdraw its ALEC membership. Enron's position on the matter was adopted by ALEC and subsequently by many state legislatures.
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 consumers' right to know about potential drinking water contaminants, 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."
ALEC has promoted a model bill that calls plans by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions a “train wreck” that would harm the economy, and has supported efforts by various states to withdraw from regional climate change compacts. ALEC has also 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.
In December 2013, The Guardian reported that ALEC seeks to push legislation that would weaken state clean energy regulations and penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels as "freeriders".
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). Names of its 172-member task force, agenda of a 12/2010 meeting and minutes including a resolution regarding traffic pumping have been published. 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". 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.
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 ACA's individual mandate. In 2011 it published the "State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare," which has served as a roadmap for repeal efforts. ALEC has also drafted a variety of model bills designed to block the law's implementation.
In August 2013, ALEC approved as a model bill the "Health Care Freedom Act", which would strip health insurers of their licenses to do business at the ACA's federal health care exchanges if they accepted any subsidies under the system. Sean Riley, the head of ALEC's Health and Human Services taskforce, said the aim of the proposed legislation was to protect businesses from the ACA's employer mandate. Slate journalist David Weigel has called the bill a "sneak attack" on the ACA. 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. 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.” 
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. Having sex is a criminal offense, even if HIV is not transmitted. Alan Smith, who worked on the draft, said that it 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."
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In July 2012, The Guardian ran an article reporting that ALEC had taken action to oppose plain cigarette packaging laws outside the United States. It is contacting governments that are planning to introduce bans on cigarette branding, including the UK and Australia.
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 those corporations' "most valuable asset." 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.
Governing Magazine reported in 2003 that ALEC meetings were traditionally been open to the public. In December 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 gradually introducing transparency but it “can’t just kick the doors open.”
ALEC does not disclose its membership list or the origins of its model bills. Lawmakers generally propose ALEC-drafted bills in their states without disclosing their authorship. 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.
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..." The bill was withdrawn, the phrase removed, and the bill resubmitted. 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."
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. In an unsuccessful legislative attempt to require corporate disclosure of ALEC funding, Arizona House of Representatives Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley proposed the "ALEC Accountability Act of 2012", saying corporations have the right to present arguments, but not secretly.
Prior to 2013, access to ALEC's model bills was restricted, and its website required a password to access them. On July 13, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy, in cooperation with The Nation, posted 850 model bills created over a 30-year period, and created a web project, ALEC Exposed, to host these model bills. The leak has been credited with triggering critical coverage about ALEC in both left-wing and mainstream media outlets.
On October 1, 2012, Common Cause, a liberal not-for-profit 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 email accounts for correspondence with ALEC. In one instance, a Wisconsin legislative representative had requested of ALEC in June 2012 that all correspondence be sent to his personal account. According to CMD, the legislators settled the suit in late October 2012, allowing their personal emails to be searched and paying $2,500 in court costs as part of the settlement.
In 2013, ALEC's North Carolina state chairman 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."
The level of influence 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." The Free Lance-Star has reported that ALEC had "matured into one of Big Business's most effective lobbying tools." 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."
ALEC legislative members generally deny being overly influenced by the organization or its model legislation. "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. 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." 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."
Experts agree that, regardless of its propriety, the ALEC model has been very effective. Alan Rosenthal, a former Rutgers University political science professor and expert on state legislatures and lobbying, 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." Edwin Bender, executive director of the nonpartisan 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."
In April 2012, Common Cause filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service objecting to ALEC's tax status as a non-profit organization and alleged that lobbying accounted for more than 60% of its expenditures. ALEC formally denied lobbying, 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." 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 non-profit 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. 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." 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. In July 2013 Common Cause submitted a supplemental brief to the IRS complaining about these practices.
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." 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)."
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According to ALECwatch, ALEC received 95% of its funding from 1994 to 2000 from foundations, corporations, other nonprofits, meeting revenue and the sale of its publications. 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. In 2010 NPR reported that tax records showed that corporations had collectively paid as much as $6 million a year. ALEC's total revenue in 2011 was $9 million.
Koch Industries Inc. was one of 14 “Vice Chairman” level sponsors at ALEC's 2010 annual meeting, which requires 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. According to the Center For Public Integrity, ALEC received $150,000 from Charles and David Koch in 2011.
Exxon Mobil's foundation donated $30,000 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.
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.