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|American Legislative Exchange Council|
|Motto||"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism"|
|Type||Tax exempt, non-profit organization, 501(c)(3)|
|American Legislative Exchange Council|
|Motto||"Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism"|
|Type||Tax exempt, non-profit organization, 501(c)(3)|
|Part of a series on|
in the United States
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501(c)(3) American organization, composed of politically conservative state legislators and business representatives. 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. Approximately 200 such bills become law each year. 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. Many ALEC legislators laud the organization for converting campaign rhetoric and nascent policy ideas into legislative language.
ALEC's political activities has 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'." Several liberal groups, including Common Cause, have challenged its tax-exempt status.
ALEC first came into being in 1973 in Chicago as the "Conservative Caucus of State Legislators", a project initiated 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 or national office, including Bob Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa, 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, and Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois.
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. 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 increasing 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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ALEC's influence also created a backlash among media outlets and political opponents who claimed it was secretly subverting democratic institutions to further the aims of its corporate benefactors. Acknowledging this problem, 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 in Madison at the state capitol. 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. Left-wing scholars 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 2013, the chair was John Piscopo, a 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 comprise 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 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." Although ALEC originally focused on social issues such as abortion and gender equality, both of which it opposed, in more recent 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."
Shortly after Florida passed its Stand-your-ground law in 2005, ALEC adopted its legislative language into one of its model bills. The Florida bill had been pressed by the National Rifle Association and its Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer. According to testimony by the Center for Media and Democracy, Hammer met with ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force in the summer of 2005 and requested that it adopt Florida's stand-your-ground law as an ALEC model bill. The Center for Media and Democracy stated that the proposal was well received and approved unanimously.
On April 4, 2012, after the Trayvon Martin shooting, advocacy group Color of Change changed the boycott to focus on The Coca-Cola Company for its support of ALEC and by implication, its involvement in Stand your Ground. 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".
On April 17, 2012, ALEC announced that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which provided model bills for voter ID requirements and "stand your ground" gun laws. The Martin shooting and subsequent boycott was described as a catalyst for ALEC to shift focus from social issues to economic ones.
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.
ALEC's April 17, 2012 announcement that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force also ended its legislative efforts to expand voter ID requirements. On April 18, the National Center for Public Policy Research announced the creation of a voter ID task force to replace the one discontinued by ALEC.
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. It became an ALEC model bill. It was one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the U.S., making the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and giving the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. 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 The GEO Group, two of the largest for-profit prison companies in the US, 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.
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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ALEC frequently promotes model bills that expand public-private partnerships in education.
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 US legislators opposed the requirements for plain packaging. ALEC has stated that generic cigarettes increase cigarette consumption, rather than reducing it.
ALEC does not disclose its membership list or the origin of its model bills, and its legislative members frequently deny being influenced by the organization or its model legislation. Arizona Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley proposed an ALEC Accountability Act to force legislators to disclose their ALEC ties. The bill did not receive a committee hearing.
Legislative members generally propose ALEC model bills in their states without disclosing their authorship. One notable exception was in November 2011, when former Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin (R) 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 quickly 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."
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 a wave of criticism against ALEC in both left-wing and mainstream media outlets.
On Oct. 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 case, 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 late in October, allowing their personal emails to be searched and paying $2,500 in court costs as part of the settlement.
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 denied lobbying. 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. ALEC responded 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." 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.
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." Alan Rosenthal, a former Rutgers University political science professor and an influential 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."
"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."
Farley has said of ALEC's activities:
I just want to emphasize it's fine for corporations to be involved in the process. Corporations have the right to present their arguments, but they don't have the right to do it secretly. They don't have the right to lobby people and not register as lobbyists. They don't have the right to take people away on trips, convince them of it, send them back here, and then nobody has seen what's gone on and how that legislator had gotten that idea and where is it coming from. All I'm asking... is to make sure that all of those expenses are reported as if they are lobbying expenses and all those gifts that legislators received are reported as if they're receiving gifts from lobbyists. So the public can find out and make up their own minds about who is influencing what."
ALEC has created a related 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 and IRS documents, ALEC receives 95% of its funding from foundations, corporations, other nonprofits, meeting revenue and the sale of its publications. ALEC legislatures pay $100 in annual membership dues, while corporations pay $10,000, or often much more. In 2010 NPR reported that tax records showed that corporations had collectively paid as much as $6 million a year.
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. 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 the Center For Public Integrity, ALEC received $150,000 from Charles and David Koch in 2011 to help finance its activities.
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.