An Exposed ALEC Faces Mass Protests and Calls for Scrutiny

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This post first appeared at The Nation. 

Rev. Jesse Jackson was among the crowd protesting in Chicago yesterday at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference. (Twitter / @RevJJackson)

Rev. Jesse Jackson was among the crowd protesting the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Chicago yesterday. (Twitter / @RevJJackson)

The American Legislative Exchange Council is better-known today than at any time in its 40 year history.

For most groups that seek to influence the governing process that would be something to celebrate. But ALEC, the corporate-funded project that develops “model legislation” to be introduced by conservative legislators across the country, historically worked off radar.

No more.

The group highlighted by the 2011 “ALEC Exposed” project of the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation, has in recent years been the subject of investigations and inquiries by media outlets across the country. It has been the focus of a nationally-broadcast “United States of ALEC” documentary by Moyers & Company. It has been called out by groups such as Color of Change and Common Cause. It has been abandoned by 49 corporations (from to Wal-Mart) that once paid for its initiatives.

ALEC has been decried by labor, environmental and clean government groups in state capitols across the country. National political figures, such as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, are launching inquiries into how the group promotes its legislative agenda. And this week, as ALEC gathers its corporate and legislative “members” in the city of its founding to celebrate four decades of service to special interests and ambitious politicians, demonstrations against the group have drawn thousands of union members, civil rights activists and social justice campaigners into the streets of Chicago.

An organization that once held its annual meetings virtually unnoticed is now met with mass protests so large that streets around its hotel were closed Thursday as activists staged “die-ins” recalling ALEC’s role in the passage of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws and headlines screamed: “ALEC convention protests: Labor vs. lobbyists.”

ALEC has felt the pressure of public scrutiny. Last year, the group distanced itself from some of its more controversial initiatives, such as restrictive “Voter ID” laws and the “Stand Your Ground” measures that gained national attention after the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Yet, with continued backing from long-time allies such as the Koch Brothers and the support of corporations that have disregarded calls from civil rights groups for them to quit the council, ALEC remains a defining force in statehouses across the country. A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy details the extent of the group’s ongoing engagement.

CMD has identified 466 ALEC bills that were introduced during in state legislatures during 2013 sessions. At least 84 of these measures have become law.

According to CMD:

* One hundred and seventeen ALEC bills that seek to restrict worker rights, weaken unions, promote privatization and undermine advocacy for wage hikes. At least 14 of these measures have become law.

* One hundred and thirty nine ALEC bills that address education issues with proposals to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools among the favorites. At least 31 ALEC education measures have become law.

* Seventy-seven ALEC bills that CMD says “promote a fossil fuel and fracking agenda and undermine environmental regulations.” At least 17 of these measures have become law.

ALEC’s influence is broad, as is its legislative legacy. The CMD report explains that, “Despite ALEC’s effort to distance itself from Voter ID and Stand Your Ground by disbanding its controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force, 62 of these laws were introduced: 10 Stand Your Ground bills and 52 bills to enact or tighten Voter ID restrictions. Five states enacted additional Voter ID restrictions, and two states passed Stand Your Ground.”

Indeed, among the featured speakers at ALEC’s 40th annual meeting is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who signed the “Stand Your Ground” law that provided the outline for the group’s model legislation.

So ALEC is still very much what ALEC has been for decades: a key player, perhaps the key player, in advancing the corporate agenda on a host of issues in statehouses across the country.

What has changed for ALEC is that a lot more Americans are now paying attention to its advocacy.

New national campaigns to get corporations and foundations to quit ALEC are ramping up.

So, too, are efforts to ask whether ALEC, which says it is not a lobbying group, should have to follow federal and state rules that are supposed to regulate groups that seek to influence the legislative process.

Legislators in a number of states have proposed that ALEC be required to follow existing lobbying laws when, as Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves says, they are “(advancing) the lobbying agenda of special interests to the detriment of ordinary Americans.”

On Monday Common Cause and CMD submitted a joint letter to the IRS requesting “an immediate investigation into the American Legislative Exchange Council’s massive underreporting of payment for state lawmakers’ travel on its Form 990s, filed with the Internal Revenue Service.”

The letter charges that ALEC “engaged in an impermissible amount of lobbying and served private rather than public interests.”

In addition to asking for the federal examining of whether ALEC’s approach is appropriate in light of its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, the groups are also asking state ethics officials to determine if ALEC’s “scholarship” programs complies with state gift and disclosure laws.

Common Cause and CMD argue that the conflict is clear.

“Ultimately,” the groups argue in their letter to the IRS, “ALEC’s scholarship fund activity provides private benefits to two core constituents: 1) state legislators, who receive all-expense-paid vacations and 2) corporate donors, who are able to obtain “business friendly” legislation through this influence peddling.”

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. His most recent book is The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy.
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  • Anonymous

    Great start. Now we need to have all ALEC sponsored bills declared illegal because they were prompted by a subversive, internal political terrorist group, bent on destroying democracy in the US. All those politicians should be tried for accepting bribery, which is specified in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.
    Our forefathers knew the destructive influence of money on politicians, so specified “accepting bribery, treason, and other high crimes against the state.”
    Charges should be brought against all politicians participating in ALEC. They should step down without pensions. If they choose to fight it , they should face a prison term. We need a good clean out.

  • Barry Bingham

    I’m curious if their liberal counterparts are drawing equal scrutiny. Clearly we’ll never know by reading here.

  • teeky2

    Alec must be treated under the law as a lobbying group, since that’s clearly what they are. The 501 (c) charity thing is worse than bogus. ALEC is no charity.

  • Kirk Bruner

    Please name their liberal counterparts.

  • Anonymous

    There lies the problem…
    Few American people know this monster is coming down!

  • Rozanne Gates

    ALEC is clearly a threat to our democracy.

  • Ginger Wilson

    Keep shining the light on them!

  • Arm of Keaau

    I can’t think of another collective group so focused on the destruction of the fabric of the United States as ALEC. Each one of our state representative governments have been poisoned by this group finding that “back-dooring” through state legislative bodies easier and cheaper than trying to tackle the congress (not that Republicans aren’t a pushover). ALEC is responsible for more backward laws and giveaways to the corporate world, we can no longer call ourselves a democracy. (_: FBI

  • Anonymous

    There is no “liberal counterpart.” Your statement is the sort of false equivalency that those on the right try to use to justify their radical, anti-people actions. It’s like in the last Presidential election cycle when republican legislatures tried to justify their voter suppression schemes by claiming that ACORN was going to steal the election unless they passed. The only problem with that was that ACORN didn’t exist during the 2012 election, and when it did it did nothing to create the voter fraud claimed on the right.

    ALEC on the other hand has done real harm to this nation through the anti-citizen laws that they have gotten passed throughout the country. This is the real face of conservatism. All that matters to them is corporate profits and it those happen at the expense of the majority of individuals in the country that is perfectly fine with them. It isn’t just a side effect, it is the objective.

  • John

    Liberal counterpart? Can you name one?

  • max

    I sent this message to my state legislators. I recommend every voter do the same. or even improve on the questions. If everyone in the country did this, they would expose themselves or at least, if they don’t respond, they would expose their own arrogance at ignoring the public.

    “Because of my concern about the process of ALEC sponsered bills favoring
    corporate america over the general population, and as one of your
    constituents I would like to know your positions.

    Are you a member of ALEC?

    Have you recieved funds or (scholarships) to participate in ALEC functions?

    How many of the ALEC sponsered Bills in the state legislature have you
    supported and how many have you opposed? Information on which ones would
    be appreciated.

    Please be as specific as possible.”

  • Albert Elijah

    HURRAY EXPOSE THE DIRTY LOBBYISTS !! ALEC is what’s wrong with our country !!! LOBBYING= TREASON !!!

  • turnet5122

    Here’s hoping the protesters in Chicago drive ALEC and its members back into the Koch brothers lair in the desert…along with the snakes, scorpions and other critters that crawl.

  • generalzod

    Progressive States Network. They “meet behind closed doors” only ten percent of their organizations funding is from membership. Difference? They are controlled by the unions. You’ll never read about them here and I’ll be shocked if my comment is not removed.

  • Mikeguru

    Thanks for the Link.

    We have 11 AM radio stations in our area that spew the Corporate Right Wing agenda via Disk Jockeys like Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, the Multi-millionaires. All Right Wing, put the government in a bathtub, privatize public education, prisons, stand your ground. Telling the same mis-information over and over until people think the lies are True. Same strategy as was used in Germany from 1927 to 1933 and in the following 15 years 55 million people died.

    I don’t listen to them, hard not to as there are over 2000 stations nationwide with the same format, Corporate Right Wing Extremists.

    But I did find Satellite TV, XM radio, and the Internet to seek the Truth and counter opinion to the 11 AM radio stations of the Right Wing Corporate and Billionaire agendas.

    Here is what I listen to on the Internet – a breath of fresh air

  • WoundedEgo

    Fortunately, one has arisen:

    They provide model bills that serve the interests of the people rather than those of the corporations.

  • Anonymous

    like Raymond responded I am dazzled that some one can earn $9949 in four weeks on the internet. did you see this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Jeanne Spray

    These are the essays/reporting that we need ever so much of! The bright side of dedicated journalism shining brightly, exposing ALEC, no longer so heavily cloaked in its nasty darkness. They continue to wield horrendous influence, completely devoted to the destruction of the 98%, attempting to abolish all hope in general. But now we’re on to them…we just can’t let up! They’re hugely powerful and have rigged the deal for themselves and against the common person for a very long time…say 40 years or so…and getting ever meaner as their power expands. (Talk about some bad karma!) I’m with Max and his idea of contacting our legislators, using the very same questions he used in his inquiry:

    “Because of my concern about the process of ALEC sponsored bills favoring
    corporate America over the general population, and as one of your
    constituents I would like to know your positions on the following:

    Are you a member of ALEC?

    Have you received funds or ‘scholarships’ to participate in ALEC functions?

    How many of the ALEC sponsored Bills in the state legislature have you
    supported and how many have you opposed? Information on the exact number of For/Against will be appreciated.

    Please be as specific as possible.”

    Brilliant, Max! I’m putting this on Facebook. United, we can get rid of the counter-speak “Citizens United” while we’re at it. We can turn this whole crazy upside down global crisis around, one action at a time. It’s a lovely planet and for all our faults, two-leggers are still worthy of life, as are all sentient beings. We’re responsible for Mother Earth and all of her creatures. Things haven’t been going well at all, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, for quite some time now. ALEC is a huge part of the problem. They’ve got to be stopped. And you know they’re not going to let go easily. With patience and persistence we can stop them from doing any more damage and start to undo what they’ve already defiled. Good Luck, Brothers and Sisters! Into the fray…

  • Robert Stephen Moore

    I was on site each of the three days that ALEC occupied the Palmer House Hilton for their 40th model-legislation writing anniversary party/corporate lobbying masquerade as a 501(c)3 ball and general defraud the American people and government brou-ha-ha. I had to be there as a member of Occupy Chicago because ALEC is anathema to everything the Occupy Movement stands for–especially GENUINE DEMOCRACY.
    Occupy Chicago declares that a non-violent revolution is desperately and immediately needed in the United States: one that entails the replacement of the current representative oligarchy by democracy. We recognize that no one organization makes a revolution or a movement for revolution and that it requires certain objective developments and conditions, but any individual or group can advocate for one at any time. This is what we are doing, for the good of the people and the planet.

  • Deb French

    You may find info on the liberal counterparts on Fox News or from Tea Party members but, sorry, you are on the wrong page here, Barry. Oh, and if you have a minute, check out the documentary United states of ALEC…

  • Mary Whisler Maxwell

    We need to get those corrupt, bribing, cheating lowlifes OUT of our government offices. It’s time to take a stand: find out which politicians are associated with ALEC, and vote them OUT. Find out which corporations are buying politicians, and DO NOT do business with them.