What is ALEC and how is it tied to the GOP?

ALEC for DummiesTo understand what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is, you have to look at what this organization does. Since ALEC is becoming bolder by the New York Minute, it’s easier to see exactly what their agenda is.

Common Cause answers the question, “What is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)?

For almost 40 years now, up to 300 of the largest US corporations—including Koch Industries, Verizon, Bank of America and Exxon—have used ALEC to push model legislation, which is beneficial to their corporate interests, into law in the states. ALEC boasts that a third of all state legislators in the US are members, introducing around 1,000 ALEC bills every year. By using ALEC to pursue their agenda, they are able to hide their fingerprints, avoid lobbying disclosure, and evade the kind of increased scrutiny that comes when citizens know it’s actually corporationsthat draftedsome of their most important laws. Recent ALEC bills have rolled back voting rights, reduced environmental protections and stripped away collective bargaining rights for workers around the country.

A big part of what ALEC does is draft legislation that lawmakers in its circle of influence present, whom often use the ALEC-supplied wording verbatim. In one case, a Florida legislator forgot to remove ALEC’s name from the bill she presented. Common Cause continues:

All ALEC model resolutions contain a boilerplate paragraph, describing ALEC’s adherence to free market principles and limited government. When legislators introduce one of ALEC’s bills, they normally remove this paragraph. Sometimes (but only sometimes) legislators will make some slight alterations to anALEC model bill,perhaps to include something specific to them or to their state. Rep. Burgin didn’t do that. Instead she introduced a bill that was the same as the model word-for-word, forgetting even to remove the paragraph naming ALEC and describing its principles.

As a Texas Governor might say; “Oops!”

The next day, Rep. Burgin quickly withdrew the bill hoping that no one had noticed and then re-introduced it 24-hours later, with a new bill number (HM 717), but now without the problematic paragraph.

NPR-backed State Impact reporter John O’Connor reported on March 15 2013 that ALEC is now boldly publicizing the bill language it provides to politicians. Obviously, these people think they’re untouchable.

Depending on your viewpoint, the American Legislative Exchange Council is either a forum for lawmakers to discuss conservative-minded legislation or a secretive organization leading the charge to privatize public education. But the group is a little less secretive Friday after posting hundreds of pieces of “model legislation” online. The bills are templates lawmakers can adapt in order to pass legislation in their home states.

The Center for Media and Democracy tracks ALEC activities and offers a wealth of information on their website about their influence and campaigns. They say,

Through ALEC, Global Corporations Are Scheming to Rewrite YOUR Rights and Boost THEIR Revenue”: Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. In ALEC’s own words, corporations have “a VOICE and a VOTE” on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state …

ALEC boasts on its website that over 2,000 state legislators are members of their organization. ALEC Exposed has identified nearly 1,000 state representatives who are believed to be active members of ALEC.

In an editorial, the New York Times speaks about ALEC’s intentional erosion of American fairness and democratic principles,

It is no coincidence that so many state legislatures have spent the last year taking the same destructive actions: making it harder for minorities and other groups that support Democrats to vote, obstructing health care reform, weakening environmental regulations and breaking the spines of public- and private-sector unions. All of these efforts are being backed — in some cases, orchestrated — by a little-known conservative organization financed by millions of corporate dollars.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by the right-wing activist Paul Weyrich; its big funders include Exxon Mobil, the Olin and Scaife families and foundations tied to Koch Industries. Many of the largest corporations are represented on its board … ALEC has written model legislation on a host of subjects dear to corporate and conservative interests, and supporting lawmakers have introduced these bills in dozens of states. A recent study of the group’s impact in Virginia showed that more than 50 of its bills were introduced there, many practically word for word.

Salon questions why Alec, which is a 501(c)3 organization, is getting away with violating the anti-political rules of that tax exempt designations.

Paul Teller, the executive director of the RSC (Republican Study Committee), was happy to embrace the ALEC. “Frankly, this gathering is long overdue … As Washington encroaches more and more into state and local spheres, it’s important that conservative legislators at the federal and state levels collaborate on policies to stop and roll back the ever-expanding federal government.”

RSC Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, is a member of ALEC, along with several dozen other Republican congressmen. ALEC has only a single Democratic member from the U.S. House, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma. Jordan’s campaign paid dues of $100 to ALEC in 2001 and 2011, and possibly other years, according to documents published by ALEC Exposed, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. A handful of GOP senators, including Marco Rubio and Jim DeMint, are also members, along with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. While many ALEC events serve as a forum for corporate representatives to meet with lawmakers, there will be no corporations represented at Friday’s event, which will feature at least six federal and 18 state lawmakers.

ALEC has also come under fire from good government groups, who argue that it is in clear violation of tax rules governing nonprofit organizations. Unlike 501(c)4 groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which already skirt the legal boundaries of political activity allowed for nonprofits, ALEC is a 501(c)3 charity. These groups, which include every major charity, are even more strictly limited in the political activity they can engage in. According to the IRS, “In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).”

Critics argue that lobbying is the sole purpose of ALEC’s work, as it hooks up corporations and lawmakers. Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations division, which handles nonprofits, has asked the agency to revoke ALEC’s tax-exempt status.

The infamous Koch brothers are inextricably tied with ALEC. The Nation’s John Nichols reports:

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch finally got their way in 2011. After their decades of funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators, the project began finally to yield the intended result.

For the first time in decades, the United States saw a steady dismantling of the laws, regulations, programs and practices put in place to make real the promise of American democracy … For the Koch brothers and their kind, less democracy is better … And ALEC has made it clear … it wants very much to erect barriers to the primary tool that Americans who are not CEOs have to influence the politics and the government of the nation: voting.

So that’s the wrap folks – everything you never wanted to know about one of America’s most destructive and pernicious political influence groups. Forewarned is forearmed, I hope.

One Reply to “What is ALEC and how is it tied to the GOP?”

Leave a Reply