Like many Americans, I had never heard of ALEC, the right wing but innocuously named American Legislative Exchange Council, until after Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012 and so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws — which his killer George Zimmerman used as a defense for shooting him — came under scrutiny.
ALEC bills itself as a “nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism,” and is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization with the IRS, since it claims its main mission is education.
However, ALEC functions much more like a corporate lobbying group. Or as Wisconsin’s Mark Pocan describes it in a clip featured in “United States of ALEC”, it is a “corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests that eventually the relationship culminates with some special interest legislation.”
Basically, ALEC is made up of state legislators who can sign up as members for a small fee, and then they work on “task forces” with “private sector members” (meaning corporate lobbyists) to create model legislation that legislators then introduce in their state governments. It is no small coincidence that the “private sector members” of these task forces and the companies they represent stand to benefit greatly through the legislation that is passed.
After ALEC came under much-deserved scrutiny in early 2012, many corporations bowed to public pressure and dropped their membership.
However, there are plenty who still belong, with the potential profits and other benefits of friendly legislation apparently outweighing the public shame.
Much of what ALEC does looks very much like lobbying. Legislators go to meetings and summits that ALEC holds in destination cities throughout the country, where in addition to the workshops, there are meals and activities paid for by corporate sponsors. How this does not count as lobbying defies rational explanation.
Some ALEC critics, like Representative Pocan in Wisconsin, advocate for legislators to have to disclose their ties to ALEC and to report the value of the gifts they receive through ALEC and their associated events, the same way they have to report gifts from lobbyists in states like Washington.
The Moyers segment notes that Common Cause, an organization that promotes “open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest,” filed a complaint with the IRS to revoke ALEC’s nonprofit state and force them to register as a lobby group. All I could find on their website was an update from 2015 stating that they had submitted even further evidence to the IRS to back-up their complaint, but unfortunately I could find nothing online to show that these well-documented complaints have gone anywhere.
Perhaps it is in publicizing and supporting this effort to revoke their nonprofit status, and renewing pressure on corporate and legislative members of ALEC, that activists who want to make a difference can have the greatest effect.
Since ALEC does not list their corporate members on their site, it is hard to know who exactly is currently a member, but here is the best list that I could find, as compiled by The Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch.
On the Leadership page of ALEC’s website, they do have some information on the members of their Private Enterprise Advisory Council, including people representing corporations such as AT&T, Pfizer, Inc. and Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC.
They also list their current State Chairs, which for Washington are Republican State Representative Matt Shea of the 4th Legislative District, which includes Spokane Valley and most of Mt. Spokane State Park, and Republican State Senator Jan Angel of the 26th LD including Port Orchard and Gig Harbor.
While ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, the vast majority of their legislative members are Republicans. I encourage you to contact your state legislators to ask if they are members of ALEC, and if they are, to encourage them to leave and to focus on representing their constituents, not corporate interests. Watch “United States of ALEC” for thirty-two minutes to see why it matters so much to our democracy.