NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Documentary Review: “United States of ALEC” remains a timely and informative film

Unit­ed States of ALEC” is a Moy­ers & Com­pa­ny seg­ment pro­duced in late 2012 but is worth watch­ing even five years lat­er as, sad­ly, not much has changed.

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.

United States of ALEC

Unit­ed States of ALEC
Release Year: 2012
Bill Moy­ers & Com­pa­ny
Run­ning Time: 32 min­utes
Watch it

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.

Adjacent posts

  • Enjoyed what you just read? Make a donation

    Thank you for read­ing The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s jour­nal of world, nation­al, and local politics.

    Found­ed in March of 2004, The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate has been help­ing peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west and beyond make sense of cur­rent events with rig­or­ous analy­sis and thought-pro­vok­ing com­men­tary for more than fif­teen years. The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate is fund­ed by read­ers like you and trust­ed spon­sors. We don’t run ads or pub­lish con­tent in exchange for money.

    Help us keep The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate edi­to­ri­al­ly inde­pen­dent and freely avail­able to all by becom­ing a mem­ber of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute today. Or make a dona­tion to sus­tain our essen­tial research and advo­ca­cy journalism.

    Your con­tri­bu­tion will allow us to con­tin­ue bring­ing you fea­tures like Last Week In Con­gress, live cov­er­age of events like Net­roots Nation or the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, and reviews of books and doc­u­men­tary films.

    Become an NPI mem­ber Make a one-time donation


  1. ALEC is one of the splin­ter groups of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy which is a secret right wing so called con­ser­v­a­tive group. Many of the mem­bers sup­port pri­va­tiz­ing every­thing pos­si­ble includ­ing schools that are owned by you, the tax­pay­ers. Through pri­va­ti­za­tion, rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment is destroyed. This is tax­a­tion with­out representation.

    Ann Herz­er, Inde­pen­dent Researcher

    # by Anna L Herzer :: January 4th, 2018 at 9:16 AM
  2. Had not heard about this mini-doc before now; will share with others!

    # by Jack Robinson :: January 4th, 2018 at 10:32 AM
  3. Took me awhile to under­stand that ALEC is an orga­ni­za­tion, not a per­son. I ini­tial­ly thought the issues dis­cussed here would make great fod­der for a plot to a new show on Net­flix. But non­fic­tion is stranger and more excit­ing now than fiction…

    # by Mark :: January 9th, 2018 at 4:07 PM
  • NPI’s essential research and advocacy is sponsored by: