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

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.

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

  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

  2. 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…

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