Activist group airs grievances against ALEC's influence in Florida

07/26/12 Janelle Irwin
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A group comprised of state legislators and corporations is being blamed for some controversial laws across the country. Today opponents of the group released a report on the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The information released during a conference call shows what ALEC’s legislative priorities are and why they might be harmful.

Last year a whistle-blower leaked more than 800 model bills that were created by the group. Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said the documents showed ALEC was just a bill mill to further corporate interests.

“When we conducted our investigation we discovered that over 98% of ALEC’s revenue – and this is consistent throughout all of the 990s we pulled for the last decade – comes from corporations and sources other than legislative dues. Legislators in Florida and other states pay $50 a year to be members of ALEC. Corporations pay $5,000, $10,000 or more to be members of ALEC and a special premium to have a seat on these task forces.”

ALEC uses task forces that meet at corporate-sponsored retreats to hash out model legislation. Doug Clopp is deputy director for programs for a government accountability group called Common Cause. He said ALEC has been responsible for dozens of controversial laws across the country including the law that George Zimmerman is using as a defense for killing Trayvon Martin.

“And what you saw was that bill, Stand Your Ground, move in state Houses almost at light speed – within one or two legislative sessions it was up in almost thirty state Houses in the country and adopted in many.”

Florida is one of several states that have seen especially high numbers of ALEC’s bills pop up in legislative sessions. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Lisa Graves claims the group is behind efforts to privatize public education. She said a recently disbanded ALEC task force was co-chaired by a private education company.

“One of them I think operated out of a mini mall, a strip mall. And so what you have in ALEC until just this past month was an education task force that was co-chaired by a for-profit school company, by a school corporation that was connected to a larger for-profit industry.”

Graves said ALEC has made implementing voter ID laws a national priority and did so with the full support of partnering corporations.

“They paid for ALEC’s operations. They continue to pay for it after Voter ID continued to spread. They’re responsible for that bill. Did FedEx lobby for that bill? No. Did FedEx money help make that bill a national priority? Absolutely.”

ALEC is not registered as a lobbying group. It doesn’t have to be. Graves said when members unilaterally approve model legislation, members automatically push it in their home states.

“ALEC’s state legislative leaders have a duty, a duty – that’s the expressed word used in their bi-laws – to get ALEC legislation introduced and get it passed.”

What concerns people opposed to what ALEC does is that it all happens behind closed doors. Common Cause’s Doug Clopp calls it “pay to play” system where for-profit groups actually purchase laws to benefit their bottom line.

“This was a massive corporate agenda that often put corporate special interests ahead of the public interest and in many cases, public safety.”

ALEC is registered as a non-profit, non-partisan group. They compare themselves to the National Council for State Legislatures, or NCSL, which is a non-partisan group that works in a similar way. But Lisa Graves from the Center for Media and Democracy said that’s not true because, according to her, 99% of ALEC’s members are Republican.

“Republicans and Democrats alternate leadership of the organization of the committees in which no corporations were members of task forces or had voting rights within NCSL.”

In recent months many of the large corporations who have sponsored ALEC have stopped. According to ALEC a website published by Graves, 30 for-profit entities have severed ties with the group, including Wal-Mart, and the latest, General Motors and Walgreens. Doug Clopp from Common Cause credits that to a recent surge in public knowledge of ALEC’s priorities.

“For almost 39 years of its 40 years of operation it was completely non-transparent. You may have heard about them, but you never really knew about them in the sense of just how much influence they were able to wield.”

Damien Filer of the group Progress Florida, has also noticed the sudden influx of public outcry. He said a Florida state representative and member of ALEC introduced a bill which inadvertently called attention to where it came from.

“We saw Representative Rachel Burgin who actually made the mistake when she introduced a bill of leaving ALEC’s insignia on the bill itself.”

According to Common Cause’s Clopp, legislators in many states have started to sever ties with the group. He said that includes almost all of the members from Pennsylvania.

Cartoonist Mark Fiore released this video play on Schoolhouse Rock & ALEC:

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