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ALEC – The Organization Rewriting State Laws Across the Country

Since the 2010 election, conservative legislatures in practically every state have almost immediately plunked down a spate of bills with a very unified focus, attacking unions, Planned Parenthood, and cherished social programs. If you have wondered about the shelf where all this legislation sits and waits for conservatives to marshal their numbers, it’s located at the offices of an organization called ALEC. That stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, and it’s the most powerful organization you almost never hear about.

The Center for Media and Democracy has put together an exposé of ALEC, simply making a list of ALEC’s “Model Bills” and finding where they have cropped up. The reach of ALEC is pretty amazing. They’ve also done some reporting on ALEC’s fundraising, which puts the lie to the idea that ALEC is just a loose affiliation of conservative legislators who swap ideas and pay dues to keep the organization going:

More than 98% of ALEC’s cash is from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, trade associations, and corporate foundations. ALEC describes itself as the largest “membership association of state legislators,” but only a little more than one percent of its funding comes from legislative dues. Some of the biggest corporations in the world bankroll and thus subsidize the activities of the legislators who are part of ALEC. Corporations provide general support that covers the annual ALEC conventions–which are summer trips of politicians and their families to resorts for the annual ALEC meeting–and the preparation of “model” bills and glossy promotional materials. ALEC could actually be called one of the most powerful membership associations of corporations attempting to influence state legislators. But ALEC’s tax filings do not even count corporate donations as membership dues; they are listed under gifts.

Legislator dues accounted for $82,891 in 2009, on a total revenue take of $6.1 million.

The many corporations who fund ALEC, and help write legislation favorable to their interests, is here. This is essentially a corporate-funded and corporate-helmed legislation factory, and because of that muscle behind it, ALEC has been brutally successful.

If you’re wondering who’s pushing these assaults on worker rights, it’s ALEC. If you’re wondering why your state has a cap on punitive damages or other blocks of access to the courts, it’s ALEC. If you’re seeing a wave of privatization, particularly in the education space, in your state, it’s ALEC. And if you want to know how Republicans seem to be able to rewrite the election rules to make it harder to change these right-wing policies, that’s ALEC too. Getting a look at the model bills is very powerful when you see how that moves along in the states.

This is a tremendous resource. The name “ALEC” needs to be bigger than the Koch Brothers or whatever other boogeyman gets used for the right. Because ALEC does the work that manifests itself in policy.

UPDATE: John Nichols at The Nation has more on this. If you dig through the ALEC Exposed website you can find over 800 of their model bills that get imitated in state legislation.

David Dayen

David Dayen