July 15, 2011; Source: ProPublica | Those of us who have monitored the world of ideologically-oriented nonprofit think tanks have long thought that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was an underpublicized but incredibly influential conservative player with a history of accomplishment that compares favorably with some of the better known right wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
ALEC drafts “model” state legislation for conservative members of state legislatures. The model legislation sometimes becomes law, such as Arizona’s infamous immigration law. ALEC has also generated state resolutions against EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses, bills on privatizing public education, restricting public employee unions, and opposing state aspects of President Obama’s national health care reform. Many of the ALEC-generated model bills are seen as industry-friendly, in part because corporations pay well for participation at ALEC conferences giving them access to state legislators. However, despite its influence with many model bills, ALEC’s visibility with the public is limited and legislators often don’t disclose that the bills they are introducing come from ALEC.
As a 501(c)(3), ALEC doesn’t officially disclose its list of corporate donors. ProPublica makes the erroneous shorthand analysis that ALEC claims to be a nonprofit and therefore not a lobbying organization, failing to acknowledge that nonprofits are legally permitted to lobby within limits. However, Common Cause has written to the IRS challenging ALEC’s (c)(3) status on the grounds of “excess lobbying or, alternatively, because ALEC appears to operate primarily to further private business interests and not to advance a charitable purpose.”
Worth looking at is the ALEC Exposed wiki site generated by the Center for Media and Democracy, which somehow developed a list of more than 800 model bills and resolutions drafted by ALEC.
Liberal groups also generate model bills and resolutions like ALEC does for conservatives, but there is a big difference. ALEC’s big players — and payers — are big corporations, making the ALEC output look a bit like a pay-to-play scheme. That might be ALEC’s real vulnerability to an IRS inquiry.—Rick Cohen