ALEC Exposed

The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws

Democracy Now! premieres “The United States of ALEC,” a special report by legendary journalist Bill Moyers on how the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council has helped corporate America propose and even draft legislation for states across the country. ALEC brings together major U.S. corporations and right-wing legislators to craft and vote on “model” bills behind closed doors. It has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in promoting “stand your ground” gun laws, voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. Although billing itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership,” ALEC is actually a national network of state politicians and powerful corporations principally concerned with increasing corporate profits without public scrutiny. Moyers’ special will air this weekend on Moyers & Company, but first airs on Democracy Now! today. “The United States of ALEC” is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC and the Schumann Media Center.


Who elected ALEC?

A few times a year, ALEC gathers lawmakers, corporate CEOs, and lobbyists together in the same high-end resort-hotel ballrooms to present to the elected officials model legislation written by ALEC and voted on by the corporations. If the corporations approve, that legislation then gets carried back to state legislatures – or even the US Congress – by the lawmakers in attendance, who submit it as new laws. And it’s long been speculated – because identical laws keep popping up in state after state – that Republican lawmakers who attend ALEC conferences are taking their orders directly from ALEC – and therefore legislation dealing with everything from Voter ID laws, to harsher prison sentences for drug offenders, to dismantling EPA regulation have their roots in ALEC


ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501(c)(3) American organization, composed of politically conservative state legislators and business representatives.  According to its website, ALEC “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.”

ALEC represents conservative corporate interests by creating ready made legislation and soliciting state lawmakers to pass their legislation.


Stand Your Ground laws

Shortly after Florida passed its Stand-your-ground law in 2005, ALEC adopted its legislative language into one of its model bills. The Florida bill had been pressed by the National Rifle Association and its Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer. According to testimony by the Center for Media and Democracy, Hammer met with ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force in the summer of 2005 and requested that it adopt Florida’s stand-your-ground law as an ALEC model bill. The Center for Media and Democracy stated that the proposal was well received and approved unanimously.

On April 4, 2012, after the Trayvon Martin shooting, advocacy group Color of Change changed the boycott to focus on The Coca-Cola Company for its support of ALEC and by implication, its involvement in Stand your Ground. Within hours, Coca-Cola announced it was ending its relationship with ALEC in apparent response to the threatened boycott. More than 60 corporations and foundations including Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s,, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Apple, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the medical insurance group Blue Cross and Blue Shield dropped support of ALEC in the ensuing weeks or let their memberships lapse. ALEC responded with a “Statement by ALEC on the Coordinated Intimidation Campaign Against Its Members


Voter identification

Prior to 2012, legislation based on ALEC models bills was introduced in many states to mandate or strengthen requirements that voters produce state-issued photo identification. The bills were passed and signed into law in six states.

ALEC’s April 17, 2012 announcement that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force also ended its legislative efforts to expand voter ID requirements. On April 18, the National Center for Public Policy Research announced the creation of a voter ID task force to replace the one discontinued by ALEC.



The “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”, an Arizona law commonly known as “SB 1070”, was drafted during an ALEC meeting in December 2009. It became an ALEC model bill. It was one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the U.S., making the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and giving the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.   Portions of SB 1070 were held by the Supreme Court to be preempted by federal law in 2012.


Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act

One of ALEC’s model bills is the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act”, which classifies certain property destruction, acts of intimidation, and civil disobedience by environmental and animal rights activists as terrorism. This model bill appeared across the U.S. in various forms since it was drafted in 2003. The federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has notable similarities, and at points almost verbatim language, to ALEC’s model “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” The Senate version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was sponsored by Senator James Inhofe, a long-time member of ALEC.


Criminal sentencing and prison management

According to Governing magazine, “ALEC has been a major force behind both privatizing state prison space and keeping prisons filled.” ALEC has developed model bills advancing “tough on crime” initiatives, including “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” laws. Critics argue that by funding and participating in ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Forces, private prison companies directly influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences. Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, two of the largest for-profit prison companies in the US, have been contributors to the ALEC.  ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to allow the creation of private-sector for-profit prisons.


Energy and the environment

ALEC pushed for deregulation of the electricity industry in the 1990s. Maneuvering between two private sector members, Enron, a former energy trader, and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a utilities trade association, led EEI to withdraw its ALEC membership. Enron’s position on the matter was adopted by ALEC and subsequently by many state legislatures.

An April 2012 article in the New York Times stated that while ALEC legislation having to do with public “right to know” laws regarding what fluids are used in hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants, the bill contains “loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets.”

ALEC has promoted a model bill that calls plans by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions a “train wreck” that would harm the economy, and has supported efforts by various states to withdraw from regional climate change compacts. ALEC has also promoted a model bill that would call on the federal government to approve the proposed Keystone XL project, which would extend a synthetic crude oil pipeline from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska.


Health care

ALEC opposes the individual health insurance mandate enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as the “ACA” or “Obamacare”). ALEC filed an amicus brief in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA’s individual mandate. In 2011 it published the “State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare,” which has served as a roadmap for repeal efforts. ALEC has also drafted a variety of model bills designed to block the law’s implementation.


 Outside the United States

In July 2012, The Guardian ran an article reporting that ALEC had taken action to oppose plain cigarette packaging laws outside the United States. It is contacting governments that are planning to introduce bans on cigarette branding, including the UK and Australia.



ALEC does not disclose its membership list or the origin of its model bills, and its legislative members frequently deny being influenced by the organization or its model legislation. Arizona Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley proposed an ALEC Accountability Act to force legislators to disclose their ALEC ties. The bill did not receive a committee hearing.

Legislative members generally propose ALEC model bills in their states without disclosing their authorship. One notable exception was in November 2011, when former Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin (R) introduced legislation to call on the federal government to reduce its corporate tax rate.

She mistakenly included the boilerplate “WHEREAS, it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty…” The bill was quickly withdrawn, the phrase removed, and the bill resubmitted.

The American Prospect journalist Abby Rapoport wrote that the incident “seems to confirm what many have assumed was occurring in state legislatures—-and while Burgin’s bill was hardly a major piece of legislation, ALEC’s reach in important policy areas seems hard to overestimate.”


Allegations of improper lobbying

In April 2012, Common Cause filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service objecting to ALEC’s tax status as a non-profit organization and alleged that lobbying accounted for more than 60% of its expenditures. ALEC denied lobbying. Reporting on the allegations, Bloomberg Businessweek compared ALEC’s work to that of lobbyists, noting, “part of ALEC’s mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work”, and that being a non-profit rather than a lobby group allows deductibility of membership dues, and the freedom not to disclose the names of legislators who attend its educational seminars or the executives who give presentations to those legislators.  ALEC responded by denying it engaged in lobbying, while saying that liberal groups were attacking ALEC because “they don’t have a comparable group that is as effective as ALEC in enacting policies into law.”  According to Governing magazine, ALEC legislators often have their travel expenses paid as “scholarships” and are “wined and dined and golf-coursed” by private sector members.  In July 2013 Common Cause submitted a supplemental brief to the IRS complaining about these practices.



According to ALECwatch and IRS documents, ALEC receives 95% of its funding from foundations, corporations, other nonprofits, meeting revenue and the sale of its publications. ALEC legislatures pay $100 in annual membership dues, while corporations pay $10,000, or often much more. In 2010 NPR reported that tax records showed that corporations had collectively paid as much as $6 million a year.

Koch Industries Inc. was one of 14 “Vice Chairman” level sponsors at ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting, which requires a $25,000 donation. According to tax records, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave $75,858 to ALEC in 2009. Exxon Mobil’s foundation donated $30,000 in both 2005 and 2006. Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said the company paid $39,000 in dues in 2010 and sponsored a reception at the annual meeting in San Diego for $25,000. In August 2011, Exxon spent $45,000 to sponsor a workshop on natural gas.  According to the Center For Public Integrity, ALEC received $150,000 from Charles and David Koch in 2011 to help finance its activities.

According to a December 2013 article appearing in The Guardian, ALEC is facing a funding shortfall after losing more than a third of its projected income. Some 400 state legislators have left its membership along with more than 60 corporate donors.

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