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Matt Singer on May 3, 2006 - 11:12am
The Cleveland Free Times takes a long, hard look at ALEC's operating methods. As usual, it ain't pretty.
In 1994 marketing materials, ALEC billed itself as "a genuine opportunity for American business to achieve greater public policy effectiveness." In an arrangement not unlike "ladies night" at a bar, ALEC's 2,400 "legislator members" pay a nominal $25 in annual dues. Major corporations, however, shell out between $5,000 and $50,000 for a seat at the table. Apparently they're getting what they want out of the deal. Almost 300 private companies — including household names like Pfizer, Philip Morris Management Corp., Proctor & Gamble Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., United Parcel Service and Verizon Communications — are members. Unlike the Council of State Governments or the National Conference of State Legislatures — publicly-funded groups that serve as neutral research arms — ALEC develops policy with, and for, the business community, says Michael Bird of NCSL. "They have a set agenda they want to accomplish," Bird says. "They develop policy hand-in-hand with the private sector. You would not see that in any public-sector organization. You just don't do it that way."One of ALEC's most telling aspects also gets revealed in this story: the extent to which they are willing to lie to avoid scrutiny. The bill that prompted this article was a bill written to ensnare mainstream conservation organizations under eco-terrorism laws. Needless to say, activists were outraged. And they started digging. Like so many heinous bills, what they found with their research as an organization called ALEC. They confronted the sponsor of the legislation:
WHEN OHIO CITIZEN ACTION learned of State Sen. Jeff Jacobson's eco-terrorism provision and its similarities to an ALEC bill, the group confronted Jacobson with its findings, and made a public records request demanding the names of those who'd given input. In March, the Butler Township Republican admitted to the Dayton Daily News that ALEC had shaped the measure. It's normal for state lawmakers to consult the council, Jacobson told the paper, just like they might ask the National Center for State Legislatures for help. But the next day, Jacobson recanted. He should not have mentioned ALEC, he told the Daily News. Instead, he should have said that the provision was based on a measure introduced in Arizona. A little digging by SERC revealed that even the Arizona bill had ALEC fingerprints all over it — and had also surfaced in the state legislatures of New York, South Carolina and Washington.In its promotional literature, ALEC claims to introduce hundreds of bills every year and get many of them passed. Oddly, asked for specific examples, the organization is reticent. And even in cases like this where the ALEC connection gets admitted, lawmakers get pressured to backslide. ALEC's members, leaders, and corporate backers like to claim that it's just a normal public policy group. Normal public policy outfits don't hide from scrutiny.