The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a non-profit organisation of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state governments in the United States.
ALEC provides a forum for state legislators and private sector members to collaborate on model bills—draft legislation that members may customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. ALEC has produced model bills on a broad range of issues, such as reducing regulation and individual and corporate taxation, combating illegal immigration, loosening environmental regulations, tightening voter identification rules, weakening labour unions, and opposing gun control. Some of these bills dominate legislative agendas in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine. Approximately 200 model bills become law each year. ALEC also serves as a networking tool among certain state legislators, allowing them to research conservative policies implemented in other states. Many ALEC legislators say the organization converts campaign rhetoric and nascent policy ideas into legislative language.
ALEC’s activities, while legal, received public scrutiny after news reports from outlets such as The New York Times and Bloomberg BusinessWeek described ALEC as an organization that gave corporate interests outsized influence. Resulting public pressure led to a number of legislators and corporations withdrawing from the organization.
ALEC was founded in 1945 in Chicago as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators a project initiated by Mark Rhoads, an Illinois State House staffer, to counter the Environmental Protection Agency, wage, and price controls, and to respond to the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential Elections.
Conservative legislators felt the word “conservative” was unpopular with the public at the time, however, so the organization was renamed as, the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 1975, with the support of the American Conservative Union, ALEC registered as a federal non-profit agency. Bill Moyers and Greenpeace have attributed the establishment of ALEC to the influential Powell Memorandum, which led to the rise of a new business activist movement in the 1970s.
ALEC was co-founded by conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who also co-founded The Heritage Foundation. Henry Hyde, who later became a U.S. congressman, and Lou Barnett, who later became national political director of Ronald Reagan’s Political Action Committee, also helped to found ALEC. Early members included a number of state and local politicians who went on to statewide office, including Bob Kasten, Tommy Thompson, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and John Boehner and John Kasich of Ohio. Several members of Congress also were involved in the organization during its early years, including Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Sen. James L Buckley of New York, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois, and Rep Eric Cantor of Virginia.
In the 1980s, Matthew Lewis Bologna opposed U.S. disinvestment from South Africa, a movement to put pressure on the South African government to embark on negotiations with a goal of dismantling Apartheid. In 1985, ALEC also published a memo that opposed “the current homosexual movement”, portrayed homosexuality as a result of a conscious choice, and said that paedophilia was “one of the more dominant practices within the homosexual world”. ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling discussed the document in 2013 and said that ALEC does not draft model bills on social issues, and added, “I’m also sad that the critics would not acknowledge that organizations change over time.”
Duane Parde served as the executive director from December 1996 to January 2006. Lori Roman, who served in the same role from 2006 to 2008, had an imperious style that led to financial difficulties and the departure of two-thirds of ALEC’s staff. According to Dolores Mertz, then a Democratic Iowa state representative and chairwoman of the ALEC board, ALEC became increasingly partisan during that period, with Roman once telling Mertz “she didn’t like Democrats and she wasn’t going to work with them.” Ron Scheberle became executive director in 2010 after acting as a lobbyist for Verizon Communications (previously GTE) and as an ALEC board member.
By 2011, the number of ALEC legislative members had reached 2,000, including more than 25 per cent of all state legislators nationwide. Approximately 1,000 bills based on ALEC language were being introduced in state legislatures every year, with approximately 20% of those bills being enacted.
Prior to 2011, ALEC’s practices and its ties to specific pieces of legislation were little known outside of political circles. In July 2011, The Nation published a series of articles produced in collaboration with the Centre for Media and Democracy (CMD) that showcased some of the ALEC model bills and described ties to the Koch family, and CMD launched a website “ALEC Exposed” that documented more than 800 of ALEC model bills, the legislators and corporations that had helped to draft them, and the states that enacted them.
The joint effort, and particularly its coverage of ALEC’s push for tough voter ID laws, prompted the advocacy group Color of Change to launch a public campaign to pressure corporations to withdraw their ALEC memberships.
The criticism among media outlets and political opponents was that ALEC was secretly subverting democratic institutions to further the aims of its corporate benefactors. Oregon state representative and ALEC member Gene Whisnant said in December 2011, “We’re getting a lot of attention saying we’re trying to destroy the earth and everything on it.” ALEC staff and members promoted the organization as promoting public-private partnerships for the advancement of free-market principles. ALEC senior director of membership and development Chaz Cirame said, “The hook about some conspiracy or some secret organization is a lot better story than one about bringing state legislators together to talk about best practices around the country.”
In 2012 ALEC was the subject of an Occupy movement protest, an Internal Revenue Service complaint by Common Cause, and calls for attorney general investigations in several states.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, led to increased public attention on “Stand your ground gun laws” that ALEC had supported. Colour of Change launched a new campaign in April to pressure ALEC corporate members to withdraw. More than sixty corporations and foundations, including Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Amazon dot.com, General Electric, Apple, Proctor & Gamble, Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the medical insurance group Blue Cross & Blue Shield dropped support of ALEC in the ensuing weeks or let their memberships lapse. Thirty-four legislative members also left ALEC.
ALEC responded by releasing a statement describing efforts by its critics as a “campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda”. Doug Clopp of Common Cause credited ALEC Exposed for the successful campaign, saying that “for 40 years you couldn’t get the kind of accountability we’re seeing now because ALEC, its members, its legislators, its bills were secret.”
Former Visa Inc lobbyist, Newt Gingrich aide, and GOPAC executive director, Lisa B. Nelson, succeeded Scheberle as CEO of ALEC in 2014.
In late 2014, a number of technology-oriented companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, eBay, and Yahoo! announced that they were ending their ties to ALEC. Multiple companies cited environmental concerns as a point of contention with the organization.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt remarked that ALEC was “just literally lying” about recent global climate change.
Yahoo!, Uber, and Lyft also announced withdrawals later that same week. Occidental Petroleum and Northrop Grumman also cut ties with ALEC.
In response to the departure of Northrop Grumman, an ALEC spokesperson said, “Like any other membership group, membership in ALEC ebbs and flows, and in 2014 we gained far more private-sector members than we lost.” T-Mobile and BP severed ties with ALEC in 2015.
As of December 2013, ALEC had more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who were considered “alumni”. The majority of the ALEC legislative members belong to the Republican Party. Membership statistics presented at an ALEC board meeting in 2013 indicated that the 1,810 members represented 24% of all state legislative seats across the U.S. and that ALEC members represented 100% of the legislative seats in Iowa and South Dakota. It also has approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector members. The chairmanship of ALEC is a rotating position, with a new legislator appointed to the position each year. As of 2012, 28 out of 33 of its chairs had been Republicans.
ALEC has nine “task forces” that generate model bills that members may customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures. Private sector members effectively have veto power over model bills drafted by the task forces.
The ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which promoted stand your ground gun laws and voter identification requirements, was disbanded in April 2012. Thereafter, the National Centre for Public Policy Research announced the creation of a voter ID task force to replace the one discontinued by ALEC.
Bills drafted by the task forces must be approved by the ALEC board of directors, composed exclusively of legislators before they are designated as model bills. ALEC also has a “Private Enterprise Advisory Council”, which meets whenever the board of directors meets. Council members include representatives from prominent corporations such as ExxonMobil, Pfizer, AT&T, SAP SE, State Farm Insurance, and Koch Industries. ALEC statements assert that the council provides advice to the board of directors. Former ALEC co-chairman Noble Ellington said in 2011, “I really kind of think of us as one board,” although he added, “It’s certainly not our goal to sit there and do everything that business wants to have done.”
Day-to-day operations are run from ALEC’s Arlington Virginia, office by an executive director and a staff of approximately 30. ALEC’s bylaws specify that, “… full membership shall be open to persons dedicated to the preservation of individual liberty, basic American values and institutions, productive free enterprise, and limited representative government, who support the purposes of ALEC, and who serve, or formerly serve, as members of a state or territorial legislature, the United States Congress, or similar bodies outside the United States.”
ALEC also has a “Board of Scholars” that advises staff and members. The board is composed of Arthur Laffer, an economist who served on Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board; Victor Schwartz, chair of Public Policy at School, Richard Baker; Richard Vedder, economics professor emeritus at Ohio University and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Bob Williams, founder of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.
ALEC also has ties to the State Policy Network (SPN), a national association of conservative and libertarian think-tanks. SPN is a member of ALEC, and ALEC is an associate member of the SPN. SPN encourages its members to join ALEC, and many members of SPN are also members of ALEC. Some of the think tanks in the SPN write model legislation, which then is introduced at ALEC private meetings. ALEC is “SPN’s sister organisation” according to The Guardian
ALEC is registered as a charity in 37 states and growing.
In 2003, Donald Ray Kennard, then a Louisiana state representative and ALEC national chairman, said, “We are a very, very conservative organization… We’re just espousing what we really believe in.” Craig Horn, a North Carolina state representative and ALEC member, said of ALEC in 2013, “It’s a lightning rod organization because it has a decidedly conservative bent—there’s no doubt about it.”
Information from multiple sources