ALEC is Back and Ready to Resume its Conservative Agenda

Damaged by public-relations disasters, the free-market policy group was empowered last month by Republican statehouse victories.

About 500 state legislators from across the country will pour themselves cups of coffee and file into conference rooms of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Washington on Wednesday to talk about cutting taxes and killing regulations. This is Legislating 101, brought to you by corporate America.

The people’s representatives are melding minds with corporate executives and lobbyists during the next three days at a free-market policy summit put on by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. They’ll get Republican pep talks from Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn. They’ll duck into breakout sessions like the one titled “States are ‘Separate and Independent Sovereigns.’ Now It’s Time to Act Like It.” And they’ll pass around already-drafted, insert-your-state-name-here legislation, proposals that often benefit the companies that pay ALEC dues of up to $25,000.

ALEC has had some rough years of late. Dozens of its private sector members—Microsoft, Facebook and Google, among them—recently cut ties over its push to dismantle or block pollution regulations. Those companies followed a prior exodus of corporate backers that was touched off by a trove of internal documents that became public in 2011. More bad P.R. arrived in 2012 following the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. ALEC, it was learned, had helped draft stand-your-ground laws in Florida and other states that many believed served as the justification for the shooting. ALEC’s 2013 revenue was $7.3 million, about $1 million less than the year before, tax forms show.

The November elections, however, are setting the stage for an ALEC resurgence.

Republicans now control the legislatures of 31 states, having just wrested chambers in nine from Democratic hands. Twenty-four of those states also have Republican governors, giving a clear pathway for ALEC-friendly proposals. Sensing opportunity for growth, the 41-year-old organization is building a side project for municipal leaders called the American City County Exchange…