Point Austin: ALEC by Another Name

ALEC may be coming to a town near you.

No, I don’t mean Alec Baldwin – although the guy certainly needs more friends. I’m speaking of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative, corporate bill mill that has recruited hundreds of state legislators (almost all Repub­lic­ans) to join in its “nonprofit” (i.e., tax free) exercises in promoting right-wing legislation. ALEC is most notorious for its early sponsorship of “Stand Your Ground” laws – the shoot-first, get-out-of-jail later legislation that helped clear George Zimmer­man in the killing of Trayvon Martin. But in recent years, ALEC has returned to its more permanent obsessions, which tend to be the standard corporate wish list of tax cuts, freedom from regulation (especially environmental regs), opposing climate change initiatives, limiting workers’ rights (particularly union organizing), restrictions on immigration, and of late, voter ID laws and other restrictions on voting. In Texas, ALEC successfully promoted a law designed to protect fracking companies from having to disclose the kinds of chemicals (i.e., “trade secrets”) they inject into wells – although the measure was called, predictably, a “disclosure” law.

On the state level, legislators pay a nominal annual fee to become ALEC members, enabling them to attend ALEC conferences, schmooze with deep-pocketed sponsors, discuss draft legislation, and “vote” alongside their corporate partners in determining which model bills to carry back home. If the corporate members – who pay 98% of ALEC’s bills – reject a bill (however the legislative members vote), it dies on the vine. Member legislators not only get wined and dined on corporate expense accounts, they are provided with prefabricated legislation they can then “sponsor” back home in, say, Austin.

ALEC has had plenty of success in these efforts, although it endured a PR black eye after the Trayvon Martin case, and lost quite a few legislative (especially Demo­crat­ic) and some corporate members, biting into its bipartisan reputation and its bottom line.

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