The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a policy group that enables corporations to shape government legislation in a way that suits their vested interests but is hidden from public view. Its stated aim is "to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level".
Politicians are invited to be members and to attend conferences where they meet with corporate representatives on 9 task forces to be persuaded of the merits of model bills that the corporations want to see enacted and they then take them back to their states to introduce into legislation and lobby for it, usually without mentioning their ALEC origins.
On average, around 1000 bills based on ALEC model bills are introduced across the nation each year and around 17 percent (1 in 6) become legislation. The New York Times observed:
The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.
Attractions for politicians include all expenses travel for themselves and their families to attend ALEC meetings and parties at resort locations; help with campaign fund-raising, networking opportunities with captains of industry and potential donors; and the ability to present ALEC model bills as their own work.
Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law... ALEC makes old-fashioned lobbying obsolete. Once legislators return to their state with corporate-sponsored
ALEC legislation in hand, the legislators themselves become "super-lobbyists" for ALEC's corporate agenda, cutting out the middleman.
ALEC was established in 1973 and is associated with the extreme right of US politics. It was originally housed in the Heritage Foundation headquarters. It has featured speakers such as Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, George Allen, Jessie Helms, Pete Coors and Governor Mitch Daniels. Donald Rumsfeld was chair of ALEC's Business Policy Board in 1985.
In the words of ALEC's executive director, Sam Brunelli, "ALEC's goal is to ensure that these state legislators are so well informed, so well armed, that they can set the terms of the public policy debate, that they can change the agenda, that they can lead. This is the infrastructure that will reclaim the states for our movement."
ALEC model legislation:
Its current task forces are on:
ALEC has an annual budget of $7 million and 32 staff. It also channels another $2 million from corporations to fund the travel of politicians and their families to meetings.
ALEC members pay fees. The 2000 or so member politicians (who make up a third of all state politicians) pay $50 per year and the 300 or so corporate members pay between $7000 and $25,000 per year. On top of this, they pay more to participate in task forces. However most of ALEC's funds come from grants. Contributions and donations totalled $54 million between 1999 and 2009. Non-legislator members and donors include:
Koch Industries has long been represented on the ALEC governing board for almost 20 years and has donated and loaned ALEC well over a million dollars over the years.
In 2011 the Center for Media and Democracy and Nation magazine exposed ALEC activities and a number of corporations and non-profit organisations severed their ties with ALEC. This is because without secrecy, their role in the undermining of democracy has been revealed:
Reference: Brendan Greeley, 'ALEC's Secrets Revealed; Corporations Flee', Businessweek, 3 May 2012. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-03/alecs-secrets-revealed-corporations-flee. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters in part because it’s done its work behind closed doors. Membership lists were secret. The origins of the model bills were secret. Part of ALEC’s mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work. If this were to become clear to everyone, there’d be no reason for corporations to use it.
However 21 of 26 corporations that have left ALEC are still members of alternate groups that perform a similar function (the "other ALECs") including:
For example, "Coca-Cola still pays $12,500/year to NCSL.This small down payment gains its lobbyists VIP access to the biggest conferences for state legislators hosted annually. It also sponsors NGA, SGAC and SLLF".
Politicians from outside the US are also members of ALEC. For example, Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, a former parliamentary secretary to opposition leader Tony Abbott, has been a member of ALEC since 2009 and member of its International Relations Task Force.
It has spread its conservative agenda across the globe, especially on tobacco plain packaging. The chairwoman of the task force is Philip Morris International executive Brandie Davis, who drafted two letters sent to the [Australian] Gillard government in 2010 and 2011, demanding Australia abandon its successful efforts to force all tobacco products to be sold in uniform drab packaging.
British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris, a major supporter of ALEC, last year launched an unsuccessful High Court challenge against the Australian laws.