(267) Sunday, May 8, 2016 – The American Legislative Exchange Council is the nation’s largest and most powerful lobby group but claims to do no actual lobbying.
About 400 state legislators met for ALEC’s spring educational seminar on legislative proposals in downtown Pittsburgh over this past weekend.
ALEC describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization that develops example legislation supporting conservative causes. ALEC was formed over 40 years ago and is headquartered in Washington, DC.
Staff and leaders claim about 1,000 model bills are rolled out each year. They claim nearly 200 actually become new laws in the various states legislative bodies.
ALEC claims it does not go into states and lobby. “We develop model policy,” claims CEO Lisa B. Nelson. She has been on the job a year and a half after working in governmental affairs for Visa and Time Warner. Ms. Nelson once served on the staff of former GOP Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich.
While ALEC has a current annual operating budget of about $7 million, dues for the 2,000 lawmakers – almost all Republican – are only $50 per year. The other 98 percent of its operating funds come from major corporations that pay large annual dues.
Corps membership status is at least equal to that of the lawmakers. They also may fork over fees to participate in projects. Only about two percent of income is traced to lawmakers.
Representatives of the major corps hold positions on both standing and special committees. The idea is to advance conservative government by developing model laws that can be introduced as proposed legislation in any and all states.
Defenders of ALEC point to boiler-plate laws developed by less conservative national groups such as National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments. These groups also allow corporate memberships, but advocates claim their goal is to develop laws that can withstand constitutional tests and are of benefit to a clear majority of the populace.
Not only is rank-and-file membership Republican, but a recent study showed that of 113 committee positions and operational officers, only one was a registered Democrat.
ALEC also gives major corps a chance to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Publicly these corps may be on record for cleaner air, purer water and fairer taxes. Because these are issues that can have high corporate costs, they are able to push for cheaper regulations and lower taxes behind ALEC’s closed doors.
ALEC is scrupulous about not conducting direct lobby work to maintain its 501.c.3 charitable status with the IRS. This rating allows ALEC to accept grants from foundations controlled by the businesses.
Because of its secretive methods, ALEC suffered intense scrutiny and backlash about four years ago. Until that time ALEC concentrated on social issues such as gun control, abortion and voting rights. Some corporations resigned over the intense negative publicity.
Today ALEC claims to be more concerned about free-market economy and onerous business regulations. ALEC has even backed off on a tough-on-crime policy which helped their members stay in power but became more expensive to maintain.
Recent priorities include right-to-work status on employment and other laws that trim power of public labor unions.
Because of ALEC’s secrecy, direct connections to Pennsylvania lawmaking are difficult. The lawmakers do not tout their ALEC membership on resumes or campaign promotional materials.
Here are examples where ALEC’s influence is obvious, either in direct passage or keeping status quo.
More and more gasoline taxes are diverted to pay PA State Police for patrols in municipal subdivisions that do not have their own police departments.
Piecemeal annexation was outlawed 50 years ago and change has been resisted ever since. Outlawing the practice has created large imbalances between rural and urban communities.
State funding of local school districts is most unfair for poorer Pennsylvania districts. This coupled with the growth of charter schools feeds a conservative agenda.
Bottom Line: Republicans have yet to develop veto-proof majorities in the state legislatures. Weak or disloyal Democrat lawmakers or just legislators that don’t have a clue pick up the slack.