ALEC protesters in Chicago on August 6, 2013. (Courtesy of Flickr)
The American Legislative Exchange Council is better known today than at any time in its 40-year history.
For most groups that seek to influence the governing process that would be something to celebrate. But ALEC, the corporate-funded project that develops "model legislation" to be introduced by conservative legislators across the country, historically worked off-radar.
The group highlighted by the 2011 "ALEC Exposed" project of the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation has in recent years been the subject of investigations and inquiries by media outlets across the country. It has been the focus of a nationally broadcasted "United States of ALEC" documentary by Bill Moyers & Company. It has been called out by groups such as Color of Change and Common Cause. It has been abandoned by 49 corporations (from Amazon.com to Walmart) that once paid for its initiatives.
ALEC has been decried by labor, environmental and clean government groups in state capitols across the country. National political figures, such as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, are launching inquiries into how the group promotes its legislative agenda. And this week, as ALEC gathers its corporate and legislative "members" in the city of its founding to celebrate four decades of service to special interests and ambitious politicians, demonstrations against the group have drawn thousands of union members, civil rights activists and social justice campaigners into the streets of Chicago.
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An organization that once held its annual meetings virtually unnoticed is now met with mass protests so large that streets around its hotel were closed Thursday as activists staged "die-ins" recalling ALEC's role in the passage of so-called Stand Your Ground laws and headlines screaming, "ALEC convention protests: Labor vs. lobbyists."
ALEC has felt the pressure of public scrutiny. Last year, the group distanced itself from some of its more controversial initiatives, such as restrictive voter ID laws and the Stand Your Ground measures that gained national attention after the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Yet, with continued backing from longtime allies such as the Koch brothers and the support of corporations that have disregarded calls from civil rights groups for them to quit the council, ALEC remains a defining force in statehouses across the country. A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy details the extent of the group's ongoing engagement.
CMD has identified 466 ALEC bills that were introduced in state legislatures during 2013 sessions. At least 84 of these measures have become law.
According to CMD:
"One hundred and seventeen ALEC bills that seek to restrict worker rights, weaken unions, promote privatization and undermine advocacy for wage hikes. At least fourteen of these measures have become law.
"One hunded and thirty-nine ALEC bills that address education issues with proposals to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools among the favorites. At least thirty-one ALEC education measures have become law.
"Seventy-seven ALEC bills that CMD says 'promote a fossil fuel and fracking agenda and undermine environmental regulations.' At least seventeen of these measures have become law."
ALEC's influence is broad, as is its legislative legacy. The CMD report explains: "Despite ALEC's effort to distance itself from Voter ID and Stand Your Ground by disbanding its controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force, 62 of these laws were introduced: 10 Stand Your Ground bills and 52 bills to enact or tighten Voter ID restrictions. Five states enacted additional Voter ID restrictions, and two states passed Stand Your Ground."
Indeed, among the featured speakers at ALEC's 40th annual meeting is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who signed the Stand Your Ground law that provided the outline for the group's model legislation.