This week, both the Los Angeles Times and The Nation put the spotlight on a little-known but influential conservative nonprofit that creates “model” state legislation that often make its way into law. The organization has helped craft some of the most controversial—and industry-friendly—legislation of recent years.
“ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come and debate and discuss,” another ALEC official, Michael Bowman, told NPR last year. “You have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it.” Neither Weber nor Bowman immediately responded to our requests for further comment.
Corporations pay hefty fees for the opportunity to discuss policy with legislators at ALEC’s conferences, and they also host banquets, open-bar parties and baseball games. Legislators, on the other hand, pay a nominal membership fee, and can be eligible for “scholarships” that pay for their conference attendance. When the legislators bring the model bills back to their state capitals, the role played by ALEC—or by the corporations—seems to be rarely, if ever, disclosed.
Crucially, ALEC says it is not a lobbying organization, and thus because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to disclose its donors or the amount of their donations. (The Times says Common Cause is trying to challenge ALEC’s nonprofit status.)
What role the corporate officials played in the ALEC discussion is not known, but the “model legislation” that emerged from that session soon became the bill itself—“almost word for word,” according to NPR. The influence the private prison industry may have had on the law was not widely reported or discussed during the heated nationwide debate over the bill. (An “In These Times” reporter, whose early findings on the ALEC-Arizona connection were consistent with NPR’s later reporting, recently provided a more detailed look at the ALEC scholarships provided to Arizona legislators.)
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