But it is ALEC. While few have heard of it, the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, has been described as the ultimate smoke-filled back room and the resulting smog has, as recently as this last legislative session, surfaced in Connecticut, but more about this later.
In the esoteric world of national organizations of state legislators, there are several groups. The most legitimate is the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). Then there are industry-dominated groups like the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) and ALEC.
ALEC was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich to promote a conservative social agenda. Weyrich, who also co-founded the Heritage Foundation and is responsible for coining the phrase “Moral Majority,” imagined ALEC to be a vehicle for reaching state legislators and making information on issues such as abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, and D.C. voting rights easily accessible.
Over the years, ALEC’s mission evolved from promoting a socially conservative agenda to advocating for pro-business and free market doctrines. ALEC began courting corporations and their contributions, touting its ability to bring legislative leaders and corporate executives together. As the mission of the organization changed, Weyrich’s name was dropped from references to the group’s beginnings, and ALEC subtly moved away from some of its more extreme stances on social issues. ALEC executives focused on the issues concerning corporate sponsors with the deepest pockets, mainly tobacco, energy and pharmaceutical companies.
Today, Washington, D.C. based ALEC serves as the ultimate smoke-filled backroom, where corporations gain access to legislators and get the Model Acts they write enacted throughout the country. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, a major force in ALEC’s rebirth as a corporate front, outlined the process, saying, “I always found new ideas and then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare that it’s mine.”
Currently, the organization boasts nearly 300 corporate sponsors and a membership of 2000 state legislators across the country, including Connecticut. Its rising profile received a boost from the 2010 election, as Republicans took hold of state legislatures and ALEC alums like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to governorships in key states last fall. According to the group’s website, more than 1,000 ALEC-approved bills are introduced in legislatures across the nation each year, of which about 20 percent are inked into law. Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona. ALEC’s campaign and model legislation have run the gamut of issues, but all have either protected or promoted a corporate revenue stream, often at the expense of consumers.
ALEC recently hit the headlines after a data dump from the nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause and the data appear on a specially designed website hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy. Both these groups have shed new light on the group and it’s “Model Bills,” which have flooded into legislatures in the past year and Connecticut is no exception.
However, much to their credit, Connecticut legislative leaders from both parties have, it seems, so far resisted any attempts to raise the proposed bills offered by state based ALEC alums. I have included a few of these proposals and their matching “Model Acts” or “Resolutions” below. But all this material is available at the above websites for anyone with the patience and fortitude to sort through them and compare what you find to those bills and proposals offered at the Connecticut General Assembly website.
Below are just a few examples:
An Act Concerning the Evidentiary Standard for Punitive Damage Awards And Connecticut’s version.
An Act Repealing Certain Provisions Relating to the Earth’s Warming. And Connecticut’s version.
Neil Ferstand has been managing organizations for the last 30 years — when he’s not at his day job he spends a good deal of time turning over rocks.
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