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ALEC focuses on damage control, a few model bills at Washington meeting

The group capped off a summer in which it hemorrhaged corporate and nonprofit members coping with the loss of nearly 200 of its state lawmaker-members.

Admit it — in the month since the election you’ve missed hearing about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), if only in the same stranger-than-fiction way as news stories about Denny Hecker or Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign.

The group capped off a summer in which it hemorrhaged corporate and nonprofit members  coping with the loss of nearly 200 of its state lawmaker-members. According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), 117 lost re-election bids. Like the 40 business and policy groups that quit ALEC after its role in advancing controversial policies like the “shoot-first” law highlighted by Trayvon Martin’s killing, the rest just wanted to disassociate themselves.

In case you missed the dust-up, ALEC is a super-secretive membership group that hosts meetings, often at posh resorts, where corporations and right-wing groups hand model bills to state lawmakers, who can apply for scholarships to attend. The private-sector groups pay tens of thousands of dollars to belong; lawmakers pay $50 a year.

Information about ALEC’s activities began surfacing in late 2011, after a legislative season in which nearly identical bills were introduced in statehouses around the country. In Minnesota, some 60 pieces of ALEC-like legislation were introduced in the last biennium, according to an analysis by Common Cause of Minnesota.

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ALEC’s members met last week in Washington, D.C., to consider an agenda that includes a relatively short list of model bills — the lion’s share aimed at consumer protection laws and unions — and a much longer list of long-proposed measures members might want to “sunset.”

“Hopefully the organization is reviewing some of its more retrograde proposals, such as its stalwart opposition to minimum wage laws and support for climate change denial,” CMD reported. “At least for this meeting, ALEC is focused less on proactively developing legislation and more on damage control.” 

Despite some novel tactics for re-cloaking its activities, the agendas for the Capitol meeting made their way into the growing body of documentation about ALEC’s activities.

At the same time, a lengthy report by CMD, Common Cause and D.B.A. Press answers questions about the extent of what ALEC officially bills as an educational effort. The group has spent an estimated $4 million of those corporate dues on lawmaker junkets since 2006. Because Minnesota has a longstanding ban on gift travel, only $750 of that was spent here.

Finally, if the meeting was surprisingly free of talk of education policy proposals, many of the items that have graced past ALEC agendas were under discussion a mere five blocks away at a meeting of its philosophical sister group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE). Board Chair and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s keynote address vowed renewed efforts for vouchers, so-called parent-trigger laws, digital schools and other potential education profit-generators.