Corporate group gets scrutiny

In the last few days several alternative news sites have reported on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization created under section 501(3)(c) of the Internal Revenue code. ALEC indirectly influences state legislatures by cultivating certain legislators with briefings and education activities. This supposedly protects the organization from having to register under state lobbying registration laws and also keeps its hand hidden. Instead, it drafts model laws that its state legislator members take back to their states and pass laws friendly to ALEC’s corporate funders.

ALEC is funded by right wing millionaires and corporations such as R.J. Reynolds, State Farm and Koch Industries. The citizen lobby group Common Cause last week called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether its political activities qualify for its federal tax break.

Oddly, this is a stale story that, however, had not previously been widely reported. ALEC has been around quite a while and has signed up a lot of state legislators. One indication of this is that most Nevada legislators associated with ALEC are now retired. ALEC has been so much of a presence that when the long-delayed reports started coming out this month, the Milwaukee Labor Press ran a piece headlined “At last! But what inspired media heat on ALEC?”

The Center for Media and Democracy reports, “Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve ‘model’ bills.” In These Times and Nation magazines published similar findings.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, who represents mostly small counties, is on the board of directors of ALEC. In an interview, he said, “What’s so unique about ALEC is half of the board members are from the private sector and half of them are legislators.” He said he’s been involved with ALEC for perhaps 20 years but doesn’t recall using any of their model bills. “I don’t think I have,” he said. “I’ve considered it several times but, you know, ALEC’s organization doesn’t do much with public lands or water or wild horses and things that my constituents are involved in.”

Rhoads believes his first appearance at an ALEC meeting was in Chicago in the late 1970s when he made a presentation on the Sagebrush Rebellion, which he started. He said he is aware of the funding of the group.

ALEC pays the way to its meetings for legislators on the board of directors, but not for other lawmakers who are ALEC members, Rhoads said. He noted that there is state money for those travel costs.

Sen. Greg Brower of Washoe County has served on something called the “civil justice task force” of ALEC.

Sam McMullen, a Nevada lobbyist who represents 22 firms in and out of Nevada—including AIG and Altria (Phillip Morris)—has been “private sector chairman” of ALEC for 26 years.

Former members of ALEC from Nevada include senators William Raggio, Dennis Nolan and Maurice Washington.