Who Is ALEC and Why Is It So Powerful?

From voter-ID bills to immigration law, this little-known organization steers American politics.

Charles and David Koch (Courtesy of the Libertarian)
Charles and David Koch (Courtesy of the Libertarian)

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With this new voting obstacle in place — and not always solved by a simple trip to the DMV — ALEC’s conservative and corporate backers may have laid the groundwork for the late founder Weyrich’s goal of shrinking the electorate.

How ALEC Works

ALEC has had remarkable success executing its agenda state by state. Other laws that it has influenced include tort reform in Mississippi that limits the rights of patients injured by medical negligence to hold medical providers accountable, Arizona’s “Show us your papers” immigration law and Wisconsin’s move to strip public workers of collective-bargaining rights. These laws passed as other Republican-controlled states, not by coincidence, took up nearly identical legislation. Despite ALEC’s influence, however, it remains a largely unknown organization.

“That is by design,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of the online activist organization ColorOfChange.org, told The Root. He contends that everything from ALEC’s dull-sounding name to its lack of a prominent spokesperson is intended to keep the organization under the radar. “It’s one of those nameless, faceless organizations that works on political issues. They don’t send out a charismatic leader to conduct talking-head duty on the networks. They do their work behind the scenes and leverage elected officials who want to be front and center and who want to take credit for their work.”

ALEC’s policymaking process involves three legislative meetings each year, geared around the organization’s nine task forces, which focus on issues from education to health policy to telecommunications. ALEC offers “scholarships” to defray the cost for legislators attending the conferences, where representatives from private industries and state legislators sit down together to discuss and approve model bills. The model legislation is voted on by the legislators, with corporate donors retaining veto power over the language, and then taken back to the legislators’ home states for consideration in assemblies.

“The real problem is that there’s no transparency around who is drafting what,” said De Lorenzi. “These state legislators are introducing bills, and they’re of course not revealing that it was sponsored by ExxonMobil, Wall Street or a drug company. It looks like the legislator has come up with their own idea, when in fact the same bill has been introduced in dozens of states, all sponsored by that same corporation.”