THURSDAY UPDATE: A little clarification on the special status the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, enjoys in Colorado, from the Center for Public Integrity:
In Colorado, the late state Rep. Thomas Ratterree successfully introduced a bill back in 1991 to amend ethics laws to exempt ALEC from lobbyist status. As a result, for ALEC legislators, “the expenses of such members for travel, board, and lodging related to such attendance [at ALEC events] may be paid from appropriations,” the state law reads.
The law also stipulates that if taxpayers are to foot the bill, then delegations to ALEC events “shall reflect equally the percentage of members from each party of the General Assembly.” All 18 of the state’s members, however, are Republican. Only a tiny fraction of ALEC’s 2,000 legislative members are not in the GOP, though the organization insists it is bipartisan.
In short, ALEC does defray some travel expenses for legislators who attend ALEC functions, and this Colorado statute would presumably exempt ALEC functions from Amendment 41's prohibitions on accepting lobbyist gifts. It's a little more complicated regarding taxpayer reimbursement of ALEC-related expenses. Sources tell us that taxpayers have not footed the bill for ALEC travel in at least the last ten years due to the requirement that the delegations to ALEC events be bipartisan.
These details are worth clarifying. Does it mean ALEC should enjoy any such exemption in the law? We still don't think so.
UPDATE #2: A great column from Bill Grant at the Grand Junction Sentinel (paywalled) ties ALEC to local "stink tanks" like Colorado's own Independence Institute:
Colorado’s ironically named Independence Institute has been shown by a recent report to not to be as independent as the public image it projects.
A report released by the Center of Media and Democracy last month “documents the more than $83 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year” to support 64 state organizations dedicated to increasing the power of corporations, and the 1 percent who control them, over state governments.
In an article for The Nation, Lee Fang described these state groups as “media-savvy organizations — which frequently employ former journalists to churn out position papers, news articles, investigations and social media content with a hard-right slant — (that) bolster the pro-corporate lobbying efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council.”
UPDATE: The Colorado Independent's John Tomasic with an early read of the cache of documents released by the Guardian:
Leaked reports prepared this summer by the American Legislative Exchange Council — a “free market” organization that advocates on behalf of corporations and is known by the acronym ALEC — highlight the priorities of the group and its intimate relationships with and expectations of state lawmakers, including lawmakers in Colorado and specifically state ALEC “chairs,” such as latest-listed Colorado chairs Senator Bill Cadman from Colorado Springs and Representative Libby Szabo from Arvada.
In a section entitled “State Chair Job Description and Agreement,” part of a 53-page board-meeting agenda produced in August and posted online Tuesday by the Guardian, Cadman and Szabo are asked to increase lawmaker membership, appoint legislators to various task forces, manage funds provided by ALEC for events and travel, organize and attend all ALEC events and “training sessions” and develop a “state strategic plan” to advance the interests of ALEC and its corporate member-donors, which include oil, telecom, drug insurance and tobacco industry giants like Exxon Mobil, AT&T, Pfizer, State Farm and Altria…
In addition to these commitments, the board asks the office holders to sign off on a loyalty oath that might shock constituents.
“I am morally responsible for the health and well-being of this organization,” lawmakers are asked to agree. “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.” [Pols emphasis]
…Cadman, the Senate minority leader, and Representative Szabo didn’t respond immediately to messages seeking comment this morning.
An ALEC executive told the Guardian that the draft agreement with state chairs was not adopted at the meeting.
That's a relief, because it's our view a lawmaker's constituents should generally, you know, come first.
The British newspaper The Guardian published a big story yesterday on a major conservative state legislative policy group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, reportedly in dire straits–bleeding donors and member legislators in the wake of the killing of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin. Martin's killer, as most Americans know, escaped conviction in part due to an ALEC-sponsored law on the books in Florida.
An influential US lobbying network of Republican politicians and big businesses is seeking to avert a looming funding crisis by appealing to major donors that have abandoned it over the past two years following criticism of its policy on gun laws…
The target firms include commercial giants such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald's and Walmart, all of which cut ties with the group following the furore over the killing of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012.
Alec was embroiled in the controversy surrounding Florida's 2005 "stand-your-ground" law under which George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch volunteer who shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin, initially claimed self-defence. The Florida law was picked up by Alec, and, working in partnership with the National Rifle Association, used as a template for one of its "model bills", which was then taken up by other states across the country.
The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.
As we've discussed a few times in this space, ALEC has a large but underreported footprint in Colorado. Each year, an unknown but significant number of ALEC-engineered "model bills" are introduced in the Colorado General Assembly. Republican members of the Colorado legislature routinely serve on ALEC's various legislative "task forces." We haven't seen the most recent list, but the state chairs for ALEC in Colorado were in the not too distant past Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman and Rep. Libby Szabo.
Since the exposure in 2011 of a vast number of ALEC's "model" bills, and especially since the Trayvon Martin controversy, the organization's profile has been uncomfortably raised. Of the 400 state legislators who the Guardian reports have left the organization, many did so in response to an activist pressure campaign, and media exposure of the role of the organization in crafting legislation of all kinds.
Here in Colorado, the role of ALEC is oddly less controversial.
One of the biggest reasons why ALEC isn't a news story here like it is in other states is that local media has been affirmatively persuaded it's not a big deal. It's an undeniable fact that Democrats have recently pushed ALEC model bills in Colorado, like 2010's Senate Bill 191 "teacher accountability" bill, or the "ALEC-crafted retention law" pushed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2012. But we don't think that makes the origin of ALEC bills, regardless of their proponents, less newsworthy. ALEC's corporate/legislative "partnerships" in crafting model legislation are inherently controversial, and set what it does apart from other organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to whom ALEC is routinely and misleadingly likened to.
In Colorado law today, ALEC enjoys the same preferential status as NCSL,
and the state even reimburses expenses for legislators who participate in ALEC conferences (see update above). We've heard rumors several times of a bill to strip ALEC of that status, but so far none have materialized. If the organization really is on the rocks financially and hemorrhaging legislators, we can't help but think that ought to change–and let the chips fall where they may.