The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board says it will investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council’s lobbying status in Minnesota.
The board disclosed the investigation in a letter to Common Cause Minnesota, the local arm of a national group that is asking many states to probe whether the conservative organization has violated its tax-exempt status.
Earlier this month, Common Cause Minnesota filed two complaints regarding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The first asks the campaign finance board to look into whether ALEC should be registered as a lobbyist in Minnesota.
Common Cause Minnesota contends that the group, which brings together state lawmakers and businesses to write model legislation meant to inspire state legislation, has lobbied Minnesota’s legislators on specific bills and issues.
The campaign finance board’s letter says Common Cause Minnesota’s request for investigation will be discussed privately by the board on June 5, but that the matter will likely be held over until its next meeting in July.
The second complaint filed with state Attorney General Lori Swanson contends that because ALEC lobbies lawmakers, it has misrepresented its purpose under state laws regarding charities.
ALEC is organized as a 501(c)(3) under the Internal Revenue Code. Such groups are allowed to lobby, as long as it doesn’t constitute a substantial part of a group’s activities.
Last month Common Cause’s national organization requested that the Internal Revenue Service challenge ALEC’s tax status.
Despite four years of the NRA crowing about the dangers Barack Obama presents to the Second Amendment, his presidency has been remarkably friendly to the pro-gun cause, and persisting fears to the contrary have inspired a golden era of gun rights in the states. TPM’s Sahil Kapur documents the highlights of pro-gun victories since 2009:
— In 2009, Obama enacted legislation permitting firearms in national parks.
— In 2009, Arizona and Tennessee passed laws letting people carry guns in bars.
— In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to extend federal gun-rights protections to states.
— In 2010, Louisiana approved a bill letting people carry firearms in houses of worship.
— In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, with considerable bipartisan support, a bill that makes a firearm-carry permit in one state valid in every other state.
— In 2011, Mississippi enacted legislation allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses, and in bars and churches. Later that year, the measure was expanded to include sporting events, polling places, airports, courthouses and other government localities.
— In 2011, North Dakota and Texas passed legislation to ensure that employees may bring a gun to work, as long as it’s locked in a vehicle.
— In 2011, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire put into effect versions of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, granting people broad latitude to use lethal force when they perceive a threat to their safety.
The list does not include NRA victories at beating back gun-control efforts, such as prohibiting people on a government-designated terror watch list from buying a firearm, or closing a loophole that allows sales of weapons at gun shows.
Today, Common Cause is announcing a whistleblower complaint against ALEC filed with the Internal Revenue Service. We are submitting several thousand pages of ALEC’s internal records that we believe demonstrate beyond debate that ALEC for years has evaded federal taxes by masquerading as a charity and that it has lied to the IRS and the American public about its activities.
We’re asking the IRS to end this charade, cancel ALEC’s tax exemption, collect years of unpaid taxes and “impose necessary penalties.”
Up to now, most press and public attention has focused on ALEC support for legislation like the Florida “Stand Your Ground” gun law at the center of the Trayvon Martin case and a slew of voter identification requirements that would turn hundreds of thousands of students, elderly, disabled and minority voters away from the polls.
Those bills, and ALEC’s other legislation, merit scrutiny; many are clearly crafted to protect business interests regardless of the cost to the public. As the New York Times reported Sunday, ALEC has even tried to keep states from penalizing contractors that attempt to defraud the taxpayers.
But Common Cause’s tax filing focuses on a less-noticed but perhaps more fundamental problem with ALEC — its attack on democratic values. ALEC practices stealth advocacy, investing millions of dollars to entertain and lobby elected officials at swank resorts; it writes bills for them, refines that legislation through task forces where its business members wield a veto power, then stays carefully in the background while shepherding the finished “model” bills to passage. Their mission accomplished, ALEC’s business members reward their legislative allies with campaign contributions — nearly $400 million from 2000-10 — to keep the party going.
ALEC does all this, and then has the audacity to call itself a charity and ask the rest of us to support its work with a tax exemption. That’s just wrong.
The fallout continues over the American Legislative Exchance Council’s support of the National Rifle Association’s “Kill at Will” self-defense laws. On his RedState.com site, CNN contributor Erick Erickson reported today that an “NRA representative took issue with ALEC getting rid of his public safety section” at last Wednesday’s weekly conservative discussion hosted by NRA board member Grover Norquist.
Last Tuesday ALEC announced that they were eliminating their Public Safety and Elections task force, which drew fire for its role in promoting NRA-backed gun laws and voter restrictions, and refocusing solely on economic legislation. Over the previous week at least 10 companies had left the organization in the wake of Color of Change’s campaign to encourage corporations to end their association with the group due to their promotion of those laws.
We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues — Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (I didn’t even know Pinterest was a forum for a lot of political opposition, but now it is) — so any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us get really heavily attacked with very little opposition.
ALEC is now shutting down its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections task force’s goals were twofold: to improve “public safety” by making it easier for citizens to carry guns everywhere they go and to shoot certain people without fear of arrest or prosecution, and to improve elections by making it harder for politically undesirable types to exercise their right to vote. (Why were gun rights and voter disenfranchisement the purview of one task force? Those two issues really have very little in common besides being of supreme importance to paranoid white people.)
What happened is, people suddenly noticed that self-defense laws had recently become much more “robust” (slash-”insane”) in lots of states after this guy in Florida named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin and then somehow was not arrested. These new self-defense laws were widely blamed for the police reaction, or non-reaction, and while the NRA had predictably lobbied for them in the various states where they passed, it turned out that ALEC had been instrumental in drafting these laws and others like them that had nothing to do with being “pro-business” but everything to do with quietly remaking the nation into a right-wing paradise.
So major corporations began abandoning ALEC, because they hadn’t signed on for the full right-wing culture war. While Coca-Cola has a vested interest in, say, stopping public health initiatives, there’s no compelling profit-based reason for it to support the dismantling of gun control legislation. People do not get thirstier when they are carrying concealed firearms, as far as I know. Kraft does not, as a company, have any interest in making it more difficult for poor people to vote.
So! ALEC is giving up on the items of its agenda not directly related to helping giant corporations make as much money as possible without fear of lawsuits or union agitation. Because those are less “hot-button” issues.
A major development in the fight against the American Legislative Exchange Council Today:
Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.
The coalition trying to force corporations to disassociate from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group responsible for modeling and writing a substantial portion of the bills that come through the Republican side of state legislatures, has notched a couple more victories. First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hooked up with ALEC on “education reform” issues, dropped their support.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.
The Foundation claims that their only grant to ALEC was “narrowly and specifically focused on … teacher effectiveness and school finance.” The Foundation never paid annual dues to ALEC, they say. But this limited grant amounted to over $375,000 over two years, and the Gates Foundation will not withdraw the grant money earmarked for this year.
However, the latest corporate benefactor to drop ALEC was a dues-paying member: McDonald’s.
The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. “While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012,” Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn’t mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company’s decision to leave ALEC.
But there was outside pressure. Just this week, the progressive coalition targeting ALEC, including Common Cause, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, singled out McDonald’s and two other corporations (Johnson and Johnson, and State Farm) over their membership. “The funding of these and other corporations makes ALEC’s operations and agenda possible, including closed door meetings where corporate and special interest lobbyists actually vote as equals with elected officials on ‘model’ bills to change gun laws and make it more difficult for American citizens to vote,” according to Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and the website ALECexposed.org. And just a couple days later, McDonald’s dropped its support. In fact, they were still planning on staying a member of ALEC as recently as February 29 of this year, according to a letter to the progressive group Color of Change.
So it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. Corporations want to hide behind the maze of sub-groups within ALEC to claim that they only fund their core issues. But the money is fungible, and the ALEC model keeps pumping out pro-gun, anti-woman and voter suppression legislation. And these corporations are necessarily associated with that. So they are quietly responding to pressure by dropping out, being protective of their brands.
Color of Change’s next target is AT&T, one of the 21 corporate board members for ALEC. While I still believe that there’s enough money in the conservative ecosystem to keep ALEC going – or to perhaps pull the plug on ALEC and reinvent something else just like it – this is a very successful accountability campaign that has reaped some real rewards.
We dug into ALEC’s personnel to make a short profile of just some of the key Washington, D.C.-based ALEC staffers who help write the laws that pollute our communities, deny Americans access to health care, suppress our right to vote, and generally harm Americans. Their corporate-written bills may be secretly passed on to legislators, but these staffers can’t hide behind ALEC’s veil and avoid taking responsibility for the laws they produce and advance.
Go check it out - made me furious.
For more on ALEC’s staff, the corporations who fund it, and the damaging legislation it puts out, check out ALECExposed.org.
“So exactly who did the Republicans in the legislature listen to?” Dayton asked, as he held up a thick document.
“Three of the four bills come right from this manual. Tort Reform Boot Camp, published by the American Legislative exchange council, or ALEC.”
The organization often holds seminars for conservative state legislators across the nation, and provides model legislation that reflects a public policy agenda.
“It is an extremely conservative group funded largely by large corporations, big business associations, insurance companies and very wealthy individuals,” Dayton remarked…
“I’ve found that Minnesotans do not want their laws written by the lobbyists of big corporations.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) influence weighs heavy in the Ohio’s GOP-controlled legislature, where brazen attempts to crush the collective bargaining rights of public workers and change voting rules in favor of Republicans have made national headlines in recent months. Over the past year, Ohio lawmakers introduced 33 bills that are identical to or “appear to contain” elements of the ALEC’s infamous model legislation that promotes a pro-corporate agenda, according to a report released this week by watchdog groups.
At least nine of the 33 bills have passed the State Legislature, including the now-defunct Senate Bill 5, which was poised to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights until Ohioans overwhelmingly voted for a repeal in November.
When Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin (R- 56) introduced a bill in November calling on the federal government to reduce taxes for corporations (HM 685), she made an embarrassing mistake. Rep. Burgin was introducing a bill she had received from the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. A bill written by the Tax Foundation, corporate members of ALEC’s ‘Tax and Fiscal Policy task force” and a group founded and funded by major corporate interests, including the billionaire Koch brothers.
All ALEC model resolutions contain a boilerplate paragraph, describing ALEC’s adherence to free market principles and limited government. When legislators introduce one of ALEC’s bills, they normally remove this paragraph. Sometimes (but only sometimes) legislators will make some slight alterations to anALEC model bill,perhaps to include something specific to them or to their state. Rep. Burgin didn’t do that. Instead she introduced a bill that was the same as the model word-for-word, forgetting even to remove the paragraph naming ALEC and describing its principles.