ALEC Meeting Opens Window to What’s Wrong With American Politics

ALEC Meeting Opens Window to What's Wrong With American Politics

ALEC meeting in San Diego marked by closed-door dealing to benefit corporate interests, all at taxpayer expense

  • Dale Eisman

Most of what’s wrong with American politics today is on display from now through the weekend in a hotel in downtown San Diego, Common Cause said today.

“The annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), opening today, is a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy.

“And they do it all on the taxpayers’ dime. Every penny spent by corporations to cover the cost of legislator travel to the meeting, accommodations at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and entertainment will be tax-deductible because ALEC is classified as a “charity” for tax purposes. That’s wrong and it has to stop,” he said.

The ALEC meeting features appearances by Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker. Their speeches and some policy workshops will be open to media coverage but ALEC will continue to do its real work in private, Rapoport noted.

In ALEC’s task forces, lobbyists and elected officials sit side-by-side, out of public view, to discuss and then vote on ‘model’ legislation drafted by ALEC’s corporate members. ALEC’s legislative members take the approved bills back to their respective statehouses, in most cases hiding its ALEC roots and the drafting done with corporate lobbyists.

ALEC is the force behind the reckless drive by lawmakers in many states for a constitutional convention to pass an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. It’s also largely responsible for the passage of hundreds of state laws that have weakened clean air and clean water protections, promoted privately-run and for-profit public schools and prisons, made it more difficult for citizens to vote, and eroded the bargaining rights of public workers.

Common Cause is among a number of organizations that have been involved for several years in highlighting ALEC’s activities. Public attention to the group has sparked an exodus by more than 100 of its corporate sponsors, including Walmart, General Motors, Coca-Cola, Google, and Facebook.

Common Cause partnered in assembling and submitting the original documents that first exposed ALEC and has filed a “whistleblower complaint” challenging ALEC’s tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service. The complaint seeks damages and the payment of back taxes.

During the ALEC conference, Common Cause will sponsor a panel discussion on ALEC and the power of corporate money in politics at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, July 23 at the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island, 1960 Harbor Island Drive in San Diego.

The panel will be moderated by Jay Riestenberg, a Common Cause research analyst who has done extensive work on ALEC’s activities. Speakers include State Representative Chris Taylor, D-WI; Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy; Diallo Brooks, director of Outreach and Partner Engagement at People For the American Way; Jane Carter, Labor Economist at AFSCME; Brant Olson, Campaign Manager at ClimateTruth.org, and Rey Lopez-Calderon, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois.