The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has responded to an investigation by Atlanta's 11Alive News Tonight, which exposed millions of viewers to the influence of ALEC's corporate members over the Georgia Legislature.
ALEC, which has a history of blocking press access to its functions, refused to let a news reporter from the station cover a meeting between state legislators, corporate representatives, and lobbyists in late May at a Savannah resort. However, the reporter, 11Alive's Brendan Keefe, talked to former ALEC members to find out more and recorded a conversation with a legislator and lobbyist at a hotel bar who offered details of how the group gives state lawmakers free hotel stays and provides them with corporate-backed legislation suggestions.
ALEC responded to 11Alive's investigation by saying its reporter's questions “caught [the spokesperson] off-guard.” The group said it has “welcomed journalists from prominent outlets” to its events in the past, but through its lawyers, denied permission to the station to broadcast video it took of the legislators meeting with members of ALEC representing corporations and lobbying interests.
In fact, ALEC has often hired private security or off-duty police officers to remove unwanted reporters, like Keefe in this instance, from its meetings with legislators. Security guards working at the 2011 ALEC annual meeting in New Orleans physically removed ThinkProgress reporters Lee Fang and Scott Keyes from the hotel in which the conference was being held. In 2013, uniformed Washington D.C. police turned away Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Reporters critical of ALEC are denied even the limited access granted to the handpicked journalists ALEC allows to attend portions of their conferences. As Toronto Star reporter Olivia Ward discovered in 2011, some journalists, along with protestors, are threatened with arrest while trying to cover ALEC conferences:
I'm talking to a fellow hotel guest, Beau Hodai, a journalist from the left-wing magazine, In These Times, who has written probing articles on ALEC. Unlike me, he hasn't enjoyed its co-operation and credentials. His calls have gone unanswered, and he has been turned back by the police and guards who firewall the meeting.
The noise level in the bar rises and so do I. As I say goodnight, Beau is summoned by hotel security and herded away toward the elevator by uniformed police. Why? In Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, I was evicted from my hotel by machine-gun-toting militias as the Kosovo war began. But in America. . . ?
ALEC and their corporate sponsors have a vested interest in keeping their conferences confidential. In secrecy, lobbyists and lawyers construct model right-wing legislation to be introduced in state houses across the country. These model laws include the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which has been used in high-profile cases to defend an individual's use of deadly force. In its investigation, 11Alive reported on legislation that “severely limits who can file asbestos claims against corporations,” showing a side-by-side comparison of ALEC's template for the bill, and the nearly identical bill passed by the Georgia legislature in 2007. Minnesota passed a similar ALEC-authored asbestos bill in 2012.
As ALEC's profile has become more public and the unethical implications of its corporate-written legislation have become more obvious, some major companies have quit the group. Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft have all left the organization in the last two years. However, the departure of Google may be the most notable as its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, cited ALEC's climate change denial as Google's reason for leaving (emphasis added):
“The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts -- what a shock,” said Schmidt. “And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people -- they're just, they're just literally lying.”
As the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer has reported, ALEC's 2015 agenda is no less controversial despite the loss of a few powerful members. According to Fischer, ALEC's focus this year will be on efforts to stifle the growing minimum wage movement among localities as well as supporting union busting right-to-work legislation.
Beyond continuing to create model legislation for state governments, ALEC has also launched a subsidiary to focus on more city and county legislation. Bloomberg noted that the newly formed American City County Exchange will work to increase privatization of municipal functions by “push[ing] policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies.”