Five Times Local Media Exposed ALEC's Secretive Agenda

As Republicans Address The ALEC Convention, A Look At The Group's Agenda And Ways For The Media To Expose The Truth

On July 22, the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual meeting will once again see corporations and state lawmakers gather to discuss and vote on model legislation meant for introduction in state legislatures across the country.  On the eve of the three-day conference in San Diego, Media Matters looks back at five examples of great reporting by local news teams who pulled back the curtain and held ALEC accountable for hosting lobbyists and legislators in secret meetings -- where they wrote corporate-supported bills blocking minimum wage hikes, attacking unions, and eliminating environmental regulations -- and previews this year's agenda.

GOP Presidential Candidates Will Attend ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting

Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, And Mike Huckabee Will Speak At ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting. Three GOP presidential candidates -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- are among the speakers at ALEC's 2015 annual meeting July 22-24 in San Diego, California. [ALEC.org, accessed 7/21/15]

Investigative Reports By Local Media Have Repeatedly Exposed ALEC's Agenda

1) Atlanta's 11Alive Is Shut Out Of ALEC Meetings, Still Reports On Georgia Lawmakers And Lobbyists Writing Bills In “Back Rooms.” An investigative team from Atlanta's NBC 11Alive tried to cover a May, 2015 ALEC conference attended by Georgia state legislators and after being denied access to meetings between lawmakers and lobbyists, uniformed police acting as paid security for ALEC forced reporter Brendan Keefe and his crew out of the hotel hosting the conference. 11Alive's resulting report included a secretly-filmed interview with a lawmaker and lobbyist in the hotel bar and an interview with a former legislative member of ALEC who explained that in the bill-writing process, legislators and lobbyists receive “equal votes.”

[11Alive, WXIA, 6/2/15]

Click Here To See 11Alive's Follow Up Coverage Of ALEC

2) Montana PBS Highlights ALEC's Lobbying, Interviews Legislators At ALEC Conference. Montana PBS produced an hour-long documentary in May, 2014 about Montana legislators attending an ALEC conference. The investigation included revealing interviews with ALEC leaders as well as with public interest advocacy groups like the Center for Media and Democracy, which works to shed light on ALEC's corporate lobbying activities.

[Montana PBS, 5/27/14]

3) Phoenix's CBS 5 Used Hidden Cameras To Capture Lawmakers And Lobbyists Meeting At An ALEC-Sponsored Private Dinner. KPHO's CBS 5 Investigates in Phoenix took hidden-camera footage during a 2014 ALEC-sponsored dinner attended by corporate lobbyists and “at least 17 members of the [Arizona] legislature.” The station's reporting raised questions about ALEC's nonprofit status, which prohibits the facilitation of direct lobbying of state lawmakers.

[CBS 5, KPHO, 3/25/15]

4) Omaha's Action 3 News Exposed ALEC For Pushing Unnecessary Voter ID Law Aimed At Suppressing Votes. Omaha's Action 3 News reported on ALEC's strict model voter ID bill, which was introduced in the Nebraska State Legislature in 2012. The station's report dismantled the argument for why the bill was needed by documenting the state's lack of voter fraud, and highlighted how the law targeted young and minority Democratic Party voters.

[Action News 3, KMTV, 11/1/14]

5) Scores Of Local And Regional News Outlets Across The Country Reported Google's Decision To Cut Ties With ALEC Over Its Climate Change Denial. After ALEC proposed reducing renewable energy mandates in 2014, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt declared that the group was “literally lying” about the threat posed by climate change. Hundreds of local media reported on the internet giant's decision to terminate its membership in ALEC. Below is an example from NBC affiliate WVIR in Charlottesville, Virginia:

[NBC 29, WVIR, 9/23/14]

ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting Agenda Includes Promotion Of Dark Money And Environmental Deregulation

ALEC Will Host A Workshop On Protecting Dark Money Spending As A First Amendment Right. Listed on ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting agenda is a workshop entitled, “Dark Money Debate: What Lawmakers Need to Know about the First Amendment and Anonymous Political Speech,” where corporations and lawmakers are set to discuss how to protect secret donations to dark money groups like super PACs. From a Center for Media and Democracy description of the session:

After spending hundreds of millions of undisclosed funds on state and federal elections, ALEC's corporate members will also demand that state legislators preserve their “right” to anonymously spend money on politics and buy influence in state legislatures.

A July 23 workshop titled “Dark Money Debate: What Lawmakers Need to Know about the First Amendment and Anonymous Political Speech” will promote the idea that transparency in elections is a bad thing. David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics and Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute are listed as presenters.

It is little surprise that corporate interests would peddle secrecy to the hundreds of Republican state legislators at ALEC.

ALEC's funders, like the billionaire Koch brothers, have spent millions in “dark money” --electoral spending that evades donor disclosure laws--in recent years, secret spending which has increased exponentially since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision. [Center for Media and Democracy, 7/20/15]

ALEC's 2016 Plans Include Continuing To Push Corporate-Supported Environmental Deregulation. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC will hold meetings to develop opposition strategies to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, encourage corporations to fund state lawsuits against federal environmental regulations, and discuss legislation that undermines utility companies' obligation to invest in renewable energy:

At this month's meeting, the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force--which is chaired by American Electric Power-- will consider a “State Power Accountability and Reliability Charter (SPARC),” which seeks to undermine the Clean Power Plan by declaring that state agencies cannot implement it. And, the task force's “Energy Subcommittee” will hold a discussion on “State Responses to EPA's Proposed Clean Power Plan.”

Another model bill on the ALEC agenda is the “Environmental Impact Litigation Act,” which effectively allows corporate interests to hire a state's Department of Justice as their own private attorneys. The bill creates a corporate-backed fund for states to sue over federal environmental laws--such as the EPA's Clean Power Plan--guided by an “environmental impact litigation advisory committee” made up of political appointees and representatives of “individuals representing agriculture and energy trade commissions.”

[...]

The latest effort is called an “Act Providing Incentives for Carbon Reduction Investments.” The industry-friendly bill would free utilities from the requirement that they produce more energy from renewable sources, as long as they claim to make “carbon reduction investments” --which includes controversial programs like carbon sequestration, or campaigns to encourage consumers to reduce energy use. This would undermine the purpose of the renewable standards, which is to promote a shift to renewable energy. [Center for Media and Democracy, 7/20/15]

ALEC's Model Legislation Is Introduced In Many States And Is Expanding Into Local Government

Brookings Institute: “During the 2011-2012 Legislative Session, 132 Bills Based On ALEC Models Were Introduced In The States.” According to an analysis of ALEC model bills and proposed state legislation by the Brookings Institute, 132 ALEC model bills were introduced across the country during 2011-2012 legislative sessions, with Republicans sponsoring “more than 90%” of them:

During the 2011-2012 legislative session, 132 bills based on ALEC models were introduced in the states. Democrats sponsored nearly 10% of those bills, while Republicans sponsored more than 90%. Nearly two-thirds of those bills were introduced in state lower chambers, while only 34% were introduced in upper chambers. Of those legislators who sponsored ALEC model legislation, 57% can be explicitly connected to ALEC. However, that does not necessarily preclude the other legislators from having ALEC ties; ALEC does not disclose the names of their legislative members, so this figure is based primarily on information from leaked documents. [Brookings Institute, 12/6/13]

ALEC Bills Passed State Houses At A Rate “Nearly 5 times That Of The Average Bill In Congress.” A report by the Brookings Institute found that ALEC model bills passed state legislatures in 2011-2012 far more often than the average bill introduced in the U.S. Congress did during the same period.

Of the 132 ALEC model bills introduced, 12 were enacted. One additional bill passed the New Hampshire legislature only to be vetoed by the governor. Now, a success rate of 9% may not seem high upon first glance. However, consider the fact that, in the 112th session of the U.S. Congress, less than 2% of introduced bills passed. That means that bills based on ALEC policies have a survival rate nearly 5 times that of the average bill in Congress. [Brookings Institute, 12/6/13]

A Local Version Of ALEC Now Exists To Push Corporate-Friendly Model Laws At The City And County Level. Last year ALEC created a spin-off organization, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), which works to push corporate-backed model legislation through local governments:

Now the council is looking to take its blueprint for influence over statewide lawmaking and drill it down to the local level. It has already quietly set up, and is making plans for the public launch of, an offshoot called the American City County Exchange (ACCE) that will target policymakers from “villages, towns, cities and counties” .

The new organization will offer corporate America a direct conduit into the policy making process of city councils and municipalities. Lobbyists acting on behalf of major businesses will be able to propose resolutions and argue for new profit-enhancing legislation in front of elected city officials, who will then return to their council chambers and seek to implement the proposals. [The Guardian, 3/6/14]

ACCE Rushed Anti-Union Legislation Through County Governments In Kentucky. ACCE sponsored model legislation in more than 10 Kentucky localities that weakened unions across the state:

ALEC has long pushed for statewide right-to-work laws that make union membership and dues optional in the workplace. Kentucky has no such law, so last year in Bowling Green an ACCE right-to-work bill was introduced and approved by the Warren County Fiscal Court, much to the surprise of local labor groups, which were unaware of the proposal. “It was sprung on everybody,” Connie Warren of the United Automobile Workers Local 2164 told The New York Times. There was little public comment during the proceeding, the Times reported, but there was a presentation by at least one group, the Bluegrass Institute, a free-enterprise organization with close ties to ALEC.

Since the Bowling Green law was approved, ACCE-sponsored right-to-work bills have become law in 11 other Kentucky counties, with similar bills pending in four additional municipalities. If passed, the anti-union legislation would apply to roughly 800,000 Kentuckians, according to a National Review report. To date, right-to-work legislation has been the primary focus of the ACCE's local government efforts. In July the organization is hosting its second annual conference in San Diego for local lawmakers and industry representatives. Among the topics on the agenda are collective bargaining and minimum wage legislation and the privatization of public transportation.

What concerns ACCE opponents even more than specific pieces of legislation, however, is the idea of so much corporate influence migrating down to the local government level. With annual funding of more than $7 million from brothers Charles and David Koch and from multinational companies like ExxonMobil and Altria, an organization with ALEC's resources will have outsize influence on small municipalities, critics say. [Al Jazeera America, 6/18/15]

ALEC Doesn't Want Media Coverage, Tries To Prevent Reporters From Covering Meetings

ALEC Uses Off-Duty Police Officers At Conferences To Enforce Restrictive Media Policy. Numerous reporters from media outlets including the Washington Post, Toronto Star, and 11Alive have been blocked from reporting on ALEC meetings by off-duty police acting as private security. [Media Matters, 6/3/15; Washington Post 12/4/13, Toronto Star 12/17/11]

ALEC Recently Changed Its Policy To Exclude Journalists Who Work For Nonprofits. ALEC strengthened limits on media access in its media policy ahead of the 2015 annual conference to block reporters working for nonprofit organizations.

[ALEC, 4/13/14 via Internet archive]

 [ALEC, 7/20/15]

Atlanta's 11Alive Investigative Reporter Brendan Keefe Denied Access To ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting. Several weeks after being blocked from covering -- and ejected from the site of -- an ALEC conference in Georgia while trying to expose the group's agenda, Brendan Keefe posted an email on Twitter from ALEC denying him press credentials to its annual meeting.