In Case You Were Underestimating ALEC's Role

Florida Representative Rachel Burgin recently filed a pretty typical bill for a conservative Republican, asking the federal government to lower corporate taxes. But there was one thing that made Burgin's measure a little unusual: It began by stating the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That's likely because Burgin's bill had its origins with the corporate-funded nonprofit. 

Most Americans have never heard of ALEC. The innocuously named group offers a meeting ground for conservative state legislators and corporations. The organization boasts nearly 2,000 members and partnerships with almost 300 corporations and private nonprofits. The "partnerships" give major businesses the opportunity to shape policy in states around the country. Last year, The Nation embarked on a six-part series called "ALEC Exposed," investigating the group's overwhelming influence on everything from deregulation to privatizing education to killing off unions. But much of the group operates in secret, and it's not always easy to tell how things operate. 

Luckily for us, what appears to be Burgin's slip of the tongue offers some insight as to how ALEC works with its members. (Burgin did not immediately respond to my requests for comment.) CommonBlog, the Common Cause blog that first noticed Burgin's bill, reports:

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 an ALEC 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.

The next day, Rep. Burgin quickly withdrew the bill hoping that no one had noticed and then re-introduced it 24-hours later, with a new bill number (HM 717), but now without the problematic paragraph. Nobody seems to have noticed until now.

There's a lot of talk of ALEC's outsize influence on state legislatures, and in this case all evidence seems to point to Burgin simply using an ALEC bill as her own. The incident seems to confirm what many have assumed was occurring in state legislatures—and while Burgin's bill was hardly a major piece of legislation, ALEC's reach in important policy areas seems hard to overestimate.

In other news, The Nation's John Nichols has a report on how ALEC and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have helped push Arizona toward extreme anti-union policies for public employees.

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