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What is ALEC's Role in Wisconsin Politics?

Critics say the national government-business organization has too much say in state politics here and elsewhere.

A little-known think tank called the American Legislative Exchange Council is getting some national attention for its involvement in Wisconsin politics. 

The conservative-backed organization is gaining attention for authoring legislation pushed through state Legislatures around the country, including here in Wisconsin. Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican who represents Caledonia, is an active member, and Gov. Scott Walker is a former member of the group. 

After conservatives recent successes in Wisconsin, liberals are working to raise ALEC's profile and make it an issue come election time. 

John Nichols, associate editor of The Capital Times and contributor to The Nation and In These Times, wrote "ALEC Exposed" for The Nation. The article was posted online July 12, and is appearing in the Aug. 1-8 issue of the liberal magazine. 

Nichols characterized ALEC as "a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics." 

ALEC describes itself as the nation's "largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators." Critics like Nichols say the group, which has legislators and corporate representatives working together on political issues, has a direct pipeline to push legislation through at the state level. 

In his piece for The Nation, Nichols said ALEC's priorities for 2011 "included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more."

Sound familiar? Walker is an alumnus of the group, Nichols reported.

Nichols reviewed leaked documents that showed what the group's model legislation looked like, and the investigation into them found that some passed legislation lifted text verbatim from the ALEC models. To see what came of the larger investigation into the leaked ALEC documents, click here.

Nichols spoke about ALEC with NPR's Terry Gross on the July 21 episode of her show, Fresh Air.

Nichols told Gross corporate members of ALEC have the ability to veto proposals and ideas they don't like, and because of the reach of the group, the legislation that comes out of ALEC gets introduced in many states. He gave one example from Tennessee, where a newspaper "found a bill where the second half of it was verbatim from the ALEC model bill." He said that wasn't always the case, but that "the core concepts are there."

Nichols also said ALEC was smart to focus on the state level, rather than trying to get involved in Washington.

"We live at the local and state level. That's where human beings come into contact more often than not," he told Fresh Air. "We live today in a country where there's a Washington obsession, particularly by the media but also by the political class. … And yet, in most areas, it's not Washington that dictates the outlines, the parameters of our life. … And so if you come in at the state government level, you have a much greater ability to define how you're going to operate."

Fresh Air also checked in with ALEC, through Louisiana State Rep. Noble Ellington, a Republican and the national chairman of ALEC. 

Ellington told Fresh Air that legislators—not corporations—approve the model legislation. "They (the corporations) don't have a vote. Legislators say [what is introduced]. … And then the legislators can introduce that legislation in [their] state."

He said while the working process "may not be transparent," because legislation is later taken by ALEC members to their respective state houses, the public does have a chance to give input and talk to their legislators "so I don't see how you can get more transparent than that."

He told Terry Gross that it is important to give corporations the chance to participate in the drafting process "partly because they're one of the ones who will be affected by it," but cautioned that they don't get final say over what comes out of ALEC as model legislation. 

When Gross asked him about ALEC's inclusion of business interests over the general public at the table, Ellington said that the legislators represent those interests.

Wanggaard's press secretary compared ALEC with the National Conference of State Legislators, and in a commentary that ran in The Journal Times, Vos said this was "a made-up issue."

Want to read more about ALEC and its role in Wisconsin politics?

PF July 30, 2011 at 05:17 PM
joe k: furthermore, perhaps fundraising and copying and pasting legislation are not literally the same. but are they all that different? for example: why does obama's health care law not include a public option? because health insurance lobbyists showered legislators with money to prevent it. perhaps the health insurance lobbyists did not write the legislation for pasting into the bill. this is because they did not have. the legislators ensured that it wouild read to the insurance companies likings. for example, research former arkansas democratic senator blanche lincoln and why she changed her stance to not include a public option.....lots of money from blue cross.
screwprogress July 30, 2011 at 05:44 PM
http://news.racinepost.com/2010/01/mason-proposal-removes-toxins-from.html See the Dems never have outside influences write their legislation. HA
Lyle Ruble July 30, 2011 at 05:48 PM
@Mark S...Sorry Mark, but the Dems haven't been smart enough to put something together like ALEC. One thing about conservatives that liberals lack is the ability to focus and stay on task. The conservative grass roots movement began back in the 1960s when liberals had control of everything. During the Reagan years conservative grassroots really took off with attention to winning elections on school boards, local councils, etc. You conservatives have concentrated on building a solid base and moved up the food chain. Whereas, liberals have looked to big organizations and neglected the grassroots. Mark, I don't know what you mean by getting deleted.
Tass Kandle July 31, 2011 at 04:34 PM
There is a difference between "getting pointers" and being handed a pile of crooked laws and told to pass them without allowing any debate or time for the public to digest them. You know its crooked but "its ok because if you are a republican".
Celeste Koeberl August 16, 2011 at 02:31 PM
For more on the inner workings of ALEC in developing model legislation, see the article at http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/column/article_f4e6bc0f-d3d3-5141-ac31-72b82e9c7482.html

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