Monday, April 23, 2012

Insidious ALEC Draws More Fire

Source: Common Cause

From Bloomberg
Common Cause, a Washington-based political ethics watchdog group, today filed a complaint accusing the American Legislative Exchange Council of violating its tax-exempt status by lobbying state legislators.The filing asks the Internal Revenue Service to force ALEC to pay back taxes and penalties.

“ALEC is a corporate lobby front group masquerading as a public charity,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, said in a statement announcing the complaint. “It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in state houses all over the country that benefits its corporate members.”
By definiton, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which was founded in 1973, is supposed to be a registered Non-Profit Group that idealistically brings together business and politics in a productive way. In reality, ALEC has literally written much of the Republican legislation passed in this country, such as the NRA-backed Stand Your Ground laws, as well as new strict rules passed in Florida, Tennessee, Arizona and elsewhere that require even long-time voters to produce a picture ID. At least 2000 members of ALEC are elected politicians in State Legislatures so obviously Corporations are paying for access to those members when they join. When a group "sells" access to a bunch of politicians, we have what is known as "lobbying." That's not illegal, but it also doesn't deserve tax-exempt status from the IRS.

You can read the complete IRS complaint filed by Common Cause Here.
ALEC's primary, if not sole objective is to "influence legislation." Its bylaws state that its purpose is to "formulate legislative action programs," "disseminate model legislation and promote the introduction of companion bills in Congress and state legislatures," and "[e]establish a clearinghouse for bills at the state level, and provide for a bill exchange program." [1] As recently as April 11, 2012, ALEC boasted that "for years, ALEC has partnered with legislators to research and develop better, more effective ... legislation. [2] Notwithstanding these claims, however, ALEC has reported "for years" to the IRS that it has not spent a single penny on lobbying or attempting to influence legislation. These tax returns are patently false.
ALEC is a de facto organization of corporations, which have veto power over any ALEC legislation, and which pay enormous sums of money for the privilege of lobbying ALEC's legislator-members (who pay nominal dues of $50 per year). ALEC spends its resources enabling its corporate members to communicate their desired legislative outcomes to state lawmakers, publicly brags that it "partner]s]" with legislators to pass the so-called "free enterprise" corporate-drafted bills into law, but disclaims in its IRS 501(c)(3) filings that it spends resources on attempting to influence legislation. ALEC is a corporate lobbying group masquerading as a public charity.

The ALEC website also includes this brag about Legislative influence that seems to be admittance of guilt:
To date, ALEC’s Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.

 Time Magazine's Swampland Blog has a great description of how ALEC works with State Legislatures:
For a modest membership fee, conservative legislators gain access to the group’s resources. Think of ALEC’s prepackaged and prelawyered legislation as Swanson TV dinners: all you need is a majority vote to reheat it, and it’s ready to serve. The result: similarly flavored bills in statehouses across the country.

Since the Trayvon Martin shooting highlighted the sketchy nature of "Stand Your Ground" laws as well as the possible racist connotations for the Voting restrictions and the strange legislative attacks on women, many large corporate sponsors such as Wendy's, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars Candy, Intuit, McDonald's, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have severed ties with ALEC. Update: And just today, giant Proctor and Gamble pulled out. See the List of Remaining Corporate ALEC Sponsors on Sourcewatch. To send a message to remaining sponsors that they should break their connections with ALEC Click Here.

The pressure is working because last week ALEC disbanded its social-issues wing to concentrate on economic issues. But many groups say that is not enough. From CBS News
"ALEC's latest statement is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from its agenda, which has done serious damage to our communities," ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson said in a statement.
. . . "This year, because of ALEC, millions of voters who had been eligible to vote in 2008 will be denied access to the ballot box," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a statement. "We may never know how many families will be denied justice because of the 'stand your ground' laws that continue to put communities in danger, or how many families will be torn apart under repressive anti-immigrant laws."

The only possible way that ALEC might keep it's non-profit status is because it defines itself as a "bipartisan" organization, yet the vast majority of bills it helps to pass favor the conservative agenda.Therefore, organizations such as Bold Progressives are calling for Democrats to "Dump ALEC" - story from Alternet:
"It's a sham to project that [ALEC] is bipartisan in nature. And no Democrat should give aid and comfort to this organization by participating in it, to promote its alleged 'bipartisanship,'" said New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. "It is very important that members of the Democratic Party, who traditionally have stood for enfranchising voters and have stood for promoting the rights to organize and for sensible gun laws, should withdraw from an organization that pushes an agenda that is exactly the opposite."
South Dakota State Sen. Angie Buhl added, "At the end of the day, the Democratic Party is big and diverse, but we've always been about standing up for middle- and working-class families, not for corporations. ALEC is the antithesis of what we stand for as Democrats. Dozens of companies like Kraft and Coca-Cola have already dumped ALEC, and it's time for Democrats to do the same."

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