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NEWS

Hiding the sausage

How ALEC, a well-funded right-wing organization, is grinding out state laws

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“We never once worked with ALEC at all,” she says. “Nobody from ALEC has ever reached out to us.” She also reveals that Dorworth was in fact in New Orleans at the time of this year’s ALEC convention, but he did not attend any ALEC events.

The bill in question never made it out of committee on the Senate side due to immense public pressure.

Plakon likewise swears that he did not get the text of his similar anti-union bill from ALEC, and suspects that the “Paycheck Protection” ALEC boilerplate uncovered by In These Times was probably just one of many influencing factors in Dorworth’s decision to file his legislation.

“I get stacks of stuff,” Plakon says, somewhat dismissively. “They’re just one source of ideas for bill slots.”

On the surface, Plakon’s assertion that ALEC is just one of many special interests constantly available to assist legislators in crafting their bills may ring true. After all, the moneyed parading of influence by lobbyists in Tallahassee is nearly as expected as the lawmakers themselves as each legislative session begins. It’s all in the game.

“Really, it’s not that much different than the way things have already worked for a while,” says Brad Ashwell, Florida Public Interest Research Group’s democracy and consumer advocate. “It’s the same thing as it always was, only now they have more top-down planning, more corporate structure around.”

But it’s ALEC’s relative lack of transparency – or, in the case of the New Orleans conference, abject secrecy – that bends its credibility as a force in government. If nobody knows exactly what path the money is taking, it’s unlikely that it’s headed in the direction of the public interest.

“As a voter, it bothers me to think that if I’m talking to my lawmaker, or sending him a letter – or maybe I’ve been organized with 100 people in my community – that they’re going to overlook that in favor of some corporate vehicle for corporations to get what they want,” Ashwell says.

In July, Common Cause – which describes itself as “a nonpartisan, grass-roots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy” – cried foul on ALEC to the Internal Revenue Service. ALEC is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit, and according to IRS rules, such organizations can lobby, but only if lobbying activity does not amount to a “substantial” part of their activity. In a letter to the IRS, Common Cause asked that the agency “review the organization’s operations to determine whether its tax-exempt status should be revoked due to excess lobbying or, alternatively, because ALEC appears to operate primarily to further private business interests and not to advance a charitable purpose.”

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