How to Pass Bills and Influence Legislators

Marching Orders
Introduce a resolution supporting repeal of ObamaCare to send the repeal message to members of your state’s congressional delegation.
Decline to enforce ObamaCare’s “consumer protections.”

—from ALEC’s Repealing ObamaCare

Adopt legislation prohibiting EPA by any means necessary from regulating Green House Gasses.
States should pursue all available legal means for opposing EPA regulation…

—from ALEC’s EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009 when he promised to be first to file suit against the health care reform legislation that right-wingers refer to as “Obamacare.”

Cuccinelli lived up to his promise.

He staked out the federal courthouse in Richmond on March 23, 2010, filing the Commonwealth of Virginia’s challenge to health care reform exactly five minutes after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law.

Cuccinelli wasn’t freelancing. He had the backing of the Virginia General Assembly, which had passed a bill that declared provisions of the act unconstitutional.

While Cuch wasn’t freelancing, Republicans in the General Assembly had relied on freelancers to draft the legislation that backed up their AG in federal court. The bill was based on a “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act” template written in 2008 by a committee of state legislators and lobbyists in the Washington, D.C., offices of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The model bill was ready to file by Republicans in legislatures across the country.

One month after the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Director Christie Herrera announced that the organization’s Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act had already been passed by Idaho, Arizona, and Virginia and was in the legislative process in 35 other states.

PROFITABLE NON-PROFIT—ALEC is a 501(c)(3), an Internal Revenue Code designation for organizations that meet requirements spelled out on the IRS.GOV Website:

To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.(Words appear underlined in original text.)

The non-profit provisions in the federal tax code are liberally interpreted, but the final section of the preceding paragraph is worth keeping in mind when considering what ALEC does. While it complies with the tax code by avoiding the funding of election campaigns or explicitly lobbying, ALEC is the single largest source of pro-corporate, anti-regulatory and culturally conservative legislation in the country.

ALEC has operated with calculated discretion since 1973, when it was founded by a small group of right-wing activists and elected officials.

Most prominent among them was Paul Weyrich, a far-right cultural conservative who was involved in setting up the Heritage Foundation, with funding from Colorado brewing magnate Joseph Coors.

Edited out of the history of ALEC’s founding is Buz Lukens, the Ohio Congressman who lost his seat to John Boehner in 1990, after being convicted of paying a 16-year-old girl for sex. (Lukens, who died last year, was also convicted in 1996 of taking $15,000 in bribes, and served 30 months in prison.)

Another founder whose role is obscured is Woody Jenkins, a former Louisiana legislator whose personal foreign aid program was linked to Colonel Oliver North, the right-wing celebrity Marine who ran an illegal assistance operation for a group of insurgents trying to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Jenkins was later caught up in an election scandal, when in 1996 his U.S. House campaign paid the Federal Election Commission a $3,000 fine (reduced from $82,500), after he and his campaign manager Tony Perkins filed false disclosure forms to hide the purchase of a mailing list from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Perkins is now the executive director of the Christian-right Family Research Council.

Lukens and Jenkins were ALEC’s second and third national chairmen, respectively, and their role as founding members with Weyrich suggests that the organization was intended to be the Knights Templar of the nation’s culture wars.

ALEC’s current leadership prefers a backstory that focuses on Henry Hyde of Illinois, the iconic right-wing Congressman who was both a fiscal and cultural conservative; former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson; former Michigan Governor John Engler; Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; and Ohio Governor John Kasich. (A genuinely distinguished conservative alumni list.)

Today ALEC is all business.

Its “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators” description is true only in the most literal sense. Approximately 2,000 state legislators are members of ALEC, only a handful of whom are Democrats. Each of them pays $100 in biennial dues.

As I do the arithmetic, that doesn’t square with ALEC’s $6.9 million annual budget. The difference is made up by $6.8 million in corporate memberships, which run from $7,000 to $10,000 a year, and tax-deductible donations from the corporate sponsors and conservative foundations that benefit from ALEC’s model legislation. ALEC is a corporate-funded corporate bill mill cross-dressing as an association of state legislators.

Among the corporations and trade groups that support ALEC are Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart Stores, AT&T Services, the American Bail Coalition, GlaxoSmithKline, and Reynolds American — essentially the right side of the Business Roundtable.

ALEC traditionally provided a scrim behind which its corporate sponsors worked, while it maintained a low profile.

Then came Wisconsin.

Media outlets in the state claimed that several bills promoted by Republican Governor Scott Walker came out of ALEC’s D.C. shop.

University of Wisconsin Professor William Cronon — a distinguished historian and author of five books — kicked off a new “Scholar as Citizen” blog by focusing on ALEC’s role in the right-wing makeover of the state. (Thirty-six hours after the posting, Wisconsin’s Republican Party filed open records requests for Cronon’s e-mails and correspondence regarding ALEC.)

Cronon was followed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who linked ALEC to voter-suppression legislation in Michigan and to a Pennsylvania law that would give the state’s governor extraordinary authority over counties, municipalities and school districts.

National Journal followed Maddow’s coverage.
By April 27, the New York Times was focused on ALEC. The paper’s editorial writers accused the organization of participating in “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

BLOCKING THE VOTE—The national voter ID campaign that the Times criticized is currently playing out in state legislatures where Republicans have a majority, and is intended to change voting law before the 2012 elections. The Times cited States Triumph Over Federal Mandate” campaign, trumpeting the “widespread progress that state legislatures have achieved in overcoming ObamaCare’s detrimental restrictions,” and encouraging other state legislators to join the effort.

All in all, activity that stretches the meaning of “grassroots” and depends on a narrow definition of a “lobbyist,” as an individual who has registered with a government entity as a lobbyist.

The latter is an argument that might be made in court, should a party with standing decide to take it there.

Yet you can’t argue with success. Whether the issue is guns, tort reform, immigration, sentencing guidelines, or private prisons, ALEC provides a legislator with a committee-ready one-size-fits-all bill and a playbook to pass it.

All lawyered by Shook, Hardy & Bacon, the law firm that made its bones defending tobacco companies against lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s.
The moment is right.

Republicans won more than 700 seats in state legislatures in 2010 and control 25 state houses. In states such as Texas, Arizona, and Montana, where Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, all a legislator has to do is fill in the blanks and file her bill.