A protester dressed as the manifestation of ALEC.

Pro-democracy groups rally in front of the American Legislative Exchange Council 50 year gala being held at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, October 4, 2023.

(Photo: © Tim Aubry / Greenpeace)

Progressives Denounce '50 Years of Harm' by ALEC at Anniversary Gala

The American Legislative Exchange Council, which funnels right-wing model legislation to state houses, has "a really regressive agenda for our nation," one campaigner said.

As the American Legislative Exchange Council celebrated its 50th anniversary Wednesday night, a coalition of public interest groups gathered to wish them "a happy unbirthday," in the words of one critic opposed to the shadowy right-wing organization.

ALEC is a pay-to-play network of legislators and private sector operators who have spent the last half a century drafting pro-corporate legislation that members then push to state houses across the country. The advocacy organizations opposed to ALEC—including Common Cause, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and True North Research—gathered to say that 50 years is "more than enough."

"ALEC's anniversary is nothing to celebrate because it has played such a fundamental role in undermining the American dream," Lisa Graves, executive director of True North Research and an expert on the group's activities, told Common Dreams.

"Fifty years of harm is absolutely enough."

ALEC has been the driving force behind a plethora of state laws that demonstrate "a really regressive agenda for our nation," Graves said. These include right-to-work laws, voter ID laws, laws criminalizing climate protests, and, in recent years, laws barring the use of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria in investing.

The groups are hoping to use ALEC's 50th anniversary to draw attention to its past activities as well as solidify as well as solidify opposition to its anti-democratic operations going forward.

"We want to make sure that every American knows that, if Americans are behind bars in your state, in a private prison, you can thank ALEC for that," Svante Myrick, president and CEO of People for the American Way, said in a press briefing ahead of Wednesday's rally. "If there are laws in your state that make it harder for Black people and brown people to vote, you can thank ALEC for that. If there are laws that make it a crime to protest against polluters and climate change in your state, you can thank ALEC for that."

Looking ahead, the coalition aims to pressure the corporations and even nonprofits that associate with ALEC to disengage, with a new petition launching Thursday.

Outside the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday evening, the groups held a rally to coincide with the ALEC gala event and confronted the attendees.

"It was a good action with a lot of the core groups represented there to make sure that these ALEC legislators and their sponsors arriving in their tuxedos and their formal gowns were greeted by representatives of a lot of people across the country who object to the type of corruption that ALEC represents," Graves said.

In 2011, when Graves received a trove of ALEC draft legislation from a whistleblower while she was executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a coalition of groups launched a pressure campaign that persuaded more than 120 corporations to drop their ALEC memberships, including ExxonMobil, Dow, and Coca-Cola.

Since then, however, "they've gotten a little sneakier about it," Viki Harrison, the director of Common Cause's Constitutional Convention and Protecting Dissent programs, said during the press briefing.

Instead of joining ALEC as a member outright, corporations will sponsor a cigar bar or whiskey night at an ALEC gathering, for example. The new petition, therefore, will be sent to the presidents, CEOs, and members of the board of any corporation who is still attending conferences or hosted events.

"Anybody who is still involved, we say dump ALEC," Harrison said. "Fifty years of harm is absolutely enough."

The new round of targets will include the hosts and host committee members of Wednesday's gala, who include usual suspects like Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence, and Philip Morris; major companies like Guarantee Trust Life Insurance and the United Parcel Service; but also, surprisingly, the Humane Society of the United States, according to a list obtained by CMD.

The Humane Society's participation was particularly shocking, Graves said, because one of the model ALEC bills she covered in 2011 made it harder for pet owners to sue if their pets died because of corporate wrongdoing.

Another notable name on Wednesday's list, Graves said, was Leonard Leo right-hand man William Hild, who leads Consumers' Research, Consumers' Research, a right-wing front group that promotes itself as a consumer advocacy group while promoting corporate interests. This reflects the strengthening relationship between ALEC and Leo, the Federalist Society co-chair and architect of the current far-right Supreme Court. When Leo received a $1.6 billion donation from billionaire Barre Seid in 2021, he funneled $200,000 of it to ALEC, and in exchange ALEC pushed voter suppression legislation nationwide.

"Because ALEC is a pay-to-play operation, it goes where the money is, and the money is with Leo," Graves said.

ALEC has also taken up Leo's so-called "anti-woke agenda" and opposition to ESG investment guidelines in particular, Graves said. Both Texas and Arkansas have passed ALEC-drafted legislation barring their state governments from doing business with companies that have guidelines against investing in fossil fuels or firearms, Alan Leveritt, founder and publisher of the Arkansas Times, explained during Wednesday's press briefing. Leveritt said this had cost Arkansas an additional $30 million and Texas $300 to $500 million as the states had to move pension funds from larger firms like BlackRock to smaller companies with higher management fees.

"They have essentially raised taxes on the consumers and the retirees in the state of Arkansas and all these other states," Leveritt said.

Harrison said the anti-ESG push was especially alarming because it went against the conservative principle of allowing financial actors to make their own decisions without government interference.

"It's the antithesis of what the republican party has always said they are," she told Common Dreams.

In addition, Graves noted, ALEC bills tend to single out restrictions on fossil fuel investments and even limit investments in renewable energy "at a time when our climate is demonstrably growing worse due to the burning of fossil fuels."

In response, groups like Common Cause, CMD, People for the American Way, and Greenpeace are increasing their collaboration to shine the light on ALEC's activities. Because ALEC pushes legislation covering almost every major issue, "they feel we can't keep an eye on everything," Harrison said.

She and her coalition partners want to make sure that "activists in each state don't feel like they're seeing that bill by themselves."

Concerned citizens can help by researching the issues they care about, seeing if there is ALEC-backed legislation in place that targets them, and speaking to their state legislators about where the bills came from and how to challenge them.

‘We have to ask ourselves," Myrick said during the briefing, "will the next 50 years belong to ALEC, or will it belong to us?"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.