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“ALEC Who?” ALEC Has an Identity Crisis

Thousands gathered at the University of Minnesota to call for legal action in response to the death of Trayvon Martin, March 29, 2012. Many demonstrated against ALEC for their "Stand Your Ground" bill. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

The American Legislative Exchange Council, which for decades has been known by the acronym “ALEC,” is asking members to stop calling it ALEC since the name is now associated with a “distant, mysterious, Washington alphabet organization of unknown intentions.”

“You may have noticed we are limiting the use of the acronym ‘ALEC,'” wrote Bill Meierling, ALEC’s recently-hired Senior Director of Public Affairs in a March 13 email sent to ALEC members and obtained through an open records request.

“Over the past year, the word ‘ALEC’ has been used to conjure up images of a distant, mysterious, Washington alphabet organization of unknown intentions,” he continued. “The organization has refocused on the words ‘Exchange’ and ‘Council’ to emphasize our goal of a broad exchange of ideas to make government work better and more efficiently.”

From ALEC email to members, March 13, 2013.

From the March 13 email to ALEC members from Bill Meierling. This is the kind of expert advice Meierling brings to the operation. Meierling previously worked for Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, which rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s doing crisis management for R. J. Reynolds and other parts of the tobacco industry to help them “slow or reverse the growing negative trends in public opinion regarding smoking.”

ALEC has been facing its own PR crisis since the Center for Media and Democracy launched the ALEC Exposed project in July 2011 and made publicly available over 800 ALEC “model bills.” This exposure led to outrage over ALEC’s role in promoting “Stand Your Ground” laws, voter suppression, union-busting, and climate change denial, leading 44 major corporations to publicly drop their ALEC membership.

The “corporate bill mill” hired Edelman and has been struggling to repair its image in the past year. In April 2012, it dismantled the “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” responsible for promoting gun laws and voter suppression, and last month, posted a small selection of its model bills online in an effort to further distance itself from its most undesirable legislation.

The ALEC name has become increasingly discredited in many circles, not because it is viewed as a “mysterious, Washington alphabet organization of unknown intentions,” but because of its role in facilitating corporate influence over state lawmaking and warping the democratic process. This is not likely to change no matter what kind of makeover the organization gets.

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