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As It Turns Out, There Still Is a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy – The Many Friends of ALEC

Even if ALEC were to disappear tomorrow, its agenda still would be propelled by a variety of institutional allies.

(Photo: Light Brigading / Flickr)

Even if ALEC were to disappear tomorrow, its agenda still would be propelled by a variety of institutional allies, including the Reason Foundation, the State Policy Network and a variety of think tanks.

Two years ago, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) became the subject of a series of exposés after 800 documents were leaked that laid out ALEC’s anti-public, pro-corporate activities. Those 800 documents were sent to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which then made them public through the ALEC Exposed website. The documents showed ALEC persuading mostly conservative state legislators to support legislation that undermined public welfare while ensuring sales and profits for corporations that were members of ALEC.

The exposure of ALEC’s operations has led a number of ALEC’s corporate and legislator members to withdraw their membership in and financial support of ALEC. In addition, it has faced attacks on its tax-exempt status.

Sunlight Has Not Been Good for ALEC

On December 3, 2013, The Guardian newspaper published a new detailed exposé of ALEC. The Guardian reports that the CMD’s revelations have led many ALEC corporate members and roughly 400 state legislators to flee the organization. The agenda for ALEC’s August 8, 2013, meeting included a “Prodigal Son Project” to woo back ex-members and a list of 102 “Prospects” for membership.

Meanwhile, newly revealed documents show that legislators who co-chair ALEC committees must sign a State Chair Job Description and Agreement. Among other things, state legislator chairs agree to “act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization [ALEC] first.” Another provision says: “Legislators must inform ALEC of any public records / FOIA requests that include ALEC documents.”

However, even if ALEC were to cease to exist, ALEC’s work will continue through the many related organizations that are allied with it.

ALEC and Its Many Allies

Focusing solely on ALEC, its bank of model legislation and its stable of conservative state legislators and corporations risks overlooking enemies of democracy and the public’s welfare. Even if ALEC does not survive this crisis, its work will continue, for ALEC is only one node embedded within a vast and well-funded right wing network of people and organizations. In fact, we are immersed in a sea of ALEC’s well-funded kin that do their work through panels, commissions, governors, magazines and think tanks all preaching the same ultra-conservative gospel.

So many organizations are affiliated with ALEC that in the space allotted here it is possible only to briefly identify them, sketch their operations and provide links to additional information. That said, the Center for Media and Democracy (CM) has long been the key source for information on these shadowy organizations. The CMD has compiled extensive lists of ALEC’s affiliated or related organizations and their activities and financial connections.

Here is an introduction to key ALEC allies.

* Reason

Reason, whose motto is “free minds and free markets” is funded by far-right people and foundations, including the Scaife, Olin, and Koch family foundations. Reason now uses a variety of modes to advance its philosophy, including, the online version of Reason, and Reason the magazine, which currently promotes its online fundraiser under the heading Donate to Reason, Because We Lead the League in Defending Against Cuckoo-Bananas Attacks on Libertarianism! Reason magazine is available for download on iTunes.

However, Reason is far more than just a magazine. Reason seems to play a role in every aspect of ultra-conservative endeavors. For example, allied with Reason magazines is the Reason Foundation, with its stable of experts, including Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform; Robert Poole, Reason’s Searle Freedom Trust transportation fellow and director of transportation policy; and Shirley Ybarra, senior transportation policy analyst.

Focusing just on Gilroy, his activities go far beyond Reason. He has been an adviser to state panels and commissions that promote privatization. For example, on December 8, 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Gilroy as an adviser to Arizona’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency. On March 11, 2010, newly elected Gov. Chris Christie made Gilroy the adviser to New Jersey’s Zimmer privatization commission.

Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Illinois, South Carolina and Pennsylvania also created privatization commissions through legislation or executive orders, using language based on ALEC bills, [p.506] such as the Privatization and Initiative Panel Act.(The League of Women Voters provides helpful information on state privatization panels.)

Gilroy also has served as an adviser to ALEC on the development of its legislative agenda. He also co-authored ALEC’s 2011 State Budget Reform Toolkit, which provides states with templates for privatizing, through legislation or executive orders.

* The State Policy Network

The State Policy Network (SPN) is essentially an umbrella organization with state-specific affiliates in every state. Its affiliates include “the names of think tanks and other non-profit organizations that are known to be, or have been, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) members or supporters.”

The SPN has received “more than $83 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year to fuel Tracie Sharp’s State Policy Network (SPN) and its 64 state affiliates, a web of right-wing ‘think tanks’ in every state across the country.” Among other things, the SPN works closely with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity to support investigative reporting and with David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.

The CMD’s November 2013 report, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, traces SPN’s money trail. According to the CMD,

While SPN is a national organization with 63 affiliates and over 100 associate members, it remains a closely connected network. It is not uncommon for think tank members to share board members, “scholars,” or staffers, nor is it uncommon for the think tanks to share research materials, coordinating their agenda and tailoring national research to fit into state-related politics.

The CMD’s report on the SPN shows coordination among ALEC affiliates, for example, in attempting to block healthcare reform.

The SPN’s disclosed financial contributions of millions of dollars are provided by ultra-conservative groups, such as the Castle Rock Foundation, which is affiliated with the Coors family; the Scaife Foundations; and the Walton Family Foundation. SPN’s most recent IRS Form 990 may be found here.

Similar information for other organizations may be found through GuideStar. However, other SPN funders, such as the DeVos and Olin Foundations, have registered as nonprofits, so their contributions have not been disclosed. More on SPN, its funding and membership can be found at PRWatch and at the SourceWatch page on SPN Funding. SPN’s ties to ALEC can be found at the ALEC Exposed SPN Ties to ALEC site.

* SPN State Think Tanks

Information about SPN’s affiliated state think tanks may be found by clicking on each state on this map of the United States. A list of SPN affiliates, their websites, and other contacts may be found here.

SPN’s state think tanks have received millions of dollars each from just two funds – Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. This is money from anonymous donors that is funneled, according to donors’ directions, to their chosen recipients.

SPN’s state think tanks operate with assistance, oversight or participation by the Reason Foundation’s Len Gilroy. An example, described earlier, is his participation in and assistance to state privatization panels. An additional example is listing Gilroy, the Reason Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation’s as authors of Yellow Pages Government, a document promoting sweeping privatization of Pennsylvania agencies and state assets as the remedy for Pennsylvania’s financial woes.

A November 2013 study on the State Policy Network, by the Center for Media and Democracy, Exposed: The State Policy Network – The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government is a potential game changer. This CMD study pulls back the curtain on donors, misuse of the tax code, and support for harmful products and their producers.


The Guardian’s story on ALEC is certain to spark interest in the activities of this shadowy organization. Now, as winter and the distractions of holidays are arriving, consider giving yourself and democracy a present by digging into the activities of ALEC and its shadowy fellow travelers.

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