Special Rights for ALEC: Three States Exempt Stealth Corporate Lobbying Group From Lobbying Rules

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a tax-exempt coalition of conservative state legislators and corporations that “acts as a stealth business lobbyist,” has been subject to a steady stream of bad press and criticism in recent months. Critics have highlighted the group’s support for voter suppression, union busting efforts, environmental irresponsibility, harassment of immigrants, and “Shoot First” laws.

A new report by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that legislators in three states have explicitly exempted the organization from state lobbying registration and disclosure laws:

[In] three states — South Carolina, Indiana and Colorado — it turns out that ALEC has quietly, and by name, been specifically exempted from lobbyist status.

The laws in those states allow ALEC to spend millions annually hosting corporate lobbyists and legislators at three yearly conferences, send “issue alerts” to legislators recommending votes on pending legislation, and draft press releases for legislators to use when pushing ALEC model bills — all without registering as a lobbyist or reporting these expenditures.

Legislators can receive scholarships from ALEC’s corporate donors to attend conference events, or they can legally go on the taxpayer dime.

Last month South Carolina State Rep. Boyd Brown (D) announced a bill to remove the special exemption for ALEC. He noted the irony that under current state law, “I can’t get in a car with a lobbyist and drive up the street, but ALEC can give me a scholarship to fly across the country.” The bill awaits consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.

ALEC member and Iowa State Rep. Ralph Watts (R) has defended the group, saying “There is nothing secretive or sinister about it.

But by pushing for and receiving special treatment, the group has evaded sunshine laws and done everything possible keep voters in the dark about their corporate-funded lobbying efforts and junkets. If that’s not secretive or sinister, one wonders what is.