Monday, November 01, 2010

Coalition walks a fine line to help state lawmakers craft legislation

On Friday we reported the private prison industry played a large role in the crafting of the controversial Arizona immigration law through an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The Arizona law is far from a unique circumstance as ALEC frequently connects private industry with state legislators to write legislation, Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio reports. ALEC is a membership organization with state legislators paying $50 a year to join and private companies like tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and drug-maker Pfizer Inc. paying tens of thousands of dollars a year to join.

"With that money, the 28 people in the ALEC offices throw three annual conferences," Sullivan writes. "The companies get to sit around a table and write 'model bills' with the state legislators, who then take them home to their states." Tax records show corporations have paid as much as $6 million a year to ALEC, Sullivan reports. "It's not an effective way to get a bill passed," Michael Bowman, ALEC senior director of policy, told Sullivan. "It's an effective way to find good legislation." ALEC operates as a non-profit because the organization is not restricted by the regulations that govern lobbyists in state governments.

If ALEC were classified as a lobbying group, "corporations wouldn't be able to reap tax benefits from giving donations to the organization or write off those donations as a business expense," Sullivan writes. "And legislators would have a hard time justifying attending a conference of lobbyists." ALEC doesn't disclose how much money it spends or where it spends it, and Bowman wouldn't tell NPR what legislators were members. When asked if the conferences constituted lobbying, Bowman responded,  "No, because we're not advocating any positions. We don't tell members to take these bills. We just expose best practices. All we're really doing is developing policies that are in model bill form." (Read more)

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