The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an organization funded by some of our nation’s largest corporations, with names like General Motors, Bank of America, Exxon, and Pfizer appearing on their list of major donors. ALEC is committed to providing corporate America with direct access to state legislators, while drafting and promoting legislation that primarily favors the interests of the corporate funders.
Common Cause Nebraska has been monitoring ALEC activity in our state for more than 15 years. ALEC’s national organization has been very secretive about its state legislative memberships. It often takes a public records request to identify state members, since ALEC records are often kept on state computers.
In the early 90s, we learned how ALEC first recruited a state senator to serve as ALEC’s state chair. It was the chair’s responsibility to then recruit other senators who would pay a $50 membership fee that made them eligible for an ALEC “scholarship” worth up to $3,000. At one point 46 out of 49 senators were ALEC members. The scholarship amounted to a free trip to ALEC conventions most of which were held in expensive resort hotels. At the conventions, senators were encouraged to attend breakout sessions related to the committees on which they served back in Nebraska. At these breakout sessions, model legislation was distributed and explained. ALEC drafted the legislation with the guidance of their corporate sponsors.
Back in Nebraska, local lobbyists, representing the same corporate interests, contributed cash to the ALEC scholarship funds. They then greeted returning senators ready and eager to help draft bills following the ALEC model. Many senators struggled to introduce the bills since they had only limited knowledge of their full effect. Senator Chambers was well skilled in identifying ALEC bills and exposing their corporate advantages.
ALEC’s influence declined dramatically in 2003 after Common Cause disclosed plans for 15 Nebraska senators and their wives to attend an ALEC convention in Las Vegas. The event was being held at the Venetian Hotel and Casino. It was no coincidence that there was a bill on the floor to approve gambling in Omaha and the Venetian hotel was lobbying heavily to build a casino there. The senators intended to stop debate at noon so that they could catch an ALEC charter flight to Las Vegas for a weekend of fun and education.
ALEC’s Nebraska membership declined to less than ten members until 2010. Currently, Senator Jim Smith is the ALEC chair and the membership has swelled to 22 members. Common Cause Nebraska has posted the membership list on its website and we are concerned that undo corporate influence may follow.