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.
Bold has issued a report (below) on ALEC in our state, including information on how they are involved with TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
The Guardian newspaper got a hold of a numerous documents that show that ALEC is losing members — both state senators and the corporations who fund the operation. We have seen this in our own state with several state senators canceling their memberships leaving only FIVE out of 49 state senators in our state involved in ALEC. Last year the number was as high as 16 active ALEC members. There is a possibility that these three state senators have renewed their memberships, but we do not have documented proof yet and ALEC does not make their list public.
The State Policy Network, a web of right-wing think tanks, including the Platte Institute in Nebraska, is a major driver of ALEC. The Platte Institute markets itself as a non-partisan research and educational organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for all citizens of Nebraska by advancing sensible, well-researched solutions to state and local economic policy issues. But real research into the Platte Institute demonstrates that the organization is driven by corporate interests and ALEC.
ALEC and its allies have successfully passed its corporate-sponsored legislation in Nebraska in the past, and continues to carry the water of corporate special interests in advocating radical change in our state. The below report illustrates the extent to which ALEC legislation has made its way into the Nebraska State Legislature. Key findings of our new report include:
- Only five of Nebraska’s State Senators are associated with ALEC. Five of the 49 current Nebraska State Senators are known ALEC members. Last year that number was as high as 16 members, but several senators cancelled their memberships when citizens brought to their attention what ALEC is really all about in addition to the longtime work Common Cause in our state does to expose ALEC's copy cat bills. Additionally, US Senator Fischer and Congressman Smith are ALEC alumni and Senator Johanns has presented at their conference as a guest speaker. The five state senators involved in ALEC are:
- Sen. Jim Smith (also the ALEC State Chairman)
- Sen. Mark Christenson
- Sen. Thomas Hansen
- Sen. Tyson Larson
- Sen. Beau McCoy (running for Governor)
- There is a possibility that State Senators John Murante, Dan Watermeier and Bill Kintner have renewed their memberships, we are waiting on cofirmation
- ALEC and Nebraska Senators have continued to utilize a scholarship fund, using corporate donations to fund Senators’ travel to ALEC conventions. It is not clear how this conforms to NADC regulations on the operation of the fund. The usage of this fund is being challenged currently, and ALEC is changing the way the funds are managed.
- ALEC helped Sens. Janssen and McCoy, now both candidates for Governor, with content for their failed bills. We covered this issue two years ago in this extensive blog post. We were able to help kill the ALEC bills along with other Nebraska groups like Common Cause, Nebraska Appleseed and Nebraskans for Civic Reform
- ALEC has played an integral part in the advocacy of the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska and nationwide. ALEC and TransCanada pushed their agenda thru "copy and paste" resolutions in support of the pipeline as well as funded at least one State Senator--Jim Smith, author of the pipeline routing bill being challenged in court-- to visit the tarsands region and meet with oil executives. We wrote an extensive blog post on Sen. Smith's trip. TransCanada's executive Beth Jensen, who is also a founding member of the "nonprofit" Nebraskans for Jobs, serves on an ALEC committee. ALEC has also advanced oil company interests in Nebraska through a fracking bill, which would further endanger our water supply.
- ALEC members are very active in Nebraska, advancing measures to:
- Privatize our schools through charter schools and tax credit school vouchers
- Advance radical gun laws including the infamous Florida Castle Doctrine Model
- Needlessly complicate the voting process
- Rig the legal system to benefit ALEC’s corporate sponsors
- Implement constitutionally suspect anti-immigrant measures
We would like to thank the Senators who cancelled their memberships and those that did not renew their ALEC memberships. Senators Conrad, Haar, Mello, and Nordquist withdrew from ALEC, citing its extreme views as reason for their departure. Senators who allowed their membership to expire in 2013 include John Harms, Scott Price, John Wightman and Ken Schilz. Other Senators who are no longer members include Charlie Janssen, Pete Pirsch and Tanya Cook. There is a possibility that State Senators John Murante, Dan Watermeier and Bill Kintner have renewed their memberships, we are waiting on cofirmation. Senator Steve Lathrop said he was never and would never be part of this extreme group.