The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may appear on the surface to mimic the bipartisan educational archetype of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), but ALEC's corporate governance structure, near total reliance on corporate funding, and strong ties to legislators from predominantly one political party make it distinctly different. To learn more about ALEC overall, go to ALEC Exposed. (This article was co-authored by Jennifer Page, Brendan Fischer, and Mary Bottari.)
ALEC Has Corporate Leaders and Members, who Vote on Bills Behind Closed Doors, While NCSL Does Not
NCSL is run by an Executive Committee made up of legislators only. Corporations and their lobbyists are not members of NCSL committees. NCSL
rarely if ever develops "model" legislation, but it does widely share its governance rules and substantive policy positions online.
An ALEC PR document obtained as part of the ALEC Exposed archive proclaims that: "Both legislators and corporate members have a voice and a vote in shaping policy." Formally, ALEC is jointly led by a corporate board of directors and a board of 23 state legislators, plus its executive director, who continues to work for the Bingham government affairs firm and who was a long-time lobbyist for Verizon/GTE. The chairman of ALEC's corporate board is a former tobacco lobbyist whose new firm helps businesses "manage the legislative and regulatory process." In all, the corporate board has 24 members (corporations, trade associations and other groups). Twenty of 24 representatives of these corporate entities are lobbyists. ALEC's annual joint board meeting is where model bills voted on. (ALEC says only the legislators have a final say on all model bills. ALEC has previously said that "The policies are debated and voted on by all members. Public and private members vote separately on policy.") Although ALEC's "public" board approves the "model" bills, corporations vote alongside politicians on ALEC's task forces on bills that are then forwarded to the board. Most corporate chairs of ALEC's task forces are also experienced lobbyists. ALEC says "no lobbying takes place."
ALEC has crowed that it gives business "an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated" in changes to state laws. Its model bills and resolutions have been published in state houses across the country, but without disclosing that they were approved through ALEC, or that corporations voted for the legal changes in advance.
Money: ALEC Is Funded Almost Entirely by Corporations, While NCSL Is Not
NCSL does not accept for-profit corporate members or donors. In 2010, NCSL's general fund was $16.8 million. State legislatures contribute about $10 million a year to NCSL. Most of the remainder comes from grants from federal agencies such as the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Transportation, and from mainstream private foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It also has funds from the sale of NCSL publications. Its convention costs are covered by registration fees.
ALEC, on the other hand, is funded almost entirely by its corporate members. In 2009, ALEC's revenues were $6.3 million. About one percent ($82,981) of its revenues came from dues paid by state legislators. That is, over 98.6% of ALEC's money comes from sources other than legislative dues, including primarily funds from for-profit corporations and foundations funded by the family fortunes of corporate CEOs. In what could be called window dressing for its corporate coffers, ALEC charges state legislators a nominal fee of $50 a year to be members, which some legislators pay with tax dollars. Legislators also get a discounted rate for conferences and even "scholarships" to attend them. Corporations are charged up to 500 percent more in dues to become members and get to vote just like legislative members on ALEC task forces. Basic corporate dues range from $7,000 to $25,000 per year plus fees of between $2,500 and $10,000 to be on ALEC task forces with state legislators. ALEC's corporate donations and sponsorships subsidize its conventions.
ALEC also receives money from foundations that help fund information campaigns against addressing climate change and other issues. For example, two foundations connected to the Koch Industries oil fortune -- the [[Charles
G. Koch Foundation]] and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation -- gave ALEC over $200,000 in 2009, in addition to corporate dues paid by the company. ALEC also gets checks from other right-wing non-profit groups, like the Allegheny Foundation, funded by the Scaifes, and Coors' Castle Rock Foundation, too.
Partisanship: Almost All of ALEC's Legislative Leaders are Republicans, While NCSL's Leadership Is Strictly Bipartisan
NCSL is led by a fully bipartisan group of legislators through an "Executive Committee." Each year, the chair of NCSL's Executive Committee rotates between Republican and Democratic legislators. This year, NCSL's president and Executive Committee Chair is state Senator Richard Moore (D-Massachusetts). The previous leader was state Senator Dan Balfour (R-Georgia). NSCL's committees are led in a similar bipartisan fashion, and its overall membership has a large number of legislators from both major political parties. Additionally, much of NCSL's staff is drawn from nonpartisan professional legislative staff of state legislatures
across the country.
ALEC is led jointly by a corporate board and a 23-member public board. All of the public board members are Republican legislators, and the board is chaired by Rep. Noble Ellington (R-Louisiana). There is no indication that a Democratic legislator has ever chaired ALEC's public board. The legislators who co-chair each ALEC task force are all Republicans, and all but one of the leaders of each state delegation are Republicans. In all, ALEC's legislative leadership is 103 Republicans and one Democrat. ALEC does count some additional Democrats in its membership, but overall it is lopsided to the right of the political spectrum in its leaders and members.
ALEC also has an "advisory" board of "scholars," all of whom have been active in Republican administrations, politics, or right-wing causes -- at one point, ALEC's executive director stated, "The ALEC agenda is the Bush agenda," referring to the first president Bush. ALEC scholars are also connected to ALEC funders. For example, Steve Moore is on the Wall Street Journal editorial board and has devoted substantial time to David Koch's Americans for Prosperity to advance its agenda. Unlike NCSL, ALEC's staff is not non-partisan legislative professionals but has strong connections to other right-wing groups or funding, such as Koch Fellowships or internships.
ALEC has also given awards to luminaries on the right, including Charles and David Koch and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. ALEC's alumni include the current Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), as well as several controversial new governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Jan Brewer of Arizona. Donald Rumsfeld was also the chairman of ALEC's corporate board when he headed G.D. Searle pharmaceutical and was between jobs as Secretary of Defense.