Chances are, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is largely unknown to most of the public. Perhaps it's time that changes.
Paul Krugman recently highlighted the "corporate-backed organization" that has "managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence" in state legislatures, most notably with Republican policymakers.
As Krugman explained, ALEC is "very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn't just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law."
The policy agenda is anything but narrow -- ALEC writes ready-made bills covering everything from education to the environment, labor laws to tax policy, gun laws to voting restrictions. The group's role in Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law has helped boost its national notoriety.
How influential is ALEC? Newark's Star-Ledger ran a lengthy, detailed report over the weekend, documenting the extent to which the far-right organization's agenda is being championed, at times nearly word for word, by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration.
A Star-Ledger analysis of hundreds of documents shows that ALEC bills are surfacing in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie is trying to remake the state, frequently against the wishes of a Democrat-controlled Legislature.Drawing on bills crafted by the council, on New Jersey legislation and dozens of e-mails by Christie staffers and others, The Star-Ledger found a pattern of similarities between ALEC's proposals and several measures championed by the Christie administration. At least three bills, one executive order and one agency rule accomplish the same goals set out by ALEC using the same specific policies. In eight passages contained in those documents, New Jersey initiatives and ALEC proposals line up almost word for word.
This isn't illegal, but it raises questions of impropriety, as well concerns about who, exactly, has influence over the Christie administration.
There is nothing illegal in what ALEC does or in using its bills, but critics say New Jersey officials are handing off a cardinal duty -- do your own work -- to a national group with unique ties to the business world. If they're relying on templates, critics add, state officials should publicly acknowledge any work that they do not do themselves and the source of any proposals that aren't their own, especially when that source has an agenda.
Christie declined to speak with the Star-Ledger, but his office said the governor isn't even familiar with the conservative organization. Presumably it's just a remarkable coincidence that the governor's proposed measures are practically identical to those being offered by ALEC.
Maybe state Republican lawmakers are to blame, getting their bills directly from the group? Apparently not: "Most New Jersey lawmakers sponsoring bills similar to ALEC models told The Star-Ledger that they received those bills from the Christie administration."
As Christie continues to gear up for a role on the national stage -- remember, he's already talking about how ready he'll be to run for president "four years from now" -- questions about whether he's doing ALEC's bidding in Trenton will need answers.