The American Legislative Exchange Council is wrapping up its annual States and Nation Policy Summit today, a two-day virtual gathering of conservative policymakers, think tanks, and corporations to discuss current issues and address those issues through new model policies. Normally, those in attendance and their discussions are shrouded in secrecy, but thanks to the persistent efforts of a national watchdog group, we once again have access to some information that may be helpful as we continue to watch out for the influence of outside conservative special interest groups here in Utah.
What is ALEC?
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonprofit membership organization made up of state lawmakers, corporations, think tanks, and other conservative entities. The organization regularly convenes its members to discuss business and economic issues within the framework of advancing the principles of “limited government, free markets, and federalism.” It has long been part of the shadowy web of conservative and libertarian organizations funded by networks like the Koch brothers, working hand in hand with groups like Americans for Prosperity, the State Policy Network, and others.
ALEC is perhaps best known for its extensive database of “model bills,” which are basically drafts of laws and policies addressing a broad range of issues such as free speech on college campuses, tax reform, economic development, and K-12 education. Lawmakers interested in bringing one of these laws to their respective states simply have to plug in the name of their state and maybe swap out a few words, and then introduce it as their own bill without the public or their constituents knowing the proposal comes from a national organization with the involvement of corporate interests.
Why should you care?
Alliance for a Better Utah has been tracking ALEC and its influences in Utah politics for almost a decade now. In 2012, as ALEC held its annual national conference in Utah, Better Utah launched a statewide billboard campaign to “Kick ALEC Out” and held an ALEC Exposed Workshop to educate Utahns and the press.
As a very conservative state, it’s not hard to imagine that ALEC has strong ties to Utah. Documented, a national “watchdog group that investigates how corporations manipulate public policy, harming our environment, communities, and democracy,” has been able to shine light on the secretive membership of ALEC and the discussions that take place during its meetings. Prior to this week’s summit, Documented obtained and published a registration list, letting us know the following Utah lawmakers and organizations would be attending:
- Senate President Stuart Adams (Summit Speaker and ALEC Member)
- Rep. Melissa Ballard (ALEC Member)
- Rep. Kay Christofferson (ALEC Member)
- Rep. Kim Coleman (Summit Speaker, ALEC Alumni Society)
- Sen. Kirk Cullimore (ALEC Member)
- Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (ALEC Member)
- Rep. Steve Handy (Summit Speaker)
- Rick Larsen, President & CEO of Sutherland Institute (ALEC Private Sector Member)
- Rep. Karianne Lisonbee (ALEC Member)
- Michael Melendez, Director of Policy for Libertas Institute (ALEC Member)
- Nick Schilligo, Director of Government Affairs for 1800CONTACTS (ALEC Member)
- Rep-Elect Jordan Teuscher (ALEC Member)
- Sen-Elect Chris Wilson (ALEC Member)
- Sen. Ronald Winterton (ALEC Member)
Why should we care that these Utah lawmakers and “think tanks” are members of ALEC? After the meetings with corporate interests, they introduce these bills without most people knowing they come from ALEC. For example, Rep. Kay Christofferson introduced a bill during the 2019 Legislative Session that recognized Victims of Communism Day, which was a model ALEC bill that was introduced and started appearing in state legislatures around the country. This was around the time that the national GOP started making a renewed focus on the “dangers of socialism,” bringing the Red Scare 2.0 here to Utah, as explained in this blog post by Better Utah board member Lisa Carricaburu. We’ve also seen model ALEC bills introduced in Utah that would push back on the supposed dominance of liberalism on college campuses and push back against controversial federal policies.
As the 2021 legislative session begins next month, Better Utah will continue to watch out for ALEC model bills and influences. Each of us should be concerned about the influence that shadow special interest groups have on our laws and policies, especially considering that ALEC priorities are shaped by big business and conservative lobbyists, rather than having ordinary Utahns as the sole focus.
Chase Thomas is the Executive Director for Alliance for a Better Utah