The easiest way to explain the American Legislative Exchange Council’s role is through the use of paradoxes.
ALEC is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to extreme partisanship. ALEC facilitates discussion of public issues among public officials, but its deliberations are not public.
ALEC was once known as a right-of-center organization that helped state legislators share good ideas. In recent years, it’s morphed into a place where the Koch brothers and varied corporate interests get to push their social and political agendas and hand legislators boilerplate bills to go home and introduce.
In one case, a state representative neglected to remove ALEC’s name from a bill she introduced; it was more embarrassing than being caught re-gifting a fruitcake. Among the initiatives that ALEC helped spread was the concept of stand your ground laws – forever linked in the public mind to the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida – voter-ID laws and ag-gag bills.
Last week, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank tried unsuccessfully to get into some of the task force sessions of ALEC’s annual policy summit in Washington and ended up writing a scathing column about the group’s secretiveness. Milbank quoted Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a former member of the group: ALEC is nothing more than a corporate-funded and dominated group that operates much like a dating service, only between legislators and special interests.
As ALEC has come under more scrutiny, some of its sponsors have dropped away, including Coca-Cola, Amazon, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. The group has lost legislator-members, as well, and is considering re-inventing itself as a lobbying organization.
Interestingly, one of the corporate interests that has not jumped ship is American Electric Power, parent of AEP/Indiana Michigan Power, the very company that supplies the electricity you’re probably using as you read this article. Milbank reported that one of the sessions he was barred from attending was ALEC’s energy-environment task force, led by AEP.
Why is AEP still on board with this ALEC, when so many other companies have jumped ship?
Melissa McHenry, AEP’s director of external communications, responded to that question by email Friday:
AEP is a member of ALEC and has been for decades, McHenry wrote. We openly disclose our membership in ALEC and a variety of other bipartisan organizations focused on state government including the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments.
AEP is a large corporation, and we are concerned about a variety of issues in the 11 states where we operate including regulations, energy policy, healthcare and tax policy. We believe there is value in being a member of organizations, like ALEC, NCSL and CSG, that foster debate and understanding of key issues among state lawmakers.