ALEC At The Gold Dome, Part 1

Back in October, we took note–though apparently few others did–of a meeting held in relative secrecy at the Denver Hyatt’s Pinnacle Club of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC, funded by major corporate and traditional conservative major donors such as the Koch brothers and the Coors family’s Castle Rock Foundation, develops “model legislation” which is then distributed to individual state legislators to introduce.

Recently, ALEC’s work has come under heavy scrutiny as examples of their “model legislation”–targeting employee rights, tort reform, school privatization, anti-“fracking” regulation bills, and a host of other easily-recognizable conservative policy goals have surfaced around the country. In Virginia last week, it was disclosed by the Washington Post that over 50 pieces of legislation introduced in the Virginia General Assembly in recent years were based on ALEC templates.

In Colorado, the role of ALEC in ghostwriting legislation introduced in our legislature is fairly mysterious as it is in most states. ALEC’s website lists Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R) and House Majority Whip B.J. Nikkel (R) as the “state chairmen” of the organization, but no particular bill has ever been represented as a product of ALEC’s “model legislation.”

Because that’s not how ALEC rolls.

But there are many clues that ALEC’s presence in Colorado is very well established. You have key members of House and Senate Republican leadership as state chairs. There was the event in October we were made aware of at the Hyatt’s swanky Pinnacle Club. And here’s another–Rep. J. Paul Brown’s Christmas letter, as published in the Durango Herald:

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the people of the 59th Colorado House District. The last year has been memorable and productive as we have balanced a state budget at a time when tax revenues were down because of a sagging economy. I’m thankful that the latest economic report shows a marked improvement, and even though we may still face budget difficulties in 2012, it will not be as difficult as in 2011.

I recently attended my first meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. [Pols emphasis] This is a national organization of state legislators that, along with both private and public partners, attempts to come up with policies and strategies that will help our country as a whole…

Is it us, or might J. Paul Brown have just committed a foul by talking openly about his quality time with ALEC? It’s particularly interesting in Rep. Brown’s case, having established a reputation as, to put it charitably, an intellectual lightweight in the legislature. Brown spent his first year in office on such madcap crusades as being the only representative to vote against homeless youth services, and championing a bill to undo a statewide vote regulating bear hunting.

This session, however, as the Durango Herald reported just before the new year:

With medical insurance costs still rising, Brown said he would like to pass legislation to increase competition between health-care insurance companies and hopefully drive down prices. State-specific rules now regulate how many insurance companies operate in the state and how they do business. Multi-state agreements might allow more competition in Colorado, he said. [Pols emphasis]

Brown said he has much to learn about the issue, though…

To learn more, check out ALEC’s model Health Care Choice Act For States. Because it’s a pretty safe bet that this is what Rep. J. Paul Brown will be “learning” too.

Folks, ALEC is here. And when the Colorado General Assembly convenes next week, you might be surprised–or perhaps not at all surprised–to discover just how “here” they are. Stay tuned…

22 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    ALEC could be the perfect filling for the void between J. Paul Brown’s ears.

    It is chilling to read more details and confirmation that Colorado is indeed infected by ALEC’s corporate zombie plague bacillus, but like you said, it’s not at all surprising.

    I think I might go pull a few bills to compare myself.

  2. ArapaGOPArapaGOP says:

    Let me get this straight. You read about the super secret organization on its website and in the newspaper?

    This is the worst concealed conspiracy ever hatched. Can I see the Center for American Progress memo this post is cribbed from? Conspiracy, I say!

  3. cuppajoe says:

    Let’s begin a list of all the State Legislators who have professed, here or there, to be beholden to some, if not all of ALEC domination.  I will start the list off with Senator Steve King, of SD 7, who has openly acknowledged that he follows the lead of ALEC.

    Who has other names?

    Following, or subscribing to ALEC guidelines, model legislation, etc. is necessary for many state legislators who are inadequately educated or prepared to produce legislation on their own.  Time to elect those who ‘pledge’ not to be under any control of this group of millionaires.  

    • allyncooper says:

      This is a systemic problem in our state legislative system. Our legislators make $30,000 a year for what is supposed to be a part time job. They get one legislative aid for about 20 hrs a week at $ 10 an hour (so this lands up being for scheduling and constituent service).  

      Following, or subscribing to ALEC guidelines, model legislation, etc. is necessary for many state legislators who are inadequately educated or prepared to produce legislation on their own.  

      You could of course substitute just about any special interest or lobbying group in place of ALEC as above.

      Add to this the $ 50,000 to $75,000 needed to campaign for a representative’s seat, or upwards of $ 150,000 for a senate seat, and it’s apparent how money influences and corrupts the system.

      I was supportive of term limits for legislators, but understanding the above and after talking to a senator about term limits, she made a good argument against limits because of the lack of expertise it institutionalizes in the legislative body. Of course I think this can work both ways – the longer someone is in, the greater the inclination for them to become a captive of special interests. So I’m giving this one some thought.

      Unless and until we have comprehensive campaign reform ( strict limits and public funding) and effective regulations mitigating the undue influence of special interest groups on legislation, the best way to deal with this is by exposing what’s going on.

      Good article Pols, keep it up.  

  4. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    That wasn’t hard.

    Please compare the 2004 College Opportunity Fund Act:

    With ALEC’s model College Opportunity Fund Act:

    Scroll down past the findings section in the Colorado bill to the general provisions. And please be sitting down when you do. “ALEC is here?” Looks like ALEC has been here and screwing us over for years. The documents at ALECExposed were not disclosed until late last summer. This is new information. What other devastation has ALEC engineered in Colorado? The COF is one of the worst funding systems for higher ed ever devised.

    I smell a powder keg about to blow…

  5. gaf says:

    Lundberg said he got the idea for the divorce bill while attending a legislative conference for socially conservative state lawmakers.

    The certainly sounds like it could be from ALEC, but I couldn’t trace it down. Perhaps some other “socially conservative” group?

    And, of course, when Lundberg talked with former Sen. David Schultheis about the bill, Schultheis said, “That’s my bill. You’re talking about my bill” (that he ran in 2001). Where ever Lundberg got it–ALEC or elsewhere–is most likely the same place Schultheis got it.

  6. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    Is we have poorly paid, part time, term limited legislators. So getting a pre-written bill is, for many, the only way to introduce legislation on all the issues they want to cover.

    I’m not saying this is a good thing, but that it’s understandable.

  7. Pols – You forgot to add Halliburton and Blackwater to the ALEC conspiracy!

    Look, EVERY group develops model legislation.  You don’t think that the NEA, AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, or the trial lawyers don’t develop language and distribute it to friends on the left to get it introduced in state legislatures?  

    Naive, you are.

    • cuppajoe says:

      Certainly other groups develop model legislation, but they typically confine it to a specific field, such as education, labor, or the environment.  The big difference is that

      ALEC seems to want to do it all in total secrecy, with their ‘users’ (or are they being used?) refraining from admitting that they are allowing ALEC to think for them, and that they act at the behest of the beast?

      • ALEC doesn’t draft model legislation in secret.  They have specific task forces that draft, debate, and recommend language.

        Anyone that wants to attend a task force meeting is allowed to go.  Just register for their conferences and go sit in on the meeting.

        Hell, take notes and attendance, if you want.


        • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

          Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations pay to bring state legislators to one place, sit them down for a sales pitch on policies that benefit the corporate bottom line, then push “model bills” for legislators to make law in their states. Corporations also vote behind closed doors alongside politicians on this wish-list legislation through ALEC task forces. Notably absent were the real people who would actually be affected by many of those bills and policies.


          The legislative sausage is ground at the task force meetings, where a body of legislators and corporate lobbyists actually vote on proposed model legislation. The meetings were closed to the press and the public.


          Operating mostly out of the limelight throughout the 1990s, ALEC came under scrutiny from national publications and activist organizations such as Common Cause after the millennium. In fact, Common Cause is currently fighting to have ALEC’s non-profit status revoked since they claim that the group is little more than an effort to circumvent lobbying restrictions.

          “ALEC is a stunning example of how deeply corporate influence penetrates our democracy and undermines the public interest. Its corporate sponsors underwrite annual meetings, often at lavish resorts, where their executives sit side-by-side with state legislators – in meetings closed to the public and press – to draft ‘model’ bills designed to enhance the companies’ profits, often at a cost to the public interest,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “Then the companies put their muscle behind that legislation at state capitols and invest millions of dollars to elect and re-elect lawmakers who support it.”

          Even ALEC’s national chairman admits:

          “While we may be discussing it, it may not be transparent, but before it’s passed, legislators have to say, ‘We approve this model legislation. Not the corporations. They don’t have a vote. Legislators say [what is introduced]. … And then the legislators can introduce that legislation in [their] state. It goes through a committee, the public has input, they have an opportunity to talk to their legislators about the legislation – so I don’t see how you can get more transparent than that.”


          “I work for the taxpaying public, so don’t assume that they’re not [at the table] because they are. And we represent the public and we are the ones who decide. So the taxpaying public is represented there at the table because I’m there.”

          Who should I believe? The anonymous blog commenter who always shows up to run interference for the GOP on obscure legislative matters, or multiple news reports and the admission of ALEC’s own chairman?


          • Buy a ticket and you can get in.

            Yes, their meetings are closed to the non-ticket holding “public”.

            Just like yesterday’s Broncos game.  The stadium was closed to the public.  Buy a ticket and you can get in.  You can’t play, but you can watch.

            • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

              You really seem to know a lot about this.

              I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Try making a few more accounts so it doesn’t look like it’s just you playing dumb, ok?

              • I do know a lot about it.  That’s why I’m right.

                BTW – NCSL isn’t open to the “public” either.  You have to pay to attend.  

                And they support and oppose a number of pieces of state and federal legislation, and serve as a defacto clearinghouse of ideas.  AND, legislative participants at NCSL frequently mingle with members of the business community at their conferences.  For shame! 🙂

    • “Conservatives” attack the organizations you list at every turn for their legislative bias and legal challenges.

      But as soon as someone who disagrees with your point of view exposes a “conservative” legislation mill for doing the same and more, you all come out of the woodwork dismissing the criticism as meaningless.

      What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and, frankly, the gander has been doing a lot more to hide what it’s been up to than any of those very public groups you like to criticize.

  8. ohwilleke says:

    there is nothing per se unethical about legislation being ghost written, and indeed, very few legislators at the state and local level (or period, for that matter) write their own bills, and we do have pretty comprehensive (indeed, probably excessive) lobbying disclosure in Colorado.

    Bills are routinely conceived by outside bodies (e.g. the Uniform Laws Commission), or cribbed from other states (e.g. most of Colorado’s original set of statutes were copied wholesale from Illinois), or drafted by special interests.

    Custom drafting can be a problem of its own.  For example, while some of the problems with TABOR are associated with the underlying concept, some of them are basically a product of lousy legislative drafting.  The same can be said for Colorado’s gift ban.  Model legislation is frequently written better than do it yourself efforts.

    What is telling about the case of ALEC is that usually legislators want to tout the source of authorship as a good thing.  When they are too ashamed of the source to admit the true authorship, that is troubling.

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