U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota is listed as a member of a controversial corporate and state legislative collaboration called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to recently leaked documents.
The group includes thousands of members of state legislatures and representatives of corporations who draft legislation that is then introduced at the state level without acknowledgement that it was written with the help of corporations it might benefit.
ALEC documents were released by the Center for Media and Democracy last week, after they were leaked by a whistle-blower. The leak includes more than 800 ALEC draft bills on corporate-friendly issues. Although most bills appear in slightly different form at each legislature, they often originate in ALEC. This year, the Minnesota legislature had anti-labors bills like prevailing wage-restrictions that were similar to ones posted on the leak site.
Paulsen, whose communications staff did not respond to the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment, is a member of the federal affairs arm of the group, which includes 71 U.S. House members and six U.S. Senators. The group’s purpose is to build collaboration between federal and state members, and provide “members with information and testimonial support from the states on pressing policy matters,” according to a leaked membership document.
Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) told the Minnesota Independent that there’s been a regular stream of ALEC legislation coming to Minnesota through some Republican lawmakers. The Center for Media and Democracy listed 16 Minnesota lawmakers who had ties to the organization.
“The concern I have is that you have a well-organized group of corporate conservative organizations that spread their influence quietly and nationwide and begin to change basic underpinnings of a fair society that we’ve put together for years and years,” Winkler said. “My concern is that they’re effective, not that I’m afraid to address their bills on their merits.”
The leak led to a series of articles in the Nation magazine, detailing an environment that allowed corporate lobbying without disclosure, as well as undue corporate influence in legislation-drafting.
In a response at NPR, ALEC chairman and Louisiana State Rep. Noble Ellington said bills “may start out in the corporation and the ALEC members, but then only legislative members approve model legislation.”
The organization has also been criticized for what some see as corporations providing free vacations for the legislators and their families; the next ALEC meeting will be held in New Orleans in August.
The vast majority of its funding comes from corporate members like Johnson & Johnson which spend up to $10,000 to secure spots on committees, or conservative and corporate foundations, including two run by the libertarian Koch brothers. According to ALEC’s nonprofit tax filing in 2010, the organization spent about $6.6 million in the previous year hosting conventions and paying lawmakers’ costs.
Common Cause, a group that advocates for open government, last week requested that the IRS investigate the group for under-reporting lobbying and possible tax violations. Some members of the liberal group MoveOn.org planned a protest against Paulsen Tuesday in Eden Prairie.
Are you a member of the legislature or staff with knowledge of ALEC’s doings? Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.