I sure hope the IRS is paying close attention to this. In the wake of Common Cause's complaint to them about ALEC abusing their non-profit status by functioning as lobbyists, they've squawked about how it's all just a left-wing conspiracy to destroy them.
Yet, even as they squawk, news is emerging that in at least three separate states, legislation was passed exempting them from lobbying laws. Via MoJo:
It could take several years for the IRS to decide whether ALEC is indeed a lobbying group required to register and disclose how much it spends on influencing legislation. But in three states—South Carolina, Indiana, and Colorado—ALEC has quietly, and by name, been specifically exempted from rules for lobbyists.
The laws in those states allow ALEC to spend millions annually hosting corporate lobbyists and legislators at three yearly conferences, send "issue alerts" to legislators recommending votes on pending legislation, and draft boilerplate press releases for legislators to use when pushing ALEC model bills—all without registering as a lobbyist or reporting these expenditures. Legislators can receive scholarships from ALEC's corporate donors to attend conference events, or they can legally go on the taxpayer dime.
But wait, ALEC isn't a lobbying organization, right? Of course it is. Common Cause recently released thousands of documents obtained from ALEC and they're pretty revealing.
Let's take one of my favorite causes -- education -- and have a look at what's on ALEC's agenda for the upcoming Charlotte, North Carolina meeting. From their 35-day notice (PDF) sent to task force members, we discover the following:
- The new chair of the task force is Adam Peshek, Research Associate at the Reason Foundation, another right-wing think tank funded by Randians like the Koch Brothers.
- A new model bill under consideration by the committee would divert state education funds to online learning. This tracks with legislation passed by several states either mandating or allowing some courses to be taken online, which inures to the benefit of online learning companies waiting for their share of the public education dollar. ALEC members K-12, Inc, Connections Academy, Bridgepoint Education, and new member Education Management Corporation are in full support of it, I'm sure.
- Another model bill under consideration is similar (but not identical by any stretch) to one passed by the far-right wing state legislature in New Hampshire. This legislation would permit any local school district to apply for exemption from state standards, guaranteeing that corporate interests could be granted the right to assume all responsibility for teaching students in such districts.
The report and minutes from the previous meeting were also included. Here are the highlights:
- The task force approved the Founding Principles Act, which has been introduced in North and South Carolina. North Carolina has approved it. This bill requires, as a condition of graduation from high school, that students take a semester-long course to learn "founding principles" such as "private property rights, federalism, and Creator-endowed inalienable rights." Private enterprise rights are included as a "private property right" on the list.
- Also approved: The "Local Government Transparency Act," a State Policy Institute initiative. The State Policy Institute is a think tank parent that births other think thanks in individual states, like the Mackinac Institute in Michigan, the Illinois Policy Institute (which is pushing the Local Government Transparency Act), and many others in all 50 states. They act as partner to ALEC and conservative legislators, churning out policy papers and the like to support the legislation. It's quite an incestuous and circular relationship.
- Other approved old business included approving a resolution to reject any federal national standards for schools, a resolution that would effectively kill funding for public universities, and a bill requiring universities to be "accountable", by administering standardized tests to students and posting results on its website. I'm certain members Pearson and Scantron applaud such an action, given the exorbitant amounts they already make from K-12 testing. Market growth and all that, you know.
What busy bees they are! And that was just one meeting. There's lots more. Just about every objectionable state-level education initiative you can imagine comes out of these task force meetings. This is the slow march toward privatizing public schools, aided by the likes of Michelle Rhee and yes, Arne Duncan, on the outside but abetted and enabled by ALEC's right-wing corporate-legislative partnerships.
But ALEC's not a lobbying organization. And Elvis has left the building but lurks outside, too.