Most people in North Carolina who aren't political junkies probably haven't heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council--until today. A front-page article in today's (Raleigh) News & Observer extensively details the secretive right-wing group's influence on the state's legislative agenda.
Despite being shunned by many of its members amid controversy a year ago, ALEC continues to exert substantial influence in North Carolina. House Speaker Thom Tillis is a national board member, and former Rep. Fred Steen, the past state ALEC chairman, is Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative lobbyist.The story, which also ran in the Charlotte Observer, mentions several ALEC-inspired bills that have made it onto the General Assembly docket. Among them:
A handful of measures sponsored by North Carolina lawmakers this session include language identical to ALEC’s template legislation. At least two dozen more bills match the organization’s priorities and intent, if not its exact language – everything from requiring voter ID at the polls and allowing private school vouchers to repealing the federal health care law and prioritizing energy exploration.
ALEC’s role in North Carolina makes it a target for critics, particularly the think tank’s cozy relationship with business interests, who play a prominent, but mostly behind-the-scenes, role in crafting legislation alongside the roughly 50 North Carolina lawmakers listed as members.
Republicans affiliated with the organization dismiss the criticism as hyperbole, arguing the organization serves merely as a resource for networking and public policy analysis. But they are keenly aware of it’s public persona.
“It’s a lightning rod organization because it has a decidedly conservative bent – there’s no doubt about it,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican and ALEC member.
- A bill that would shield Crown Holdings of Philadelphia from asbestos-related litigation
- A bill that would shield companies from obesity lawsuits
- A right-to-work amendment to the state constitution
- A tenther-oriented statement of state sovereignty
The language in all of these closely follows ALEC model legislation. At least two major North Carolina companies--Duke Energy, the state's biggest investor-owned utility, and tobacco giant Reynolds American--are members. Apparently they didn't jump ship last year in the furor over the "stand your ground" law.
Not long ago, several liberal groups uploaded a raft of ALEC documents to the Internet, along with the text of several ALEC-inspired bills in the legislature. Additionally, Common Cause's suit challenging ALEC's nonprofit status is well underway.
Predictably, ALEC's supporters claim that the criticism is much ado about nothing. ALEC state chairman Jason Saine, a state representative from the Charlotte suburb of Lincolnton, says ALEC is no different from the National Conference of State Legislatures. One difference, though--NCSL is truly bipartisan, and corporations aren't at the table.