ALEC Leaks Out
Internal documents show extent of corporate-backed group's N.C. influence
Bit by bit, the public is learning more about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence on state lawmakers around the country, and especially in North Carolina.
A business-backed, limited-government group that counts House Speaker Thom Tillis as a leader is exerting increasing influence in North Carolina, according to newly disclosed records.
The American Legislative Exchange Council counted 54 out of 170 North Carolina lawmakers as members through June, or roughly one-third of the General Assembly. The state is one of only seven to increase membership more than 40 percent.
The numbers are highlighted in new internal ALEC documents, obtained and published by the British newspaper The Guardian, that shed new light on the organization’s presence in the state. About 10 state lawmakers are attending the group’s conference in Washington this week.
The two North Carolina lawmakers who serve on the national board of directors — Tillis and Asheville Rep. Tim Moffitt — are named in the documents as key potential fundraisers for a major donor campaign. The organization is trying to generate new money after more than 60 corporate and 400 legislative members left it over the past two years. A number of North Carolina entities are identified as possible prospects.
The stories in The Guardian are fairly revealing, centering on its declining donor base since the revelation of its role in crafting “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and its campaign against clean energy. (This is perversely perfect: ALEC is pushing the idea that people who install solar panels at their homes are “freeriders” by not buying utility-generated power.)
The documents, downloadable from the paper, are even more eyebrow-raising, showing the extent of ALEC’s attempts to rebrand over the last couple of years. It’s been around since 1973, but no one knew much about it until Trayvon Martin and “Stand Your Ground”; Bill Moyers and his crew at PBS began airing shows on ALEC, and the organization found itself having to undertake what it refers to as “an aggressive, proactive media campaign”:
As members and staff continue communication and earned media outreach on issues, research and model policy, the organization is increasingly recognized as a free-market think tank rather than a “corporate bill mill that secretly manipulates thousands of legislators.” Members of the media and third party groups are increasingly contacting public affairs staff for comment and inclusion in the story. Whereas one year ago stories about the organization contained little factual information, today the media and public are more interested in the facts.
“Think tank” versus “bill mill” is a to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to situation. ALEC is pushing that message, any message, not because media were running stories without trying to get ALEC’s side of it but because the organization stonewalled. It could afford to operate in the shadows as long as the public didn’t know what it was doing.
Now it does, and the counter-message is making the rounds with the help of earned media placements in friendly outlets. As an example of how successful the "proactive media campaign" has been, the documents cite an economic development report showing red states like Texas outperforming blue states in job growth.
The report earned placements where you’d think it would: Investor’s Business Daily, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, Fox Nation, and Breitbart. The echo chamber abides.