ALEC ALLY: Sen. Missy Irvin used ALEC staff to lobby for her anti-health care reform bill.

  • ALEC ALLY: Sen. Missy Irvin used ALEC staff to lobby for her anti-health care reform bill.

More today from the New York Times on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate lobby that masquerades as an educational group. It uses state legislators — the new Arkansas Republican posse is particularly under ALEC’s sway — to advance a corporate and social conservative agenda in state legislatures.

Despite its generally low profile, ALEC has drawn scrutiny recently for promoting gun rights policies like the Stand Your Ground law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, as well as bills to weaken labor unions and tighten voter identification rules. Amid the controversies, several companies, including Coca-Cola, Intuit and Kraft Foods, have left the group.

Most of the attention has focused on ALEC’s role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.

In Arkansas, of course, ALEC has moved beyond merely providing stealth talking points, though it does a lot of that, along with the Koch brothers’ corporate lobby Americans for Prosperity. It has even appeared to testify for its agenda bills introduced by adherents, such as Sen. Missy Irvin’s bill to kill expanded health care for the U.S. and Rep. Ed Garner’s bill to give the wealthy an enormous tax break.

The article notes that, despite state legislators claim to the contrary, the corporate backers who underwrite most of the cost (allowing legislators to be members for a nominal $50) often exercise veto power over legislation.

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ALEC-influenced legislators introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation a year and pass about 17 percent.

A members-only newsletter from 1995, found in an online archive of tobacco company documents, bluntly characterized that success ratio as “a good investment.”

“Nowhere else can you get a return that high,” it said

ALEC is a nonprofit 501C3 public charity, meaning the companies that pay for it can get a tax deduction for the expense. Thus, American taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of the conservative corporate lobby influence on their state legislators.

UPDATE: Common Cause plans a news conference Monday at which it apparently will seek an IRS review of ALEC’s activities. There are limits on political activites by tax-exempt nonprofits. Common Cause claims to have documents to shed further light on ALEC’s practices.