Common Cause Minnesota calls for state ALEC investigation

As part of a national campaign to draw attention to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) activities, Common Cause Minnesota is asking state Attorney General Lori Swanson and the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to investigate whether the group has violated state law.

In a letter to Swanson, Common Cause Executive Director Mike Dean contends that ALEC, a tax-exempt charitable organization, lobbies state lawmakers, and has therefore misrepresented its purpose under state laws regarding charities.

“In view of the overwhelming evidence that ALEC is engaged in lobbying, I urge you to review its compliance with all applicable state laws or to refer this matter to the appropriate state regulatory authorities for their action,” Dean wrote.

Meanwhile, Common Cause is also filing a complaint with the state’s campaign finance board contending that ALEC should be registered as a lobby but isn’t.

Groups organized as a 501(c)(3) under the Internal Revenue Code are allowed to lobby, as long as it doesn’t constitute a substantial part of a group’s activities.

ALEC is a national group with a conservative bent that caters to state lawmakers. It is best known for bringing together lawmakers and business interests to write model legislation.

ALEC’s lawyer, Alan Dye, says that the group abides by legal lobbying limits, but that the organization is free to communicate with state lawmakers in ways not covered by those definitions, such as sending out research and analysis.

But Common Cause, a national liberal group that has been targeting ALEC’s activities, says the group’s talking points, model legislation, and other communications with state lawmakers are evidence of ALEC’s lobbying efforts.

The letters sent to Swanson and the state campaign board by Common Cause Minnesota are part of the group’s nationwide effort to scrutinize ALEC’s activities. At least 29 state attorneys general have received similar requests, according to Common Cause.

Among other bits of lobbying evidence, Common Cause Minnesota points to memos sent from ALEC to Minnesota lawmakers regarding bills similar to ALEC model legislation, including one that would have allowed defendants to challenge whether a case should be defined as a class action suit, one that would have lowered the interest rate on judgements over $50,000, and one that urged Minnesota legislators to support the repeal of a moratorium on radiation therapy facility construction.

Common Cause recently filed a request with the Internal Revenue Service to look into ALEC’s activities.

Dye called Common Cause’s claims “patently false.”

  • Kim

    ALEC should be illegal and I am pretty sure it violates the constitution. Their efforts go beyond lobbying though it is lobbying at the very least. Billionaires sitting down with state senators and writing model legislation to be copied into state law is about as crooked as it gets. Legislators are supposed to represent people in their states, not international corporations and billionaires. When was the last time state senators sat down with members of their districts and wrote ‘model legislation’ to suit their needs?

  • Judy

    ALEC’s next target will be state AGs. Check the website for Minnesota members of ALEC. This serious.

  • Catherine D.

    How can ALEC be anything but a lobbying organization ? It is corporate lobbyists & policy drafters joined at the hip to the Republican legislators. No wonder that all their model legislation is corporate friendly, anti-union, anti-middle class, anti-environment etc..

    For 2 years I’ve worked against the ALEC model legislation on Photo ID in Minnesota. The MN legislators are so indebted to ALEC for this bill they follow like blind sheep everything the model bill proposes. The GOP Legislators won’t give in an inch on any of its harsh provisions. Nor did any of the ideas for the provisions come from their constituents. It all from the lobbyists.

    ALEC is a cancer on our democracy – a rot from within. The sooner it is banned, the healthier our government will be.

  • Finch

    Any investigation of ALEC also merits a look into the NCSL and the CSG. All three are similar orgs.

  • Dee

    While I am not against investigation of any organization – when needed – I am pretty sick of the comparison made over and over again in comments and in the press that compares ALEC to NCLS. There is no comparison.

    NCSL is run by an Executive Committee made up of legislators only. Corporations and their lobbyists are not members of NCSL committees.

    NCSL does not accept for-profit corporate members or donors. ALEC, on the other hand, is funded almost entirely by its corporate members. In 2010, 98% of ALEC’s revenues was from CORPIORATIONS.

    NCSL is led by a fully bipartisan group of legislators through an “Executive Committee.” ALEC is led jointly by a corporate board and a 23-member public board. All of the public board members are Republican legislators

    AND at NCSL – Corporate lobbyists DO NOT sit at the same table as state legislators to discuss, debate and VOTE on legislation.

    Go ahead – investigate NCLS – but you will find that there is no comparison to the heinous “acts” being perpetrated by ALEC.