Tracking ALEC “model legislation” through real legislatures

Tracking ALEC “model legislation” through real legislatures: how to obtain copies of ALEC model legislation

What is ALEC?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization (reporting about $6.5 million in annual revenue in recent years) which claims more than 2,000 (roughly one third) of the nation’s state-level lawmakers as members.   

According to the group’s promotional material, ALEC’s mission is to “advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.”

ALEC currently claims over 250 corporations and special interest groups as private sector members. While the organization refuses to make any complete list of these corporate members available to the public, some known members include: ExxonMobil, the American Bail Coalition, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Corrections Corporation of America, AT&T, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, PhRMA, TimeWarner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the National Rifle Association, Koch Industries, the Heritage Foundation (co-founded by ALEC founder Paul Weyrich), GlaxoSmithKline, and Phillip Morris International—to name a few.

ALEC is comprised of nine “task forces:” 1.) Public Safety and Elections, 2.) Civil Justice, 3.) Education, 4.) Energy, Environment and Agriculture, 5.) Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, 6.) Telecommunications and Information Technology, 7.) Health and Human Services, 8.) Tax and Fiscal Policy, 9.) and International Relations.

Each task force is comprised of both public and private sector members—the public sector members being elected lawmakers, the private sector members being corporate representatives.

These task forces serve as the core of ALEC’s operations, generating “model legislation,” which is then passed on to member lawmakers for introduction in their home assemblies.

According to ALEC promotional material, each year member lawmakers introduce an average of 1,000 of these pieces of legislation nationwide, 17 percent of which are enacted. For 2009, ALEC claimed a total of 826 pieces of introduced legislation nationwide, 115 of which were passed into law—slightly below the average at 14 percent.

ALEC does not offer model legislation for public inspection.

How can I get copies of ALEC model legislation?

*Revision note 1: (March, 2012) when this tutorial was written, in early 2011, the idea of seeking bill drafting materials from the legislative services divisions seemed like it would prove very effective in tracking these bills. Sadly, when this approach was tested outside of Montana, DBA Press learned that the majority of states are not as free with legislative drafting materials as Montana.

As a matter of fact, most states DBA Press approached with this method of sniffing out pieces of ALEC model legislation had enacted exemptions to public records law for legislative drafting offices.

Given the reception this strategy was met with in states such as Ohio, Florida and Arizona (where requests were flatly refused), DBA Press shifted strategy and began submitting public records requests to the offices of bill sponsors. These requests were essentially the same as those that would have been submitted to legislative drafters in that they requested copies of  “all materials/records pertaining to the formation” of the suspect bill.

This strategy has proven effective in sussing out the impetus (or model legislation) behind a piece of real legislation. However, a number of states– roughly half the states in the nation– have enacted some form of legislative exemption to public records law, so even this strategy may fail to produce any meaningful documentation.

Still another, though much broader, strategy has been to submit public records requests to ALEC member lawmakers requesting copies of “any and all records that pertain to the American Legislative Council (ALEC) in any way.”

While this second approach has been useful in uncovering model legislation and other materials, be warned: such broad requests will take much longer to process than more focused requests and are more likely to incur processing/redaction fees.

This revision note is not meant to imply that the below-outlined strategy is useless. This is not true. Some states (such as Wisconsin) still allow members of the public to request and view legislative bill drafting materials– and, if you can get your hands on these records, they do contain useful information.

*Revision note 2 (March, 2012): in late 2011, ALEC overhauled their website– essentially scrubbing any information that might be used to identify members, as well as any mention of the term “model legislation.” As such, the links below are no longer active. We have kept them posted here as a record of ALEC’s shift toward even greater secrecy.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of ALEC is the fact that, while their task forces and corporate members create laws that the general public often have to live with, they are a private entity and do not have to tell you anything or provide constituents of member lawmakers with copies of draft “model” legislation.

So, outside of contacting a lawmaker who has introduced a bill or resolution you suspect originated with ALEC and asking, or outside of calling ALEC and asking, there is a process utilizing public records law which you may use to determine who has been writing your laws.

1.) Find a lawmaker you know to be (or suspect to be) an ALEC member who has introduced a bill that you reasonably believe to be an ALEC bill– find your project.

  • You can most likely obtain a complete list of all ALEC member lawmakers in a state by submitting a public records request to the office of the ALEC state public sector chair requesting all records relating to their role as the ALEC state public sector chair (and likely as treasurer of the state ALEC “scholarship fund”). Such records may include scholarship fund reimbursement request or a simple list of all state ALEC member lawmakers.
  • A list of state public sector chairs is available on the ALEC website. You will probably want to call ahead prior to submitting you request to make sure that the listed lawmaker is the current chair. The list on the ALEC website is often dated and is not necessarily accurate: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=State_Chairmen&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=13614

2.) Contact the legislative services division of state legislature where the bill has been submitted and request copies of all material submitted along with the lawmaker’s bill draft request.

Lawmakers submit bill draft requests to a legislative services entity for drafting (this is done for legal vetting purposes and to ensure that the bill is written properly). They will submit a request stating the purpose (often just the short title of the proposed bill), along with ancillary materials, such as partial drafts, reports, news articles, notes, etc…In many states legislative websites/calendars do not contain information on bills which have not yet been assigned a number (awaiting introduction) or which have been placed on hold. You may also contact legislative services and ask for a full list of requested bill drafts in order to get an idea as to what the lawmaker in question has in the works.All of this is public records material that you can obtain through a public records request. In addition to requesting the actual bill draft request and any materials provided by the lawmaker to the drafter, you may also want to request copies of correspondence (both written hard copy and email) between the lawmaker and the legislative drafter, or copies of any other correspondence between any other individual and the drafter concerning the formation of the bill.* Note: prior to submitting your request, check the records retention laws pertaining to the legislative body you are requesting information from in order to establish how far back the records you are requesting are stored.

3.) Once you have your pile of bill draft materials, you will want to look for something that looks like a “cookie cutter” bill.

In the case of ALEC bills, where an essentially complete bill has been submitted to legislative services by a ALEC member lawmaker, there will likely be a copy of a bill containing blank spaces in areas where state/session/sponsor-specific information would be stored in the materials returned through your public records request.You will also want to compare the short title found in the request with the lists of available “model legislation” found on the ALEC site.In some cases you will find that by the time an ALEC bill reaches the drafter, it may also contain certain state-specific information. This is where emails returned through public records requests may come in handy. For example: through a recent public records request submitted to the Montana Legislative Services Division, an ALEC environmental deregulation bill draft turned up which had information inserted by a petroleum industry lobbyist. The lobbyist clearly identified himself as being the source of the new information in an email to the bill drafter, stating that the rest of the bill had come from “another resolution.”


* Example: bill draft materials returned through Montana Legislative Services Division public records request for materials pertaining to the formation of LC1905, requested by Montana Sen. Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge).

In addition to the draft of LC1905, returned materials contain what appear to be versions (introduced in Kentucky, Illinois and Maryland) of a piece of ALEC model legislation, the “Resolution in Opposition to the EPA’s plan to Regulate Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act.”

Download (PDF, 6.43MB)

Note that much of the language used in LC1905, including the “train wreck” metaphor (beginning on page 2), seems to have been lifted directly from the ALEC report, “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck” (below).

This report actually contains a copy of the ALEC  resolution (page 49), “Resolution Opposing EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck,” which is in fact identical to LC1905– minus the Montana-specific “whereas” clauses.

Download (PDF, 2.28MB)

4.) Confirm your suspect bill.

The best way to confirm that the material you received through your public records request is an ALEC bill is to repeat this process in another state with a bill you believe is likely identical to the one you have just dug up, introduced in another state by another known or suspected ALEC member lawmaker.If you find two or more bills which are essentially identical and which bear the same intent as a known piece of ALEC model legislation, then the odds are fairly good you’ve obtained a copy of a genuine corporate-backed-potential-law, spoon fed to a public representative by their corporate handlers at ALEC.And, if you are seeking further confirmation, you may want to call the ALEC director of the task force you believe authored your bill and ask if there are any differences between your copy and the model legislation served up through ALEC. Contact numbers and emails for the task force directors can be found here: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Task_Forces

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