The Guardian published a series of leaked documents from the conservative legislation-crafting group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on Tuesday, which together paint a picture of a flailing group looking to regain support after a year of negative press.
ALEC lost 106 of its members over the past two years, largely thanks to the group’s involvement in the Stand Your Ground law that originally allowed George Zimmerman to walk free on the night he killed Trayvon Martin. ALEC has also been behind the push to expand oil and coal’s power while rolling back renewable energy standards, and has coordinated voter identification laws across the U.S.
The Guardian documents reveal that ALEC is paying the price for its unpopular policies. Here are some of the most damning facts from the leaked papers:
1. Membership is dropping. ALEC’s ranks shrank dramatically since its activities came to light in 2011. Nearly four hundred state legislators have jumped ship, bringing membership down from its peak of 2,200 in 2011 to 1,810 in 2013. Corporate membership has also declined from 280 to 214 over the past two years. Through a new initiative called “The Prodigal Son Project,” the group is struggling to win back former members who distanced themselves after the controversy, targeting corporate giants like Blue Cross Blue Shield, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Walgreens, and General Electric. Members in the financial services have also backed away from ALEC “due to controversy,” the report notes.
2. Finances are in bad shape. As it sheds prominent members, the organization’s finances have taken a hit. The leaked documents reveal a budget shortfall of $1.4 million as of June 30, 2013 on expected dues of $3.9 million. Membership support had a gap of $440,792, while conference sponsorship fell short of expectations by $547,500.
3. Legal trouble is on the horizon. ALEC is creating a new lobbying wing in 2014 that will act separately from the rest of the organization. This new wing, called the “Jeffersonian Project,” will “provide greater legal protection or lessen ethics concerns,” the documents say. This means ALEC is trying to create an organization without a tax-exempt status so it doesn’t get in trouble for lobbying for the passage of bills. The documents show that ALEC would still like the Jeffersonian Project tightly linked, though. “No action can be taken by the Jeffersonian Project unless it is supported by a current ALEC policy,” the documents read. The project is also spun more positively with the board saying it “will be a new revenue source.”
The news isn’t all bad for ALEC. Hidden within the document are also plans for recruiting a mix of new companies, trade associations, and law firms — “2013 Prospects” — that include major corporations such as Boeing, Home Depot, Motorola, Expedia, Orbitz, Sprint, ConocoPhillips, and Microsoft. The group also still maintains its stronghold on state legislatures; even after the years of bad publicity, nearly a quarter of all state lawmakers are ALEC members. In both Iowa and South Dakota, 100 percent of legislators are ALEC members.