The Republican National Committee unveiled a comprehensive 100-page report earlier this week containing detailed strategies it hopes will carry the GOP to victory in 2014. The report—now the template for the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project—marks a concerted effort by Republicans to revise the party’s playbook and appeal to voter groups that conservatives have so far failed to win over.
How earnest that desire is to usher more Hispanics, African-Americans and women into the Republican fold, however, is debatable. Buried on page 67 of the report, under recommendations for reviewing and revising state campaign finance laws, is a measure calling for the development of model legislation that can be replicated in statehouses nationwide. Among the organizations the RNC says “may wish to take a leading role” in the effort is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a group with a less-than-inclusive track record on minority issues.
Watchdog groups have repeatedly decried ALEC, which strives to give state legislators and corporate representatives an equal voice and vote on issue-based task forces, as nothing short of a corporate “bill mill.” ALEC’s extensive library of model legislation includes a bill based on Florida’s 2005 “stand your ground” law, a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion, and a bill inspired by Arizona’s hotly contested—and constitutionally questionable—anti-illegal immigration measure. Montana Rep. David Howard introduced two immigration reform bills in the 2013 Legislature bearing similar or identical language to ALEC’s controversial model.
ALEC’s been a constant player in the Montana Legislature over the years. Another bill introduced this session—Rep. Jonathan McNiven’s House Bill 390—contained several verbatim passages from an ALEC model establishing a special needs scholarship program that would incentive enrollment of disabled students in nonpublic schools. The bill died in committee. ALEC recently posted hundreds of its model bills online in response to pressure from watchdogs, including a copy of what it calls the "Special Needs Scholarship Program Act."
The fact the RNC would cite ALEC as a possible leader in model legislation seems odd enough, considering the overarching goal of diversifying the party’s voter base. But the report lists only the RNC and the Republican State Leadership Committee as additional examples of organizations who could lead the model legislation effort—raising ALEC to the level of an equal. That particular section of the Growth and Opportunity Project report may only address model legislation on state campaign finance issues. Then again, ALEC’s effort to quash same-day voter registration was partly the reason dozens of corporate members abandoned the nonprofit last year.