Politics 

ALEC as equal?

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.

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 as nothing short of a corporate "bill mill" that puts state legislators and corporate lobbyists on equal footing. ALEC's extensive library of model legislation includes a bill based on Florida's 2005 "stand your ground" law and a bill inspired by Arizona's hotly contested 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 model (see the Indy's recent feature story, "Cookie-cutter legislation," for more examples).

"It does seem counterintuitive for the RNC to be relying on a group that played such a substantial role in one of the most discredited pieces of immigration legislation to pass in a state in recent decades," says Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

The RNC's press office did not return requests for comment.

The RNC's endorsement of ALEC as a possible leader on state campaign finance reform legislation isn't all that surprising to ALEC critics. ALEC has in recent years pushed controversial voter ID laws in various statehouses, a move that contributed to numerous corporate members abandoning the nonprofit last year.

"ALEC certainly has a track record in this area," Graves says. "Its track record is one of making it more difficult for Americans to vote, in particular Americans who tend to vote Democratic. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the RNC is interested in what further role ALEC could play."

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