The American Legislative Exchange Council is the most powerful corporate front group you've never heard of.
Financed almost entirely by Big Business, the group lets corporations help write model legislation that is then secretly passed on to legislators to be passed in state legislatures. Most of the time, the public doesn't even know that a bill passed by lawmakers is an ALEC law – unless a lawmaker accidentally reveals that it was, like in Florida.
As the group has come under fire, at least fifteen corporations, foundations, or other major groups have pulled out since last month.
Coca-Cola was the first company to publicly quit because ALEC is too toxic.
But a number of lawmakers in the state legislature have gone out of their way to defend it. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers – who also serves as the organization's Treasurer -- claimed that ALEC's critics were “extremists.” Freshman Representative Buzz Brockway called criticism of ALEC a “war on good ideas.”
Both of these lawmakers have good reason to defend ALEC. They actually share a lot of the same Big Money donors as the organization. Corporations ranging from United Healthcare to UPS to WalMart have donated both to ALEC and to Rogers or Brockway. Unfortunately, these two aren't the only legislators who are members of the group. 55 Georgia lawmakers in all are members of ALEC.
One of the frequent claims by ALEC's defenders is that the organization is simply promoting conservative laws.
But that isn't true. As one example, ALEC actually worked against conservative Republican lawmakers in states ranging from Texas to South Carolina to protect a special tax break for online retailers like its donor Amazon.com – to the detriment of mom-and-pop stores that were denied this break.
And it isn't just that ALEC works on behalf of passing laws that are friendly to its corporate donors. It actually allows its corporate members to vote as equals on the model bills it works to get passed in the states.
The nonpartisan organization Common Cause obtained documents that detailed how ALEC members voted on a model resolution during the organization's 2011 meeting. One document shows that the Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force voted on a model bill and while the state legislators on the committee voted in favor of the bill, it was not adopted because the corporate members of the task force did not agree to it.
That's right. Unelected corporations outvoted elected lawmakers.
The Buzz Brockways of the world can claim that ALEC is simply a benevolent organization dedicated to promoting conservative ideas. But it is really a group dedicated to giving corporations the ability to write our laws without our knowledge.
Is that really the sort of organization Georgians really want secretly writing bills in our legislature?
Zaid Jilani is a Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Zaid grew up in Kennesaw, GA, and holds a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Arabic from the University of Georgia. Zaid has interned for Just Foreign Policy and was a weekly columnist at The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s official student newspaper. He is a co-editor at the Georgia-based blog Georgia Liberal and a regular on RT America's The Alyona Show and The Thom Hartmann Show and has been a guest host on Al Jazeera English's The Stream.