What is the American Legislative Exchange Council?

Instructor: Michelle Penn

Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.

In this lesson we will learn about the American Legislative Exchange Council, including what it is, its members, why it was founded, the political goals of the organization, and some criticisms of the organization.

Voter ID Laws

Imagine waiting in this line to try to vote and then not being allowed to...
voting line picture

Imagine you have voted in the same state your entire life, at the same voting location. Unfortunately, when you try to vote just as you always do, you find out that you cannot because you didn't bring one of the accepted forms of voter identification, newly required by the government. You have other ways of proving your address and identity, but that's not enough. Even though voter fraud is not a widespread problem, new voter ID laws are being implemented and preventing citizens from exercising their right to vote. You are very upset. Who is responsible for writing this new voter ID law?

How would you feel if you found out the law was written not by your local legislators, but by an ideological nonprofit organization, along with the help of giant corporations. It's possible that the outrage you feel might end up being directed at the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. ALEC is a nonprofit organization made up of conservative state lawmakers and corporate representatives that has become a lightning rod for controversy over the past few years.

The Founding of ALEC

Henry Hyde, an Illinois representative to Congress who co-founded ALEC
Henry Hyde picture

ALEC was co-founded in 1973 by conservative activists Paul Weyrich and Lou Barnett, along with Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican Congressman. The co-founders of ALEC wanted to make it easier for state and local governments to pass conservative laws. Their legislative goals are embodied in ALEC's motto: ''Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism.'' In other words, ALEC wants limited government (decreased funding for social programs), free markets (less business regulation), and federalism (less power for the federal government). ALEC works with conservative elected officials, such as former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, to write conservative laws. ALEC-written laws passed across the United States include laws in favor of privatizing education, voter ID laws, laws deregulating various industries, and laws to break unions.

ALEC also drafted the model for many ''Stand Your Ground'' laws, such as the Florida law involved in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed the 17-year-old, claiming that he felt threatened by Martin. Zimmerman was able to use Florida's ''Stand Your Ground Law,'' which allowed for the use of deadly force in ''self-defense,'' without requiring Zimmerman to retreat first. The killing of Martin by Zimmerman gained a lot of attention, (in part because of the apparent racism involved- Martin was black), and called a lot of negative attention to ALEC's involvement in drafting the law.

Other Criticisms of ALEC

Criticism of ALEC doesn't only involve the content of their laws, such as the ''Stand Your Ground'' law involved in the George Zimmerman case. Critics also look to the organization of ALEC. ALEC might sound fairly innocuous--after all, what is wrong with conservative lawmakers with similar interests getting together and writing proposed laws? However, many critics have pointed out that ALEC is trying to 'impose a one-size-fits all agenda on the states,' and noted that state and local representatives involved in ALEC might not necessarily be interested in representing their constituents, but are instead representing their party (usually Republican) and ideology.

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