How the contributions study came to be might be more interesting than its findings, which establish conclusively that conservative corporate members of the Exchange Council give lots of money -- $516.2 million over the past 20 years -- to conservative legislative members of the Exchange Council, conservative ballot initiatives and conservative state party organizations.
It has pretty much been this way since 1973 when conservatives founded the non-profit to provide a forum or exchange, if you will, between public and private conservatives. The Exchange Council claims more than 2,000 members with a website touting limited government, free markets and federalism.
The Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal activist group based in Wisconsin, has spurred a revival of interest in the ALEC. Center organizers posted about 800 model bills it said were leaked to them on a site called ALEC Exposed. The Center contends these bills are proof that conservative legislative and corporate leaders are covertly hijacking the American lawmaking process.
This “relatively little-known” (Los Angeles Times) “shadowy group” (Capital Times, Madison, WI), a “secret nonprofit” (The Business Insider), has been referred to in 291 news stories over the past year and 1,080 over the past five years, with 2,680 references in all in newspapers, magazines, blogs and news wires during that time, according to a Nexis database search.
Suspicion of the council surfaced in March when Republican Party officials in Wisconsin asked for and received e-mails from the state-sponsored account of a University of Wisconsin history professor, William Cronon. Cronon suggested on his personal blog the Exchange Council was responsible for the spate of Republican-backed laws being passed in Wisconsin and other states.
The e-mails failed to reveal Cronon politicking on state time.
Because of the council leak, the Institute for Money in State Politics was able to link specific corporate money with specific legislators and issues. Of the $516.2 million given over the past 20 years, corporate donors spent $228.3 million on campaigns in support of issues on ballots in various states. Another $202.1 million went to candidates and $85.8 million went to almost exclusively Republican state committees.
Perry was, by far, the most popular donor target in Texas. Former Republican House Speaker and Exchange Council member, Tom Craddick, got $878,000 from corporate council members.
Other leaders were: State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, $315,000; Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, $163,000; and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, $124,000.
None of this donating, the totals of which are available to the public through legally required contribution reports, is illegal. It does, however, raises questions about the ways laws get made and passed, according to the Institute report:
The bottom line is, all sides of corporate America met willing partners at ALEC conferences, sat side by side with lawmakers to draft industry-friendly legislation, and helped those lawmakers win elections to ensure that their legislation had the best possible chance of passage.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo of money by flickr user elycefeliz, used via a Creative Commons license.