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Common Cause accuses conservative group of lobbying, seeks IRS probe

July 14, 2011|By Neela Banerjee
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has drafted state legislation asking Congress to compel the EPA to stop regulating carbon emissions. Nearly identical versions of the resolution have won at least partial approval in 13 states. Above, a coal-powered plant in Montana.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has drafted state… (James Woodcock / Associated…)

The government watchdog group Common Cause has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax status of the nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an association of conservative state legislators and private sector officials that churns out hundreds of bills and resolutions annually to pare back regulation and promote business.
Over the last few years, Washington-based ALEC has helped legislators around the country to introduce measures, often taken verbatim from the group's website, that would dismantle regional climate change initiatives, rebuke the Environmental Protection Agency, repeal health care reform and curtail labor's power, among other things.

In a letter to the IRS, Common Cause argued that a review would help determine if ALEC's tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status should be revoked due to "excess lobbying or, alternatively, because ALEC appears to operate primarily to further private business interests and not to advance a charitable purpose."

Raegan Weber, a spokeswoman for ALEC, denied that accusation. She also asserted that bringing together legislators and private-sector executives  was good for democracy: "Legislators should hear from those the government intends to regulate."

On Wednesday, a Wisconsin-based liberal activist group, the Center for Media and Democracy, released thousands of pages of internal ALEC documents, including model bills, emails and details of the organization's internal procedures, which give private-sector representatives a major role in drafting proposed legislation.

Citing information in ALEC's tax returns, Common Cause said that most of the group's work is done by nine task forces made up of legislators and corporate representatives. The task forces generate model bills.

ALEC has said more than 1,000 bills are introduced annually around the country based on the group's templates. Common Cause contends that such activity violates tax code provisions that bar nonprofits from "carrying on propaganda, or other attempting, to influence legislation."

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