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Young CLC President Organizes Anti-Alec Rally

Johnathan Tilove - Austin American Statesman
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A banner at the 46th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council at the JW Marriott in downtown Austin featured a photo of Vice President Mike Pence with the quote: "I was for ALEC before it was cool."

If you are not a Republican legislator somewhere in America, chances are you don't know what ALEC is. If you are, there is a 1 in 4 chance you are a member of ALEC, a powerful if low-visibility organization that brings together business interests and policymakers from across the country to hammer out model conservative legislation and then seeks to have it enacted in state capitals from coast to coast.

For about 100 labor, environmental, consumer, disability, immigrant and Democratic Party activists who gathered outside to rally in the 100-degree heat in what Progress Texas, the organizing group, called an "unwelcome reception," ALEC is definitely not cool, and no amount of hotel air conditioning could make the Marriott anything other than a hothouse of bad ideas for a gathering that began Wednesday and ends Friday.

"They make it easier for lawmakers to pass regressive legislation by spoon-feeding it to them," said Adrian Shelley, Texas director for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

"It's a gathering of wealthy corporate funders and the policymakers who protect their interests," said Anthony Gutierrez, spokesman for Common Cause Texas, which issued a 24-page report this week on ALEC's influence in Texas, a state with at least 58 affiliated lawmakers, more than any other. The state chairmen are Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.

"We fully expect new attempts to suppress the vote or gerrymander Texas districts to come out of this conference, and we'll be standing ready to stop them," Gutierrez said.

For state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, a member of the ALEC board and former national chairman, the left's suspicion of business interests and legislators getting together to share ideas is telling.

"The goal of the progressive and socialist movement is to just move all businesses outside of the public square," King said. "We try to take the opposite approach. Our primary goal is to try to bring the people that create jobs and the policymakers into the same room to talk over and identify best practices and see what we can do to help the economy, and that helps business and helps people."

The organization's reach is enormous.

"About 25% of the legislators in the country are members," King said, and some were Democrats, though mostly in the past.

"Something like 120 current members of Congress are former members of ALEC, and when we had 16 candidates running in the presidential (campaign) last time, seven of those were former ALEC members," King said.

The protest outside featured a giant inflatable fat cat, a cigar clenched in its teeth, gripping a money bag in one hand and a worker's throat in the other.

That is not ALEC's self-image.

"In a time of division and tribalism, our work is surely needed across the country," said state Rep. Alan Clemmons of South Carolina, ALEC's national chair. "ALEC is about the free exchange of ideas, absent attacks and infighting. We are a solutions-first organization."

The featured speaker at lunch Wednesday was Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas governor who is unabashed in lining up with ALEC's pro-business agenda as the surest path to growth, innovation and progress — much like his successor, Gov. Greg Abbott.

"The U.S. now leads the world in producing both oil and natural gas and at the same time reducing energy-related emissions," Perry said. "That's a story that all too often doesn't get told. Those 190-something countries that signed on to that Paris Accord, I tell them when you catch up with us about reducing emissions, then you come talk to me about joining."