The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) reports giving cash awards to legislators, including $1,350 for an award it gave to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the current House Majority Leader, even though members of the House are prohibited by law from receiving any cash gift, and any non-cash gift they receive must be valued below $50. Common Cause has written to Rep. Cantor to ask for an explanation. We also passed our findings on to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
ALEC, the so-called “free market, small government” lobby group underwritten by some of the nation’s largest corporations, reported in its tax filings for 2008 and 2009, making cash payments to the recipients of several annual awards. Common Cause has identified 22 legislators who received ALEC awards in those two years, including Rep. Cantor, who ALEC records indicate received $1,350 in 2009 as part of their Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award.
ALEC’s tax filings (2008 & 2009) list each of the awards they give, the number of recipients, and the value of the “cash grant.” These documents indicate ALEC paid one Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award winner $1,350 in 2009. The tax filings do not reference Cantor by name, but Common Cause has obtained ALEC’s 2010 award nomination form, which does list Cantor as the sole winner for 2009, and a YouTube video also shows Cantor accepting ALEC’s award in that year.
Why would ALEC want to influence Cantor and Congress?
Although ALEC’s primary focus is in promoting corporate-friendly state legislation, the group also has a clear federal agenda.
A 2005 ALEC document provided to Common Cause by the Voters Legislative Transparency Project outlines 42 distinct ALEC model bills that attempt to influence federal policy. Current ALEC model bills include resolutions calling for lower corporate taxes and supporting construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In effect, corporations working through ALEC are using state legislators to lobby Congress on their behalf. ALEC boasts of the 91 “ALEC alumni” currently serving in the US House, including both Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
ALEC gives out several awards each year, including the ALEC Legislator of the Year Award, the William Raggio Leadership Award, the ALEC Champion Award and the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award. Most are presented to state legislators, who are the primary focus of ALEC’s lobbying efforts. According to ALEC’s tax filings, the awards given out for at least two years―2008 and 2009―came with cash awards ranging from $395 to $1,350. While reporting requirements vary in each state, many require that such payments be disclosed as gifts. Accepting such payments raises further ethical questions about the legislators involved, many of whom ALEC honored because they introduced ALEC model legislation.
ALEC is the powerhouse corporate front group in US state politics. For almost 40 years, up to 300 major corporations have used ALEC as a vehicle to promote their own model legislation in the states, disguising the work of their own lobbyists and lawyers behind the scenes. And they have been remarkably successful, claiming a third of all state legislators as members, who introduce around 1,000 ALEC model bills every year.
Over the past year, we have been highlighting the work of ALEC. In July 2011, Common Cause asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate ALEC’s tax-exempt status, suggesting that the group is engaged in profit-driven lobbying that should not be subsidized by taxpayers.
State legislator awards
The ALEC Legislator of the Year Award – given to nine state legislators in both 2008 and 2009 -is awarded to lawmakers who have taken “a leadership role” in “advancing, introducing and/or enacting” ALEC bills. According to ALEC documents obtained by Common Cause, legislators who stand against any ALEC policy become ineligible for the award. The breadth in scope of ALEC’s 800 model bills leaves little room for legislators’ discretion, at least if they want to win an award. ALEC’s award criteria outline how legislators curry favor.
ALEC’s magazine for legislators—“Inside ALEC”—highlights some of the reasons these legislators received their award, for example:
- Maryland Sen. Alec Mooney received the 2008 Legislator of the Year award after introducing ALEC’s Government Transparency Act, Right to Carry Act (liberalizing gun laws), Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Repealing the Death Tax [Act], and the Prohibiting the Seizure of Firearms During an Emergency Act.
- Maine Sen. Carol Weston was a 2008 Legislator of the Year thanks to her introduction or sponsorship of bills including ALEC’s Charter School legislation and Health Care Choices Act for States. Weston has since left the legislature, and now runs the Maine chapter of Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaire David Koch.
- Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe received ALEC’s 2008 Champion Award, in part for his role in cutting state sales taxes in half that year.
Here is the full list of state legislator awards in 2008 and 2009:
»Follow Common Cause’s ongoing work on ALEC to learn more about corporations writing legislation.