In the wake of growing pressure on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a shadowy right-wing group dedicated to pushing a conservative agenda at the state level -- and the exposure of its agenda and tactics, will local media finally acknowledge its influence on state politics when reporting on new legislation?
The Guardian reported on December 3 that ALEC has lost the membership of "almost 400 state legislators" and the funding of "more than 60 corporations" due to the organization's connection to controversial "stand your ground" laws, which received scrutiny following the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. In an effort to rebuild those relationships, ALEC is holding its States & Nation policy summit in Washington, D.C., this week. The event includes Republican legislators such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as several governors.
Legislators and businesses from around the country will gather to discuss this year's model legislation, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy has highlighted, will run the gamut of policy areas including legislation "opposing U.S. consumers' rights to know the origin of our food," "undermining workers' rights," "stripping environmental protections," and "limiting patient rights and undermining safety net programs." The last category includes legislation to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, similar to the proposal that Ryan has offered in his budget proposals.
State and local media outlets in the past have often neglected to identify ALEC-influenced legislation and failed to report on their state legislators' involvement with the group. A new wrinkle proposed this year by ALEC, however, directly affects state legislators. The Kansas City Star highlighted a document that was published by The Guardian that, although not adopted, would have required state chairs to take a loyalty oath: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first." As Star columnist Barbara Shelly wrote:
What? These are elected officials. They are to put the interests of their states and constituents first. Apparently at some level people realized that, because the draft job description was never adopted. But the very suggestion demonstrates ALEC's eagerness to control these lawmakers.
As legislative sessions begin next year, will state media outlets begin to question legislation offered by their state representatives, especially those who are known to be members of ALEC? Will state media outlets question their ALEC state chairmen about the loyalty oath and whether they are putting the interests of ALEC interests above those of their state and constituents?
ALEC's renewed push has essentially given local media a second chance to identify ALEC's influence in their states and potentially identify the corporate interests behind several pieces of legislation affecting their readers.