NY senate forum questions status of big business advocacy group

Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
June 13, 2012

A hearing by Senate Democrats explored the influence of the controversial lobby group known as ALEC  in New York State. Those who testified say more light needs to  shine on the secretive group and even urged the state ethics commission to start an investigation.

ALEC, which stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, until recently claimed the membership of some of the nation’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart and Coca Cola.  ALEC claims credit for distributing model legislation to state legislatures across the nation, and convincing lawmakers to sponsor their bills.  Some major companies recently dropped their membership over controversy over the Stand Your Ground law cited in the Florida death of Travon Martin. ALEC is a backer of the legislation.

Senate Democrats, trying to determine what influence ALEC has in New York, say the group claims it has 39 model bills introduced in New York.  Senator Dan Squadron, who chaired the forum, says it’s difficult to determine what exactly those bills are, and who sponsored them.

“Who really knows what legislation and what conversations are actually being driven by this organization,” said Squadron.” Who has never disclosed a word to any one in New York State.”

For instance, Senator Squadron says, it’s difficult to determine whether ALEC, incorporated as a 501- C 3 charity, is a lobbying organization and should be registered with the state ethics commission.

Currently, the group is not registered.

Former State Lobbying Commission executive director David Grandeau was among those testifying. Senator Bill Perkins asked Grandeau if he thinks ALEC is a lobbying entity, using the proverbial description “if it walks like a duck”-.

“Where would you put ALEC on the duck scale?” Perkins asked. “Is it half a duck, is it like a duck ?”

Grandeau answered that if ALEC meets the basic criteria for lobbying defined by the state ethics commission,   known as JCOPE, then, yes they should be registered. He says JCOPE’s threshold is spending more than $5000 a year on lobbying activities and advocating for bills.

Sue Lerner, with Common Cause, also testified. She says her group, which has already filed a complaint with the IRS and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about ALEC,  is now asking the state’s ethic commission, JCOPE, to look into it.

“The public doesn’t the ability to say to ALEC ‘come clean, tell us who your members are’,” said Lerner. “And if you claim you aren’t lobbying in New york, then prove it.”

Members of ALEC were asked to testify at the forum, but declined.