Starting Wednesday, hundreds of state lawmakers descended on downtown Washington, DC, for a big three-day confab hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative advocacy group that that brings together lawmakers and representatives of major corporations to draft model legislation on issues such as taxes, energy, workers’ rights, education, and agriculture. These bills are then introduced in state legislatures around the country—in some cases, lawmakers pass ALEC-inspired bills without changing a word.
There were dozens of press credentials laid out on ALEC conference’s check-in table when I arrived Thursday morning. Mother Jones‘ was not among them. ALEC’s board of directors had refused my request for credentials, according to spokesman Bill Meierling.
When asked why I’d been turned away, Meierling pointed to our previous coverage of ALEC and said it’s clear that Mother Jones “fundamentally hates” ALEC. We’ve covered ALEC for more than a decade—a 2002 exposé titled “Ghostwriting the Law,” coverage of the group’s proposals regarding voting rights and workers’ rights, and more recently the departures of big-name corporate members.
At the same time he was explaining why I couldn’t attend, Meierling stressed to me that ALEC is “moving toward transparency.” To his credit, he acknowledged the irony.
If ALEC had given me a press credential, the only events I would’ve been allowed to cover were keynote speeches by Republican luminaries Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Grover Norquist. But the real action at ALEC conferences, the meat-and-potatoes work, happens at the meetings of the group’s many task forces—the environment and energy task force led by American Electric Power, the tax and fiscal policy task force led by tobacco giant Altria, and the international relations task force run by tobacco company Philip Morris. Meierling says that even credentialed reporters can’t cover those meetings. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank learned this firsthand on Wednesday, when DC police and ALEC staff stopped him from attending the group’s private task force meetings.
It’s been a tough week for ALEC. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that the group faced a “funding crisis” after 40 of its corporate members and hundreds of state lawmakers ditched ALEC in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing last year. Those members fled after it was revealed that ALEC’s model legislation included the same Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Martin. ALEC has since eliminated its gun-related advocacy and, with a narrower fiscal focus, is trying to woo its erstwhile members to back into the fold.
Given the organization’s recent struggles, I can understand why ALEC would be feeling defensive. Meierling, the ALEC spokesman, was polite throughout our conversation. We traded business cards before I left and promised to get a drink to talk more about Mother Jones. Fingers crossed for next year.