We throw big parties and write bills for them, but we swear it's not lobbying

NPR has an exclusive article about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and how it shapes legislation across the nation. ALEC is a membership organization. Legislators pay $50 per year, corporations pay upwards of $20,000 per year (totaling ~$6 billion a year). They hold all-expenses-paid conferences where corporations and legislators get together and "discuss" laws. While ALEC is paying for the conferences you can see from the membership fee distribution that it's really corporations footing the bill.

Part 1 talks about how the text of the AZ immigration law was essentially identical to a bill written during an ALEC conference in association with private prison industry representatives.

Part 2 goes more in-depth about ALEC itself.

You may be thinking, okay it's a lobbying group, nothing particularly unusual about that. But that's exactly the catch. ALEC and its members are incredibly careful to make sure you don't call it a lobbying group. Because lobbyists have all sorts of regulations they have to follow.

Here are some priceless quotes:

From Part 1:

[Michael] Hough works for ALEC, but he's also running for state delegate in Maryland, and if elected says he plans to support a similar bill to Arizona's law.

Asked if the private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Hough said, "Yeah, that's the way it's set up. It's a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together."

From Part 2:

Is it lobbying when private corporations pay money to sit in a room with state lawmakers to draft legislation that they then introduce back home? [Michael] Bowman, a former lobbyist, says, "No, because we're not advocating any positions. We don't tell members to take these bills. We just expose best practices. All we're really doing is developing policies that are in model bill form."

So, one representative from ALEC, Hough, says it's normal for corporations to write the bills. But another ALEC rep, Bowman, says they don't advocate any particular position. The corporations just present their viewpoints in the form of bills that could be passed.

These corporations, out of the goodness of their hearts, are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to get together with legislators just to have neutral discussions of policy. Surely they wouldn't dare push for a particular position or law that might benefit their company.

ALEC holds conferences which include baseball games, golf tournaments, parties, and entertainment for children. None of which has to be reported by the legislators as corporate gifts. And indeed, not a single participating legislator in Arizona reported any of these as corporate gifts, they reported receiving benefits in excess of $500 from ALEC.

Why not? Well, they're not being paid for by corporations, they're being paid for by ALEC. And, ALEC isn't really paying for it, the legislators are being charged, but they all, conveniently, receive so-called "scholarships" to cover their costs.

The whole thing stinks.

"It's not lobbying, it's education!" is the claim from ALEC. Well guess what. In computer science we have educational conferences too. Who pays for them? All the people that want to attend and learn. We pay for our own lodging, food, transportation, and registration fees. And if Microsoft were to come along and say "we're holding a conference, all expenses paid, here's your plane ticket, see you next week" I could only assume that what I was about to attend was an advertising platform for Microsoft.