Among the most crazy claims I've seen lately is the claim that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) doesn't engage in lobbying. The whole point of the group is to get legislation passed -- legislation with such specific wording that at least one Florida bill still included ALEC language when it was introduced. They're responsible for state-level War on Women laws, anti-voter laws, anti-labor laws, and liberal gun laws like Florida's disastrous "Stand Your Ground" law. You can't introduce all this legislation and get it passed, then still pretend you're not lobbying.
Yet that's exactly what ALEC is trying to do.
Open government advocates accused a conservative legislative group Monday of falsely claiming tax-exempt status while doing widespread lobbying.
Advocacy group Common Cause said Monday it had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity. ALEC is formed as a nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and private sector organizations to develop legislation and policy.
ALEC says its work is not lobbying.
Common Cause disagrees. "It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. "ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer."
Common Cause wants an IRS audit of ALEC's work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.
Things haven't been going well for ALEC lately and this is just the latest blow. The Trayvon Martin shooting has highlighted "Stand Your Ground" laws and ALEC's involvement in its passage, but many already had a problem with them -- as I said, they're the ones behind the War on Women, the War on Voting, and the War on Labor. So the pressure was already there. But the Martin incident is the one that finally blew the gasket.
The group is losing corporate members at a pretty good clip -- the latest being Kraft Foods. That loss may cost them in Wisconsin, where Kraft -- through subsidiary Oscar Mayer -- is a major employer. Bowing out of ALEC may mean bowing out of the recall fight. The timing couldn't be worse for ALEC there.
If courts rule against ALEC and declare them a lobbying organization, they'd probably still exists. But they'd have to come out of the shadows, register as lobbyists, and be much more open about what they do.
I can't think of a better outcome.