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Under Fire for its Hard-Right Policies, ALEC Meets in DC to Try to Stop the Bleeding

The corporate front-group came under scrutiny after the Trayvon Martin Killing.

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In April 2012, ALEC  claimed to disband the task force responsible for its most controversial legislation -- such as Stand Your Ground, voter suppression, and anti-immigrant bills -- purportedly to focus exclusively on "economic" issues. At its July 2012 meeting, ALEC pledged to expand membership among "underrepresented segments," perhaps in response to critiques that ALEC laws disproportionately impact people of color, despite the vast majority of ALEC members being white.

The organization has also taken steps to cloak their activities in even greater secrecy. Instead of sending legislators proposed model bills and meeting agendas through an email that might be released through an open records request, ALEC is now  sending its members a link, which expires within 72 hours, to an Internet drop box where they can access the relevant documents, in an attempt to conceal these records from the public. Many ALEC legislators are also corresponding with the organization through personal email accounts (like Gmail or Yahoo) in an apparent effort to evade state open records laws; in Wisconsin, the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause  had to file a lawsuit to gain access to these public records and prevailed.

ALEC has also been using a public relations firm to investigate public interest groups asking questions about ALEC’s activities. ALEC has  sent multiple emails to its legislative members attacking the character of its critics -- but notably failing to respond to the content of their critiques.  

Echoes of Trayvon Martin Tragedy Reverberate

As the organization gathers this week at the Grand Hyatt Washington, echoes of the Trayvon Martin tragedy are again reverberating in Florida, with another African-American 17-year-old shot dead and his killer seeking to avoid responsibility by invoking the ALEC-ratified, National Rifle Association-sponsored Stand Your Ground law.

On Friday, 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was sitting in a car with friends when 45-year-old Michael David Dunn confronted the group for playing their music too loud. Dunn then fired nine shots into the car after "there were words exchanged." None of the teenagers were armed, but Dunn said he felt "threatened" and plans to invoke the state's Stand Your Ground law at trial. As was the case with the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the victim was African-American and the shooter was not. 

The shooting comes just weeks after a panel appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott to review the Stand Your Ground law endorsed the legislation,  ignoring empirical evidence showing the laws correspond with an increase in homicides.  Half of the lawmakers on the panel are ALEC members.  

At this week's meeting ALEC will try to purge its library of its most controversial model bills. But in many states the damage has already been done. To truly repair the organization's reputation, ALEC legislators should go a step further and start to repeal the laws, like Stand Your Ground, that have already caused so much harm. 

Brendan Fischer is general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch.

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