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Corporate Lobbying Under Scrutiny after Colo. ALEC Meeting

Hundreds gathered at the Colorado State Capitol to protest U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' appearance at last week's American Legislative Exchange Council meeting. (Caroline Fry)
Hundreds gathered at the Colorado State Capitol to protest U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' appearance at last week's American Legislative Exchange Council meeting. (Caroline Fry)
July 24, 2017

DENVER -- The American Legislative Exchange Council wrapped up its annual meeting in Denver on Friday, and activists say they'll keep watching as the group's agenda unfolds in coming months.

The national organization, funded by more than 300 corporations and conservative foundations, brings lawmakers and campaign contributors together to review so-called model legislation to be introduced in multiple states.

Caroline Fry, advocacy and media manager at Colorado Common Cause, said ALEC creates an uneven playing field that prioritizes the needs of big business.

"Politicians should be paying attention to the needs of their constituents - the people that elected them into office, and the people that they are representing - not special interests,” Fry said. "But unfortunately, when you have organizations like ALEC, they are the agenda setters."

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman called the notion that independent-minded politicians could be swayed by ALEC "laughable.”

Topics at this year's meeting included using public money to pay for private and religious schools, and ways to block renewable energy development and shield the identities of large campaign donors. Fry said her group hopes to lead a statewide effort to inspect any new bills introduced in the General Assembly for ALEC's fingerprints.

Common Cause has filed numerous complaints with the IRS over ALEC's tax exempt status as a charitable nonprofit. It most recently documented ExxonMobil's use of ALEC to lobby state lawmakers to advance policies challenging the scientific consensus on climate change.

Fry said she believes if corporate actors and their facilitators are not held accountable, the basic tenets of democracy are undermined.

"They're paying for access to state legislators from around the country, but then they're also able to use that as a write-off on their taxes,” she said. "If anything then comes from ALEC, coming into Colorado, I think that we need to really look at the influence of corporate lobbying."

ALEC's media representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO