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U.S. | Government & Elections

New ALEC Initiative Takes Aim at Villages, Cities, Towns and Counties Across America
by Bill Berkowitz
Thursday Mar 13th, 2014 5:14 PM
The new ALEC-sponsored initiative is being called the American City County Exchange (ACCE), and it is being touted as "America's fastest-growing volunteer membership organization of policymakers from villages, towns, cities and counties."
New ALEC Initiative Takes Aim at Villages, Cities, Towns and Counties Across America

Despite being swatted around more in the past few years than any other time in its forty-plus year history, despite the organization's past and current operations finally becoming of interest to mainstream journalists, despite it's bleeding sponsors, and despite being directly linked to the odious and controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws in more than twenty states, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a Republican Party-oriented lobbying group -- is launching an ambitious new initiative aimed at expanding its influence by providing model legislation to governments in villages, cities, towns and counties across the country.

The new ALEC-sponsored initiative is being called the American City County Exchange (ACCE). On the ALEC website the organization is already touting ACCE as "America's fastest-growing volunteer membership organization of policymakers from villages, towns, cities and counties. ACCE works with local officials to promote efficiency and minimize waste by implementing limited government, free market solutions."

According to the Guardian's Ed Pilkington, ACCE "is looking to take its blueprint for influence over statewide lawmaking and drill it down to the local level."

Pilkington pointed out that ACCE "will offer corporate America a direct conduit into the policy making process of city councils and municipalities. Lobbyists acting on behalf of major businesses will be able to propose resolutions and argue for new profit-enhancing legislation in front of elected city officials, who will then return to their council chambers and seek to implement the proposals."

As has been its wont over the years, ALEC officials tend to be notoriously silent on developments within the organization. According to the Guardian, John Russell, ACCE's director "declined to comment," and ALEC spokesman Wilhelm Meierling "declined to say how many corporate and city council members ACCE has attracted so far, or to say when the new initiative would be formally unveiled."

Meierling told the Guardian that, "As a group that focuses on limited government, free markets and federalism, we believe our message rings true at the municipal level just as it does in state legislatures."

ALEC's funding crisis

In December of last year the Guardian's Pilkington reported on ALEC's funding crisis, which appeared to stem directly from its pushing of "Stand Your Ground" laws which resulted in the death of the unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012.

The Guardian found that ALEC had initiated a "Prodigal Son Project," which is aimed at bringing at least some of the 40 or so corporations that had withdrawn their support for the organization after the Martin shooting. Targeted companies target firms include "commercial giants such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald's and Walmart,"

Pilkington reported that "The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income."

The newspaper obtained "a batch of internal documents" which "cast light on the inner workings of the group." The documents found that memberships had declined, corporate sponsors were withdrawing funding, and, the money "raised from conferences, membership fees and donations has fallen short, leaving the group with a potential funding crisis. According to the documents, "Alec has set up a separate sister group called the 'Jeffersonian Project' [designated as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization] amid concerns over possible government inquiries into whether its activities constitute lobbying – which would threaten its tax-exempt status."

ACCE ups the ante

As the Guardian's Pilkington points out, the American City County Exchange initiative opens up ALEC's door to several hundred thousand local officials who have thus far not been subject to ALEC's influence. "There are almost 500,000 local elected officials, many with considerable powers over schools and local services that could be attractive to big business."

In addition to swelling its membership roles, "ALEC is "offer[ing] companies 'founders committee' status in return for $25,000 a year and 'council committee' membership for $10,000. "By joining ACCE's council committee, corporate lobbyists can 'participate in policy development and network with other entrepreneurs and municipal officials from around the country.' In committee meetings, lobbyists will be allowed to 'present facts and opinions for discussion' and introduce resolutions for new policies that they want to see implemented in a city. At the end of such meetings, the elected officials present in the room will take a vote before returning to their respective council chambers armed with new legislative proposals."

Nick Surgey Director of Research at the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors ALEC's activities and has broken many stories about the organization, told the Guardian that "It just wouldn't be possible for any corporation to effectively lobby the hundreds of thousands of local elected officials in the US, which until now has left our local mayors and school board members largely free from the grasps of coordinated lobbyists. Alec is now trying to change that."