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How Much Does It Cost to Influence Colorado Politics?

Photo: Movie logo. Courtesy: United States of ALEC
Photo: Movie logo. Courtesy: United States of ALEC
March 26, 2013

DENVER - A nonprofit organization, widely known as "ALEC" and funded by some of the state's and nation's largest corporations, continues to influence Colorado and national policies. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) identifies itself as the "state legislators' think-tank" but a growing number of citizen groups are concerned about the influence the group wields.

According to Tony Salazar, head of the Colorado Education Association, ALEC is making a targeted attempt to influence education policy in the state.

"It's been mainly in those school-choice areas where they've basically tried to defund, deregulate, privatize, and then have the private sector profit off the changes that are made in education here in Colorado."

ALEC is the subject of a recently-released documentary, titled the "United States of ALEC" and produced by veteran journalist Bill Moyers. Tonight a special screening of the film will be held at the Denver Post Auditorium, sponsored by Colorado Common Cause.

There are currently some 2,000 legislators nationwide who are members of ALEC, including 107 from Colorado. ALEC is funded by private-sector memberships, at a cost ranging from $7000 to $25,000, according to the nonprofit's website.

Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, an organization fighting for open government, declared that ALEC is a clear example of "paying to play" in politics.

"So what we see are lawmakers working with corporate interests behind closed doors to craft policies that are often in direct conflict with the public's interest."

Several voter advocacy groups have spoken out against ALEC, including the League of Women Voters and Center for Media and Democracy. One common activity of ALEC is the drafting of "model" legislation that is then proposed in multiple states. Tony Salazar and others charged that the involvement of the private sector goes beyond what is appropriate.

"You have basically corporate interests, special-interest folks, corporate lobbyists, sitting at the table with legislators, voting on policy as if they were a publicly-elected official, like the legislators are," Salazar declared.

ALEC says it is a nonpartisan organization, but most of the lawmakers involved are members of the Republican Party, and the policies the organization supports are generally seen as strongly conservative.

More information on "United States of ALEC" is at BillMoyers.com.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO