The Secret Misspelled Comeback Plan of America's Creepiest Lobbyists

The American Legislative Exchange Council, beloved play-toy of conservative financiers like the Koch brothers and purveyor of controversial gun-rights legislation, is scurrying to woo back lost members and cover financial shortfalls, internal documents show.

A 53-page summary of ALEC's August board meeting, obtained by the Guardian, shows the group has bled members ever since its role in the nationwide development of so-called Stand Your Ground laws came in for public scrutiny after the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

"[T]he State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman verdict presented an opportunity for opposition groups to cast ALEC in a negative light," the group's document concedes. Many blue-chip companies made a public show of withdrawing from the group under popular pressure after the Stand Your Ground controversy. ALEC's records show that its membership declined significantly in each of the last two years, and that its 2013 revenues were already $1.4 million shy of projections, a 35 percent shortfall, just halfway through the year.

To stanch the bleeding, ALEC proposed several responses:

  • First, it established a "Prodigal Son Project" (misspelled as "Prodical" in the document) to try to re-enroll big-ticket members who dropped out of the group, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy.
  • ALEC's board also voted to create "a new revenue source" called "the Jeffersonian Project," a 501( c )(4) super PAC that would enable the council to throw more money into political advocacy without endangering the parent group's overall non-profit status. "ALEC has been approached by donors who are willing to make sizable donations, but insist that the donations go to a section 501©(4) organization," the document read, before pointing out that "our left-wing opponents"—like the Sierra Club—"use 501( c )(4)'s."
  • The group also identified 102 "prospects," new companies and lobby groups it hoped to tap for membership money, from Allstate to the American Association of Community Colleges.

The Guardian highlighted some other startling points in ALEC's document, including a new requirement that state chairs for the group pledge to "put the organization first," which could put those legislators at odds with their constituents.

Other revelations:

ALEC was looking into covering several new policy areas to attract members, including gambling and financial services—though the document conceded that many Wall Street giants had "failed to renew at ALEC due to controversy."

The group also considered working on Indian affairs, but sounded lukewarm about the idea: "There may be little to no private sector funding for this issue. In addition there has been scandal in the past with individuals like Jack Abramoff who lobbied on behalf of Indian Tribes."

In addition, the document aired a good deal of its former members' ALEC-related dirty laundry: The Solar Industries Association "left because their bill did not pass the task force"; The Pioneer Institute was "kicked out of ALEC" because of an education disagreement; Blue Cross Blue Shield and UnitedHealth "left after losing on exchanges" in Obamacare-related lobbying efforts; and the Doctor-Patient Medical Association was non responsive and had a "history of being late on payments."

[AP image: President Bush steps up to speak at the American Legislative Exchange Council, July 26, 2007, in Philadelphia.]