ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Among the hundreds of bills that will be introduced into the 28th Legislature over the next two years, it's almost certain that some will be inspired or written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive legislation mill that combines conservative thought with corporate interests.
That's what happened in the previous Legislature, when ALEC-connected legislators sponsored or supported bills that would end collective bargaining rights for public employees, turn Alaska into a "right-to-work" state, require photo IDs for voters and remove any "duty to retreat" when using deadly force in a public place.
None of those passed and only one had hearings, but that was before Alaska Republicans achieved one-party rule in the Capitol in the November election.
For the new year, ALEC's chairman in Alaska, Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, sent letters to legislators after the election, urging them to join. Though a number of nonpartisan organizations offer policy analysis and model legislation, like the Council of State Governments or the National Conference of State Legislatures, none understands like ALEC the importance of legislatures "in ensuring that our respective states are thriving in the coming years," Keller wrote.
But though he was pushing for increased membership among the elected officials, in an interview, he declined to name current members, saying he didn't have the information at hand.
"I would say there's not over a half dozen members," he said.
That might be an underestimate. ALEC itself doesn't identify its legislative members, but the website ALECexposed.org, run by nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy, came up with a list from 2011 directories obtained by Common Cause, a liberal-leaning nonprofit watchdog. They show the membership to be a powerful bunch. Nearly everyone on the lists from Alaska who is returning to the Legislature in 2013 will be chairs of standing committees or finance committee members.
In the House, they are Keller and Reps. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, and Bob Lynn and Mia Costello, both Anchorage Republicans. Senators are John Coghill, R-North Pole; Fred Dyson and Anna Fairclough, both Eagle River Republicans; and Anchorage Republicans Catherine Giessel and Lesil McGuire (McGuire says she no longer belongs). Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, newly elected from Fairbanks, was the ALEC state chair in 1999 during a previous stint in the Senate, the website said. State records show that Anchorage Rep. Charisse Millett, also a Republican, attended ALEC's 2011 annual convention in New Orleans.
ALEC says it has a library of 1,000 model bills that it shares with its members from state legislatures throughout the country, but not the public. The bills were written in task forces attended by state legislators, including some from Alaska, and businesses with interests in the subject. Corporations also underwrite ALEC's operations and sometimes provide "scholarships" for legislators to attend conferences, yet they don't report their activities as lobbying.
A 'PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP'
"American Legislative Exchange Council is a public-private partnership between industry and legislators. That's probably the unique side of it -- you have private people bringing their concerns to public officials," said Coghill, the incoming Senate majority leader who will also chair the judiciary committee. Liberals have their think tanks like the Ford or Casey foundations, he said, while ALEC blends business and policy.