MECHELLE HANKERSON, Capital News Service via dailypress.com
On issues ranging from tax credits for private school tuition to a homeowner's right to kill an intruder, several bills before the 2012 General Assembly resembled model laws proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a politically conservative think tank funded by major corporations.
Liberal watchdog groups say that's no coincidence: They say ALEC has curried favor with lawmakers in Virginia and other states to pass legislation that benefits corporate interests.
"ALEC is essentially a corporate bill factory," said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, an advocacy group for low-income Virginians, women's rights, environmental protection and other issues.
"ALEC writes model legislation that is designed to increase corporate bottom lines, and then they turn around and hand it off to state legislators to take it home and introduce it."
ALEC officials dispute that. They describe the group as a "nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty."
ALEC officials say they do what their liberal critics do: try to influence public policy. On its website, the organization says it has generated "hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future."
On at least one point, ALEC and its detractors agree: The group has been effective in persuading states to adopt its recommendations. "Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law," ALEC's website says.
ProgressVA published a report in January saying at least 115 past and present Virginia legislators have membership in or other connections with ALEC. ALEC has ghostwritten more than 50 bills for consideration by the General Assembly in recent sessions, the report said.
"ALEC legislation really blows the gamut on issues," Scholl said. "What they all have in common is that ALEC prioritizes corporate profits over constituents. For example, one of the areas where ALEC legislation has really been pushed in Virginia is in privatizing education."