The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill-mill and pay-to-play operation that coordinates closed-door meetings between state legislators and corporate lobbyists. There they strategize about how to advance a radical right-wing, pro-corporate, and pro-Republican agenda by drafting and voting on model legislation on everything from suppressing voter access and denying climate change to crushing unions and undermining public education. ALEC boasts that state lawmakers introduce more than 1,000 of their model bills every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law.
For years, ALEC has claimed on its website that “nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators” are involved in the secretive group, yet it has never disclosed its members’ names nor the actual number of legislative members in any given year. In fact, ALEC records obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) show that it had only 897 members in early 2020, less than half the number it claims.
ALEC’s crusade against “woke capitalism” surfaced in May 2021 when its CEO Lisa Nelson promoted a new “Back to Neutral Coalition” to fight “corporate woke culture.” Speaking at the Council for National Policy meeting, she said, “We’re particularly sensitive about this corporate woke culture,” and noted that the new coalition “is really, really active.”
In July 2021, ALEC held its annual meeting in conjunction with the semi-annual meeting of the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF). ALEC executives hold senior positions in SFOF and Nelson sits on SFOF’s board of directors. Jonathan Williams, ALEC’s chief economist and executive vice president of policy, serves as SFOF’s senior policy advisor.
It was at the July meeting that ALEC introduced its first anti-ESG model bill: the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, which would punish financial institutions and other companies that cease to do business with fossil fuel companies by barring the state from investing in them and denying them state contracts, CMD first reported.
Although ALEC didn’t adopt the model legislation at that meeting, it also includes an anti-boycott measure prohibiting government contractors from boycotting energy companies, even asking for “written verification” from companies stating that they “will not boycott energy companies during the term of the contract.”
Andy Puzder, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, claimed credit for drafting the bill at Heritage’s 2022 Resource Bank meeting, and said that SFOF, Heritage, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) proved to be “a huge help” with crafting the legislation.
ALEC reconsidered the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act again at its December 2021 States and Nation Policy Summit, where TPPF’s Jason Isaac promoted it to ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture (EEA) task force members as a way for states to “fight back against woke capitalism.” He also pointed out that the policy is based on language from “anti-BDS legislation supported by ALEC,” which targets the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel over its oppression of Palestinians.
Michigan Rep. Phil Green (R), who is now the public chair of the EEA task force, had introduced the measure a month earlier at an EEA subcommittee meeting on November 19, 2021.
The EEA task force unanimously passed the model bill at ALEC’s December 2021 meeting, as CMD reported, but it was not finalized by the board of directors. An attendance list from the task force meeting obtained by CMD shows that those who voted on the bill that day included lobbyists from Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Koch Companies Public Sector, Alliance Resource Partners, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Arizona Public Service Company, Coalition for Community Solar Access, Conservative Energy Network, CropLife America, Kansas Municipal Utilities, Pattern Energy Group LP, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, and the Salt River Project.
During a special meeting of its Tax and Fiscal Policy task force in March 2022, ALEC passed its State Government Employee Retirement Protection Act, which was then amended at its 2022 Annual Meeting. The model policy prohibits anyone managing state, local, or university public pensions from considering the climate emergency or other social or political factors when investing pension funds.
In 2022, the fight against “woke capitalism” took center stage at both of ALEC’s meetings. At its annual meeting in August, Woke Inc. author Vivek Ramaswamy tutored ALEC members on “How States Can Fight the Woke Industrial Complex,” and ALEC’s Nelson moderated a discussion on “Politicizing ESG Investing” with Will Hild of Consumers’ Research and Jessica Anderson, CEO of Heritage Action. At its States and Nation Policy Summit in December, Hild joined SFOF members Utah State Treasurer Marlo Oaks and Florida’s CFO Jimmy Patronis in speaking about “ESG Initiatives” at the opening breakfast meeting.
Following that ESG discussion, ALEC held a “How States Fight Back Against ESGs” workshop for members featuring Hild, Anderson, and Puzder, who compared the current fight against ESG to World War II-era efforts to eradicate Nazism and communism.
The model bill sponsored by Texas State Representative Dennis Paul (R) bars companies with 10 or more employees from receiving state contracts if they take into account any “social, political, or ideological interests” to limit their commercial relations with fossil fuel, logging, mining, or agriculture businesses—and instructs legislatures to “insert additional industries if needed.”
Once again, TPPF’s Isaac promoted the bill along with SFOF, The Heartland Institute, the Independent Women’s Forum, Heritage Action, America First Works, the Foundation for Government Accountability, and Consumers’ Research. The latter two organizations were major sponsors of the meeting, CMD reported.
ALEC’s board declined to approve the measure on January 20, 2023, and sent it back to the task force for reconsideration due to a “lack of agreement among members of the ALEC task force on Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development.”
The American Bankers Association (ABA), state bankers associations and others led the challenge. “Government should not be dictating business decisions to the private sector, which is what the draft model policy proposed. We appreciate the strong vote by the ALEC board to send this proposal back to the task force for reconsideration,” ABA stated following the vote.
ALEC continued its anti-ESG push in 2023 at its 50th Annual Meeting. In a workshop titled, “Stopping ESG (aka Conscientious Capitalism),” speakers fanned the flames of the Right’s manufactured crisis around sustainable investing and attacked net-zero alliances that are working to address the climate emergency, CMD reported.
Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, led the discussion with Catherine Gunsalus, state advocacy director at Heritage Action for America, and Richard Belzer, a self-described consultant on regulations, economic risks, and the “quality” of information. Consumers’ Research was a “Chairman-level” sponsor of the annual meeting at a cost of between $50,000 and $60,000, according to a meeting sponsorship packet obtained by CMD.
ALEC continued its focus on ESG at the U.S. Capitol on October 4, 2023 at its “50th Anniversary Policy Day,” where “How States Are Responding to ESG” was on the agenda, or what it termed in an internal email, “pushing back against ESG.”
- CEO Lisa Nelson
- Chief Economist and Executive Vice President of Policy Jonathan Williams
- Vice President for Policy Advancement Sherry Street
- Bradley Foundation: $3,432,000 (2017-2021)
- DonorsTrust: $2,363,821 (2017-2022)
- Searle Freedom Trust: $1,740,000 (2017-2021)
- Charles Koch Foundation: $1,371,433 (2017-2021)
- National Philanthropic Trust: $876,000 (2017-2021)
Note: ALEC is not required by law to disclose its donors. The Center for Media and Democracy identified its top funders through an examination of IRS filings.
- Total revenue: $9,832,106
- Total expenses: $8,596,965
- Net assets: $6,416,345
Source: 2021 IRS 990 filing
For more information, visit CMD’s ALECExposed site.