Shrouded in secrecy, hundreds of right-wing Republican state lawmakers joined powerful corporate executives and lobbyists for three days in Washington, D.C., yesterday for the yearly "States and Nation Policy Summit" of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
In meetings closed to the public and press, they will fashion a slate of bills for the 2013 state legislative sessions aimed ultimately to maximize corporate profits and power, at the American people's expense.
However, with a changed political post-election landscape favoring President Obama and Democrats in Congress and some state governments - on top of an energized labor and people's movement including in Republican controlled states - ALEC's agenda is likely to be more forcefully challenged.
ALEC was the main behind-the-scenes force in recent years in promoting state laws suppressing voting rights, undermining collective bargaining rights, privatizing public schools and prisons, and weakening clean air and clean water regulations, according to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Common Cause.
ALEC came under particularly intense scrutiny surrounding its political agenda and tax-exempt status during its national drive earlier this year to promote the "Stand Your Ground" gun law that for weeks shielded the killer of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin from prosecution.
And this was before rightwing Republicans took a trouncing in the November elections, in which labor, other social movements and public interest groups played major roles.
All of which increases the chances that these powerful people's movements will potentially work more closely with watchdog public interest groups - like the CMD and Common Cause - that have been a thorn on ALEC's side.
This becomes all the more important as efforts are being explored to coordinate ALEC's policy aims at the state level with federal congressional Republican ultra right aims.
The Huffington Post reported in September that the ultra right Heritage Foundation hosted a policy gathering for both current ALEC members and the Republican Study Committee -- a group of staunchly conservative House Republicans -- in hopes of beginning a partnership between the two organizations at the state and federal levels.
In a joint press release on the eve of the ALEC summit, CMD and Common Cause indicated they expect that, with public pressure many legislators will shy away from ALEC's controversial agenda and improper lobbying activity, this coming year.
Since the launch of ALECexposed in 2011 by CMD, along with the role of muck racking liberal media outlets and journalists and public interest groups, over 70 legislators have indicated that they have left ALEC, according to the two watchdog groups.
To add to ALEC's problems, in the 2012 election at least 117 ALEC members lost their seats, CMD and Common Cause said.
In addition to the exodus of lawmakers, more than 40 companies have severed ties with ALEC this year as journalists and groups including CMD and Common Cause connected the dots between ALEC and bills and resolutions affecting both federal and state laws. They include General Motors, General Electric, Amazon.com and Bank of America, CMD and Common Cause reported.
In their press release, CMD and Common Cause announced they had obtained new documents and reports that shed more light on the inner workings of ALEC.
The two watchdog groups revealed that ALEC's legislative leaders in each state have a "duty" under its public bylaws to get ALEC "model bills" introduced and enacted.
CMD and Common Cause charge that ALEC continues to insist that "it does no lobbying, even as it brings hundreds of legislators to DC to sit with corporate lobbyists and executives to craft legislation."
ALEC's most recent IRS Form 990, for 2011, indicates that while classified as a "charity" and enjoying the tax-exempt status that accompanies that designation.
But, the two public interest groups revealed that ALEC spent nearly $5 million on closed-to-the-public conferences with state legislators and "task forces" geared to advancing hundreds of corporate-drafted "model" bills.
The new documents acquired through state freedom of information requests strengthen Common Cause's case that ALEC is "a lobby masquerading as a charity," the watchdog groups said.
Common Cause is pressing a tax "whistleblower" complaint with the IRS seeking to revoke ALEC's tax exemption.
"Buying Influence," an October 2012 report by CMD and Common Cause documents how ALEC's corporate backers have funneled an estimated $4 million into "scholarships" since 2006 to pay for the travel and hotel expenses of state legislators attending ALEC meetings with corporate lobbyists. ALEC corporate backers include drug companies, big tobacco and telecomm giants.
By paying for the junkets through ALEC, the companies can take advantage of their tax exemption to claim the expense as a tax deduction, effectively shifting the cost to taxpayers, the watchdog groups said.
Photo: RJ // CC 2.0