ALEC: A LOBBYING GROUP MASQUERADING AS A PUBLIC CHARITY

Eric Havian, Impact Fund board member and partner at Constantine Cannon

Eric Havian, Impact Fund board member and partner at Constantine Cannon

When Exxon takes state legislators to dinner to lobby against climate change laws, should taxpayers pay for the entrée?  When the NRA invites politicians to attend its annual clay pigeon shoot so it can lobby against an assault weapons ban, or when Reynolds Tobacco pays for the attendance of politicians at its Cigar Reception to convince them that tobacco is benign, should the rest of us pay for the ammo, cigars, and resort accommodations?

It may surprise people to learn that taxpayers pay for all those things.  And more.  And it’s all being done right under the indifferent gaze of the IRS. 

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is having its annual Spring Task Force Summit on May 5.  At that event, ALEC will do what it was founded to do – it will provide a tax-deductible venue for corporations to lobby legislators.

ALEC has a simple mission.  It develops “model” legislation favored by its corporate members, such as oil industry-sponsored laws to prevent states from funding any efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses.  Once the model is developed, ALEC’s legislative members, with support from ALEC, take those laws back to their home states to be enacted.

ALEC invites politicians to join the organization for a nominal fee of $100 per year.  It then invites corporations to join for a much higher payment of $7,000-25,000 per year, but that’s just the entry fee.  Companies pay far more to participate in the inner workings of ALEC, such as the drafting of the model legislation and the opportunity to lobby politicians in private for favored legislation.  From 1998 to 2014, Exxon alone donated over $1.7 million to ALEC.

Of course, it’s not illegal for Exxon to lobby against climate change laws or for the NRA to lobby against an assault weapons ban.  But corporations aren’t legally allowed to deduct lobbying expenses for tax purposes; Americans are not required to subsidize lobbying.

But ALEC claims to be a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code.  That means that when Exxon funnels cash to ALEC to write and lobby for climate-change-denial legislation, Exxon can deduct those lobbying expenses as “charitable contributions.”  In effect, the taxpayers are paying Exxon to lie to us.

ALEC generally shuns publicity, but is often at the center of right-wing positions of tremendous public concern.

·      ALEC developed two pieces of model legislation opposing the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which have been adopted in 23 states, and the President just signed an Executive Order to dismantle the plan.

·      ALEC has announced that it “will continue to support the efforts of state legislatures [i.e., lobby] in resisting the EPA’s regulatory agenda.” just as the Trump Administration is seeking to starve the EPA and roll back environmental enforcement.

·      ALEC has lobbied heavily in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline, taking nine state legislators on an “ALEC Academy” – an all-expense-paid two-day tour of the Alberta tar sands – a project the Trump Administration just green-lighted.

·      On the social legislation front, ALEC, with the help of the NRA, developed the controversial “Stand Your Ground” legislation, which was quickly adopted by Florida and many other states, and resulted in the acquittal of the person who shot Trayvon Martin.

Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy have blown the whistle on ALEC.  They have submitted to the IRS several detailed analyses documenting how ALEC lied on its tax returns when it certified that it did “zero” lobbying, and thus qualified as a public charity.  The IRS refuses to discuss what action, if any, it has taken in response to this information.

Hopefully, the IRS will aggressively pursue this fraud on taxpayers and revoke ALEC’s tax-exempt status.  People need to let the IRS know they will not tolerate continuing abuse of tax deductions intended for real charities, not fake ones.  ALEC is a lobbying front group masquerading as a public charity, and it’s about time that the IRS put an end to the charade.  To make your feelings known, write to John Koskinen, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20224.