ALEC, as it is known, is a conservative advocacy group that helps write legislation for lawmakers who share similar views and enjoy its support.
ALEC received financial support from leading corporations like Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric and Walmart as well as hefty contributions from energy interests like those represented by the billionaire Koch brothers. Some of the bills ALEC writes are passed virtually unchanged by compliant legislatures and signed into law.
One of the pieces of legislation ALEC pushed were the controversial “stand-your-ground” laws that were so roundly denounced after the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. Since Florida’s law was enacted in 2005, the advocacy group has teamed with the National Rifle Association to help similar laws pass in 16 other states.
ALEC was besieged by bad press after the Martin incident. Documents leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian show that over the last two years more than 60 of ALEC’s corporate members and 400 of the state legislators who support it have withdrawn their support. With them went a third of ALEC’s income.
To get the deserters and their money back into the tent, ALEC established the “Jeffersonian Project.” The effort tells us a lot about corporate thinking in America today.
ALEC is currently set up as a “charity.” (It’s the tax code, so reason does not apply here.) Donations to it are tax-deductible, and the names of the contributors can be kept secret. However, a charity cannot lobby, which ALEC is being accused of doing.
So to shake off the lobbying charge, ALEC is setting up the “Jeffersonian Project” as a “social welfare organization.” A social welfare organization can lobby, which is what ALEC and its supporters want. And though contributions to a social welfare organization are not tax deductible, the names of contributors can be kept secret.
That’s the key point.
Contributors to ALEC want the group to lobby for their particular causes. However, because ALEC seems to attract controversy, contributors want their names kept secret. Obviously, they feel the financial benefits of this arrangement far outweigh the loss of the charity tax deductions.
Put simply, through the Jeffersonian Project, corporate and individual interests can pay ALEC to lobby on their behalf and the public will never know who those corporate and individual interests are.
It is hard to imagine Thomas Jefferson liking the Jeffersonian Project.