ALEC Exploits Pandemic to Push Right-Wing Policy Goals at Annual Meeting

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) takes its Annual Meeting online this week to exploit the coronavirus pandemic that has taken over 140,000 lives in the U.S.

Up until early this month, ALEC had planned to hold its meeting in person in Orlando, Florida, despite surging coronavirus cases. On June 26, ALEC tweeted that "legislators won't take a sick day" and that "the world needs constructive solutions to problems that can't be quarantined." The group planned to provide attendees with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), while also telling them that, "By registering for the event, you are accepting attendance is at your own risk."

ALEC threw in the towel and went virtual when Florida became the new epicenter of the pandemic and after its national chairman Speaker Phillip Gunn (R-MS), tested positive for the virus.

ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where legislators and corporate lobbyists meet behind closed doors to adopt model legislation on a broad range of public policy issues. 

Confirmed speakers for the general sessions over the next two days include Newt Gingrich, U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA), Gov. Michael Parson (R-MO), and Brooke Rollins, Assistant to the U.S. President for Strategic Initiatives, among others.

Now that it's online, ALEC's meeting has been stretched to three weeks. Subcommittees met last week, task forces and some workshops will be held this week, and next week more workshops, trainings, and caucus meetings will be held next week.

Power Grabs, Deregulation, and Reducing Liability During COVID

ALEC has played a major role in the right-wing movement to reopen the economy following state stay-at-home orders as the coronavirus spread across the nation. ALEC's CEO Lisa Nelson joined the Bradley-funded "Save Our Country" (SOC) coalition chaired by ALEC's favorite economist Art Laffer to "reopen US society and preserve the American way of life."

Other ALEC ties to SOC include frequent collaborator Stephen Moore and Minnesota state senator and ALEC co-chair of the state Mary Kiffmeyer, who serves on the leadership council and Linda Upmeyer, former speaker of the Iowa state House and an ALEC board member who is on SOC's steering committee.

ALEC also organized a sign-on letter to Trump and state leaders urging them to reopen the economy, and it held webinars with Vice President Mike Pence, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and others on reopening this spring.

As part of the reopen effort, ALEC leadership fast-tracked and circulated a model bill that "would limit liability for businesses following health and safety regulations or guidelines designed to protect employees and customers against the virus," ALEC staffer Ronnie Lampard told Bloomberg Law.

Now, ALEC legislators are considering a number of model bills and resolutions in response to the pandemic that has worsened and forced them to meet virtually.

Two measures reveal a push by ALEC to strip emergency powers away from governors and hand them over to GOP-controlled legislatures. 

ALEC's Emergency Power Reform Act limits the number of days the executive branch's emergency order can remain in effect and bars the reissuing of similar orders. The right wing has taken aim at governors in states like Michigan and Wisconsin who have issued orders to stay at home, using the courts (successfully in Wisconsin) to overturn them. 

Related to this, the Draft Statement of Principles to Inform Emergency Management Acts shifts power away from the executive branch and to the legislature during emergencies, stating that, "States should reject comprehensive emergency management acts in favor of acts tailored to specific types of emergencies," the statement reads. "Emergency powers should last only as long as necessary to secure legislative approval for the emergency response."

ALEC held a workshop on Wednesday where these policy ideas were likely discussed. Titled "COVID-19 & Outdated Emergency Management Acts Facilitated Gubernatorial Overreach," it featured ALEC national chairman Speaker Phillip Gunn (R-MS), Speaker Robin Vos (R-WI), Senate President Karen Fann (R-AZ), Senate President Stuart Adams (R-UT), Speaker Steven Haugaard (R-SD), and Speaker Tim Moore (R-NC).

ALEC is using the pandemic to push for greater deregulation.

The Expedited Suspension and Legislative Repeal of Harmful Rules Act makes it easier for governors, state agencies, and legislators to suspend rules during emergencies for reasons such as being "obsolete," "overly burdensome," or "no longer enforced." The model bill seems to leave a lot of room for discretion and could potentially be used to justify removing environmental, labor, and/or health regulations.

ALEC legislators will also consider a resolution to support the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act (PRIME Act), which would reduce federal regulations on the sale of meat across state borders. Many states saw their meat supplies dwindle during the pandemic and the PRIME Act is being floated as a possible solution.

Not to ignore an opportunity to reduces taxes, ALEC is addressing changes in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that provides tax relief to businesses with net operating losses, including "waiving the carryback period in the case of a net operating loss arising in a taxable year beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2021." The Net Operating Loss Reform Act aligns state tax codes with this change, thereby reducing taxes for businesses, a top priority for the corporate-led group.

A number of additional workshops and panels will also deal with COVID-19. On July 21, "healthcare experts" from the Pacific Legal Foundation and Mackinac Center will brief state lawmakers during a panel called "Removing Barriers to Healthcare" in response to the virus.

The following presentations are also scheduled for task force meetings this week:

  • Impact of COVID-19 on State Courts.
  • Pharmaceutical Innovation & COVID
  • Will Your State Be Ready to Provide Access to a COVID Vaccine?
  • Resilience in Action – American Federalism during the COVID-19 Crisis
  • Cooperative Federalism and COVID-19 Crisis Management – The Case of Germany

School Privatization and Culture Wars on University Campuses

One of ALEC's core missions is to privatize our nation's schools and at each meeting, it appears to introduce a revamped strategy for doing so. This year it is holding two workshops related to COVID-19.

On July 22, ALEC will hold a workshop on "Reopening Schools in the Time of COVID-19: Why Options and Innovation Matter." When "options" and "innovation" are discussed at ALEC, privatization is usually the focus. Following this session, on July 23, a workshop titled "Policy Prescriptions to Expand Education Opportunities in a Post-COVID19 World," will show how lawmakers can exploit the pandemic to enact "digital, private, and homeschool" policies.

Last year, ALEC brought DeVos to Arizona for an unscheduled appearance to promote her controversial and expensive Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. This week, ALEC's Reading Scholarship Act is under consideration. This bill seeks to address third through fifth graders who are facing reading difficulties by providing their parents with $500 per eligible student to be used at nonprofit organizations for curriculum materials, tutoring services, summer or after school programs.

The ALEC model bill seems to be based on a policy first introduced in Florida last year.

On the higher education front, ALEC is again seeking to shape what can and cannot be discussed at colleges and universities. 

The Draft Act to Prohibit Confucius Institutes in Public Institutions of Higher Education takes aim at Chinese government partnerships with U.S. universities and colleges by withholding state funds from those schools that host such an institute on its campus.

Attendees will also hear presentations on "Young Radicals in the Age of Trump" and "Free Speech on College Campuses." ALEC has been pushing its "Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act" in the states to address the manufactured free speech "crisis" on college campuses that has been hyped by the right wing and aided by university appearances by provocateurs such as Charles Murray, Ben Shapiro, and Milo Yiannopoulos. The laws, which were crafted and promoted with the help of the Christian Right litigation and anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, are designed to chill campus protests, and in some cases sanction their participants.

Rewriting the U.S. Constitution

One of ALEC's favorite politicians, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), will lead a workshop on July 21 to promote a balanced budget amendment initiative to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, at least two-thirds of the States must submit applications in order to convene a constitutional convention, which could lead to a radical rewrite of the historical document.

Twenty-eight of the necessary 34 states have passed similar measures to date, which could lead to a radical rewrite of the historical document. Walker serves as the national honorary chair for Center for State-led National Debt Solutions, and has made several appearances at ALEC in the past.

Joining him in the workshop are Let Us Vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment's David Biddulph and Ohio Senate Majority Leader Matt Huffman (R).

Policing and the Justice System

In response to the national Black Lives Matter protests following the horrific murder of George Floyd, ALEC politicians will consider a Statement of Principles on Policing and Community Engagement. The statement appears to have been strategically written to distance ALEC from its past racist policies and cozy relationship with the private prison industry, but it does not address those policies.

Most notoriously, ALEC's Stand Your Ground model bill, brought to the organization by the National Rifle Association, has resulted in numerous killers avoiding conviction, including George Zimmerman, who killed the unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin, in early 2012. But other ALEC model bills such as the Mandatory Sentencing for Repeated Felony Theft from a Retail Store Act have also been disastrous for communities of color by reducing judicial discretion and requiring mandatory minimum sentences for retail theft.

ALEC politicians will also debate the Judicial Deference Reform Act, which will requires judges to avoid considering state agency interpretations of state statutes or regulations in deciding cases.

ALEC commended Trump's executive order on policing, which critics have characterized as grossly inadequate to combat a culture of racist brutality. Nelson also signed a letter alongside a number of right-wing operatives that praised the president's executive order that directed the attorney general to prioritize criminal prosecutions for the destruction of monuments on federal property, including those that memorialize the Confederacy, with prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Preemption of Local Employment Policies

ALEC has long been circulating preemption bills to shift power away from localities in favor of the states. The Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act and the Starting (Minimum) Wage Repeal Act both prevent localities from setting minimum wages, and ALEC has been tied to preemption around paid sick leave as well.

Now ALEC politicians will vote on Employment Mandate Preemption, an all-encompassing preemption bill that prohibits localities from regulating almost anything related to conditions of employment aside from criminal background check requirements, permitting, or licensing.

State Power and the Environment

ALEC is pushing a number of resolutions in support of state power and federalism at the meeting this year. Most interestingly, ALEC is calling for the creation of a "National Federalism Task Force" to "consider and concert plans for restoring and maintaining clearly discernible divisions in the roles and responsibilities of the national government and the States for the benefit and engagement of the American people." The Task Force would hold summits in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.

The Draft Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-Empowerment of the States Amendment calls on Congress to amend the Constitution to "give states the authority to repeal a Federal rule or regulation when ratified by the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States." The bill was introduced in the House in 2016, but has not moved. 

Another resolution supports the so-called states' rights to prevent land transfers to the federal government, unless laid out in the Constitution, while another resolution calls for states to control net metering, a billing mechanism, instead of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Finally, the Resolution Calling on Congress and the President to Protect the States' Autonomy to Set Their Own Consent Procedures urges the President to amend the Code of Federal Regulations to give state officials more power to accept or decline federal grants, and the option to not participate in a federal program.


ALEC once again held a redistricting workshop with its "good friends"—Fair Lines America (FLA), the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC board member Rep. Phil King (TX-R). On July 15, the group met to discuss "What does the U.S. Census Delay Mean for your State?" Adam Kincaid, FLA's executive director who also serves in the same role for National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT), joined King as noted speakers.

The workshop was not included on the agenda posted on ALEC's website.

On Kincaid's leadership, NRRT senior adviser Guy Harrison told Politico, "Adam is a chief authority on redistricting within our party, and he has the experience and expertise to meet the Democrat litigation juggernaut head-on."

The workshop follows a six-part "Mapping America" webinar ALEC held with FLA in May that CMD exposed

CMD filed a complaint with the IRS on July 2 against Kincaid's Fair Lines America Foundation for misreporting its 2018 income. 

Other new bills, ordinances, and resolutions under consideration at ALEC's Annual Meeting this week:

Stay tuned to for more reporting on ALEC’s 2020 Annual Meeting.

David Armiak

David Armiak is research director with the Center for Media and Democracy. David joined CMD in 2015, has conducted extensive investigations on dark money, corporate corruption, and right-wing networks, and is responsible for filing and analyzing hundreds of public records requests every year. David has a strong research interest in social movements and political power, and has delivered many talks on the subject.