House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said the interests advanced by ALEC often seem more in line with the organization’s national agenda. A bill about greenhouse emissions introduced last session seemed out of step with the commonwealth. “We have problems in Virginia, and we should try to come up with Virginia solutions,” Toscano said.
ALEC, founded almost four decades ago by a father of the modern conservative movement, Paul Weyrich, includes about 2,000 state legislators as well as 300 companies, such as Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, according to officials and documents.
Membership costs $7,000 for companies, $3,500 for nonprofit groups and $50 for legislators, ALEC told The Washington Post last year. Fees make up the bulk of its $7 million annual budget, documents filed with the IRS show.
Several GOP legislators said recently that they became members of ALEC — a group where nearly every board member and state chairman is a Republican — because it is the conservative alternative to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But Meagan Dorsch, an NCSL spokeswoman, said her organization, which offers research and technical assistance for legislators and their staff, is bipartisan — the president alternates each year between a Republican and a Democrat, and each of its 12 standing committees have co-chairmen representing both major parties.
NCSL differs from ALEC in that only legislators and staffers are able to be members, and NCSL rarely writes model legislation.
The Center for Media and Democracy released a report, ALEC Exposed, in July, documenting more than 800 model bills pushed by ALEC and introduced in state legislatures across the nation. The center received copies of the bills from a whistleblower.
In 2009, 826 ALEC bills were introduced across the nation; 115 became law, according to ALEC’s legislative scorecard.
ProgressVA used information from that report to find more than 60 Virginia bills in a wide variety of areas, including labor, the environment, health care and federal relations. Virtually all were introduced by Republicans.
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who has attended ALEC conferences, said every member of the House GOP caucus was a member of ALEC at one time. When lobbying legislators on a bill, he said, he mentions when a bill is supported by ALEC. “I say it because it’s a selling point,” he said.
The list of Virginia bills includes one championed by Howell for several years that would have helped protect a Fortune 500 company, Philadelphia-based Crown Cork & Seal, from asbestos lawsuits — one of the few bills Howell put his power behind.