Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Oct. 16, 2013 (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday urged a conservative coalition of state lawmakers to stay strong by invoking the very policy that has helped to create a headache for the group, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

“My advice to ALEC is very, very simple: stand your ground,” Cruz said at a lunch event.

Cruz, a former ALEC member himself, said he was proud to support the organization, which allows experts, corporate representatives and state lawmakers to work together to develop and maintain a library of laws and policies that lawmakers can use as models for legislation in their own states.

ALEC has come under scrutiny over its successful involvement with state adoption of a number of corporate- and conservative-friendly free-market policies. Its prior support of the “stand your ground” law at the heart of the defense in the Trayvon Martin killing trial, in particular, drew ire from progressives. Even before that controversy, ALEC had begun shedding some of its lawmaker and corporate members. According to documents leaked to The Guardian, ALEC has lost nearly 400 legislator members and more than 60 corporations since 2011. But recruitment and attrition rates have stabilized since mid-year, said Jeff Lambert, senior director of membership and development.

“We’ve actually gotten in 53 new members,” on top of what was recorded in the leaked August document, he said.

Dozens of protestors circled outside the Grand Hyatt in Washington just before Cruz began speaking, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go.” Across the street, a handful of protestors erected a giant inflatable ALEC “fat cat.” And inside, some tried to sneak into the event to get lawmakers to sign a “right priorities pledge,” swearing to uphold the federal and state constitutions and putting constituents first. They were quickly kicked out.

Cruz told the assembled members that the economy would have fared far better had the nation elected a conservative president, adding that he was optimistic the nation would soon clearly turn, seeing the light he and his fellow lawmakers would “shine” on the administration. He also spoke out in favor of a number of policies that would strengthen state’s rights as well as two constitutional changes: a balanced-budget amendment and the so-called Madison amendment that would give states expanded powers to propose constitutional amendments.

Despite its lost membership, ALEC still boasts having 1,863 members, or nearly one in four nationwide, according to Jeff Lambert.