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ALEC, the free-market group liberals love to hate, gets a new boss

The American Legislative Exchange Council, which advocates for limited government, free-market state policies, has a new chief executive.

Lisa B. Nelson, formerly of Ulysses Consulting, is joining the group as its new CEO, taking over for Ron Scheberle. ALEC connects member legislators with private-sector members, representatives from corporations and nonprofit groups, and makes available a library of model bills in line with its free-market, limited government philosophy.

“I’m enthusiastic to lead the American Legislative Exchange Council and build on its rich history of creating opportunity in states and communities through nonpartisan policy research and analysis,” Nelson said in a statement. “At a time when the American people are calling for change, our unique public-private partnership is highly relevant and poised for growth.”

The group already claims more than 2,000 legislator members, or more than 1 in every 4 state lawmakers. It has also become a target of the left for the conservative-friendly policies its members promote and pass at the state level.

Before working at Ulysses, Nelson served as head of government relations for the Americas for Visa Inc., from 2005 to 2013. She also worked in conservative politics in the 1990s, including a three-year stint as public affairs liaison to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) after serving as executive director of GOPAC, the group dedicated to grooming and promoting Republican leaders.

“Lisa Nelson was a key leader at GOPAC in developing the Contract with America,” Gingrich said in the statement. “She is a great leader with a deep public policy interest and a real understanding of innovation. She will greatly enhance ALEC’s ability to serve state legislators.”

ALEC has become a target of the left in recent years, in particular for its one-time promotion of so-called Stand Your Ground laws, the self-defense protections that gained national attention in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in particular, has focused his attention on ALEC, making it a central part of his criticism of such laws.

“In 2005, ALEC adopted model legislation that was nearly identical to Florida’s law,” Durbin said in prepared remarks at a fall hearing on Stand Your Ground laws. “They then began shopping it in statehouses. Within a year, 13 more states had passed similar laws. Today 25 states, not counting Florida, have passed a law based in whole or in part on the ALEC model.”

The group has since abandoned its backing of such policies, focusing instead on economic measures.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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