ALEC: With Little Scrutiny Shaping State Laws Like SB1070

A couple weeks before the election NPR ran a story detailing how SB1070 was created in part to provide prison's in Arizona financial gain.

Much was written about how state legislators took money from private prison lobbyists, after casting votes for SB1070, however not as much has been written about the follow up story which delved deeply into the murky Washington D.C. based organization which helped write SB1070.

American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) is responsible for helping draft SB1070, while also putting state legislators in contact with private prison lobbyists who would go on to give generously to the campaigns of those who voted for SB1070.

Much of the narrative that the Arizona state legislature has pushed is that SB1070 is a states solution to the immigration crisis. They were very keen to remind voters during the election season that SB1070 was a homegrown solution.

Yet, as it turns out the legislation was crafted behind closed doors, by an out of state Washington D.C. based firm that represents large corporations. Laura Sullivan of NPR has more on the organization here:

When you walk into the offices of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it's hard to imagine it is the birthplace of a thousand pieces of legislation introduced in statehouses across the county.

Only 28 people work in ALEC's dark, quiet headquarters in Washington, D.C.  And Michael Bowman, senior director of policy, explains that the little-known organization's staff is not the ones writing the bills. The real authors are the group's members — a mix of state legislators and some of the biggest corporations in the country.

The organization receives money from a large number of private corporations:

Here's how it works: ALEC is a membership organization. State legislators pay $50 a year to belong. Private corporations can join, too. The tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and drug-maker Pfizer Inc. are among the members. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year. Tax records show that corporations collectively pay as much as $6 million a year.

With that money, the 28 people in the ALEC offices throw three annual conferences. The companies get to sit around a table and write "model bills" with the state legislators, who then take them home to their states.

Arizona, it seems was ripe for some ALEC style legislative help:

One of those bills is now Arizona's controversial new immigration law. It requires police to arrest anyone who cannot prove they entered the country legally when asked. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants could be locked up, and private prison companies stand to make millions.

The largest prison company in the country, the Corrections Corporation of America, was present when the model immigration legislation was drafted at an ALEC conference last year.

ALEC's Bowman says that is not unusual; more than 200 of the organization's model bills became actual laws over the past year. But he hedges when asked if that means the unofficial drafting process is an effective way to accelerate the legislative process.

It seems somewhat incongruous that as the Arizona state Republican delegation continues to lambast the federal government for mishandling the country's finances, they are taking money from lobbyists to promote legislation, that has benefited no one in the state other then private industries and the state GOP apparatus.

Again, to date there have been zero arrests as a result of SB1070, this is probably for the best, as the state which is currently set to run a budget deficit of a billion dollars in 2011 can ill afford another lawsuit added to the several they are currently defending.