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Conservative group that spread 'Stand Your Ground' laws comes under scrutiny

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Forget any effort to boycott Rush Limbaugh; there's a new target in town: ALEC.

ALEC is short for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state lawmakers across the U.S. that drafts "model legislation" and then tries to get it passed into law. It's not unusual for them to sponsor "research" in support of those legislative proposals.

It's basically a legislation mill that serves as a corporate front group farming out legislation to almost a third of state legislators nationwide. Often, the organization ghostwrites bills that then get passed to lawmakers who introduce them in their respective state houses as their own measures.

Virginia lawmakers have introduced 50 ALEC-written bills; since 2001, the state has sent lawmakers to the group's conferences on the taxpayer's tab to the tune of $230,000. In 2009, more than 200 of its model bills became law. Lawmakers in Florida and Tennessee have introduced bills where large sections are copied verbatim from ALEC model bills.

The group claims to be a non-partisan and independent organization, but in truth, it's entirely conservative and heavily funded by the Koch brothers and corporate allies. Individual membership run somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 but all donations are tax deductible, meaning that all Americans are supporting the organization through their tax dollars, even if they oppose the organization's agenda and the bills they peddle that ultimately become law.

Many prominent lawmakers are ALEC alums, including House Speaker John Boehner, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Senators Jim Inhofe and Lindsey Graham. Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly touted an ALEC award in 2010.

Incidentally, anyone with 501(c)(4) status, which ALEC has, is directly prohibited from taking part in the formation of legislation, but they get around that law by providing "model legislation" to legislators and then getting those lawmakers to do the organization's bidding.

Little known by the public, it has operated largely in secret, but its influence in shaping public policy is undeniable. Some have called ALEC "Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States."

But in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, ALEC is coming under greater scrutiny for its support of the controversial "Stand Your Ground" gun laws like the one in Florida that has been part of the bitter debate over the shooting incident. ALEC had a hand in crafting the Florida legislation, similar versions of which have since spread to nearly two dozen states.

So, what of the boycott? It's not so much a boycott but the ending of partnerships. In just 72 hours this past week, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and software company Intuit, the makers of programs such as Turbo Tax and Quicken, announced that they will join PepsiCo and end their relationship with the organization.

Although Pepsi quietly announced its departure from ALEC last January, the others joined this past week when the progressive advocacy group Color of Change announced a petition and boycott campaign targeting ALEC's corporate supporters. The announcements never mention specific pieces of legislation, just a "number of reasons" for the decision to cut ties, nor did they specifically mention the campaign against ALEC.

Other corporations that have not yet publicly renounced their support of ALEC include Koch Industries, Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Reynolds American, Altria/Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, Exxon Mobil and British alcohol firm Diageo (makers of Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker).

In addition to its support of the Stand Your Ground law, ALEC is also behind:

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