The American Legislative Exchange Council, which backs free-market legislation in the states, has been controversial in part because its membership includes major corporations as well as state legislators. Largely unnoticed has been the influence wielded by a third group of ALEC members: state-based think tanks. Two of those think tanks took center stage at last weekend's ALEC Task Force Summit in Charlotte.
The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and the Michigan-based Mackinac Center between them successfully shepherded five model bills through ALEC's Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task force -- all targeting public sector unions.
Goldwater representative Byron Schlomach introduced two bills, one requiring that public employees approve their state employer's automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks every year. Another would prohibit union officials from taking paid leave from public sector jobs to perform union duties.
Michigan's Mackinac Center sent labor policy analyst Paul Kersey to introduce three more bills targeting unions. One of those model bills is already Michigan law, requiring public sector unions to make audits of their financial activities public. Another Mackinac proposal would require public sector union members to vote on their union membership every three to five years, and a third would make it easier for public and private employees to decertify their union.
Members of the commerce task force confirmed that the five union bills were approved in Charlotte and will become ALEC model legislation if ALEC's board of directors does not initiate a formal review of the bills within 30 days. ALEC will then likely encourage its member legislators to introduce the model bills back in their home states. Since its founding in 1973, ALEC has successfully pushed hundreds of state-based laws. According to the ALEC website, legislators introduce nearly 1,000 bills each year that are based on ALEC model legislation, and 20 percent of them become law.
Documents released by the left-leaning group Common Cause ahead of the Charlotte meeting offered an unprecedented look at the ALEC agenda. Amid heightened scrutiny, ALEC restricted press access and shortened the summit to one day. ALEC did not return calls requesting information.