The Look in Brief

Watchdog coalition files complaints against ALEC in 15 states

By: - July 27, 2021 1:18 pm
U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tennessee, is one of hundreds of congresspeople permanently banned from Russia. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tennessee, says Tennessee lawmakers need to rewrite the state’s abortion law. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A coalition of watchdog organizations is filing complaints in15 states this week against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC,) a nonprofit group of conservative state legislators and private organizations that draft model legislation to share with states across the country. 

Tennessee is one of the states included in the action.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Common Cause and Alliance for a Better Utah are suing the group and its legislative leaders for illegally donating more than $6 million in in-kind donations to ALEC’s 2,000 members. 

The complaint asks state oversight agencies to investigate the scheme and use their subpoena powers to determine the full list of ALEC state legislators receiving the voter software and whether the software was used by legislative staff on state time or in state offices.

This is the second of two major actions filed against ALEC in as many weeks. On July 20, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. 

The watchdog coalition alleges ALEC provided voter management campaign software, called “ALEC Care,” that is valued at $3,000 per legislator and tied to the Republican National Committee. 

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, serves as Tennessee Chair of ALEC. Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

The Internal Revenue Service forbids 501(c)3 groups like ALEC from participating in any political campaign either on behalf of or against a candidate for elective office. If ALEC is found guilty, the IRS could revoke its tax-exempt status.

“CMD has obtained conclusive evidence that ALEC has been providing sophisticated voter management and campaign software, run by partisan political operatives and linked to the Republican National Committee’s voter file, to its legislative members since at least 2016 in continuing violation of its 501(c)(3) status,” the July 20 IRS complaint stated. “By ALEC’s own admission, and other evidence provided below, those unreported in-kind campaign contributions to ALEC’s 2,000-plus members, almost all of whom are Republicans, have a total value of more than $6 million per election cycle.” 

Arn Pearson, CMD’s executive director, said “ALEC CARE is a brazen scheme to help ALEC’s overwhelmingly Republican members win reelection.”

ALEC has had a hand in Tennessee legislation over the last few years. During the 2020 legislative session, the Personal Privacy Protection Act was linked to the group. The Tennessee bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, was similar to ALEC bills in other states.  

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown and Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, serve as ALEC’s state chairs for Tennessee. The group’s website lists U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Mark Green, TN 7, both Republicans, as alumni. 


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