By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org
DALLAS — Spirited political maneuvering marked the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting last week, challenging the progressive left’s narrative that ALEC is simply a monolithic corporate-owned right-wing influence machine.
CONGREGATING: Companies vested in the Internet economy sparred at the annual American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Dallas.
Private sector members of the organization’s Communications and Technology Task Force quarreled during a meeting Friday over the current debate at the Federal Communications Commission about whether to regulate Internet service providers like phone companies.
The task force’s members faced a packed agenda, but a majority of their time during the meeting centered around updating an existing resolution, or model policy, the organization passed in 2010 regarding government regulation of broadband Internet.
ALEC, a nonprofit organization comprised of state legislators and members of the private sector, drafts and promotes model legislation in line with its mission “to advance free markets, limited government, and federalism.”
Unlike other free market advocacy organizations, ALEC has yet to formally take a position in the current debate over net neutrality — which is being driven primarily by public interest groups funded by the political left, and their allies among the Internet giants — before the FCC’s upcoming Sept. 10 deadline.
Watchdog.org attended the task force meeting under Chatham House Rule, which states, “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
(Disclosure: North Dakota Republican State Rep. Blair Thoreson, ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force public chair, sits on the board of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Watchdog.org is a project of the Franklin Center.)
The meeting went over its scheduled three-hour time frame by nearly an hour, with private sector members asking for more time to review the policy before voting, a tactic one task force member told Watchdog.org after the meeting was “delay tactics.”
Other members wanted ALEC to send a strong signal opposing efforts to broaden the FCC’s authority over the Internet, as well as concern that changing how the agency regulates Internet service providers would empower countries like Russia and China who want the United Nations to regulate the Internet through the International Telecommunications Union.
The task force ultimately voted to update the policy and have it reviewed by ALEC’s board of directors, comprised entirely of state legislators.
Steve DelBianco, executive director of the e-commerce trade association NetChoice, and recently appointed member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council, told Watchdog.org in a follow-up conversation that “last week saw two extended debates between heavily regulated industries and new online companies. The Communications and Technology Task Force aired differences over net neutrality, while the energy subcommittee heard why tech companies prefer cleaner and renewable power supplies for their data centers.”
Research organizations funded by the progressive left, such as the Madison-based Center for Media & Democracy, have long villainized ALEC for its ties to the tobacco, oil and pharmaceutical industries, Republican lawmakers, and Koch Industries — the multinational corporation owned by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Whereas ALEC’s opponents might prefer to portray the organization as a conservative instrument of big business promoting supposedly racist Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws, ALEC’s libertarian persuasions enabled it in 2012 to build a seemingly unlikely alliance on criminal justice reform with the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization whose commitment to protecting civil liberties has earned it — at times — the ire of the right and the left.
The Daily Beast and Salon, known for bias towards progressive and far left issues, reported in 2013 Yelp, Facebook and Google’s appeals for help from ALEC to fight lawsuits meant to censor and intimidate critics.
Where left-wing organizations might promote heavy-handed regulation of ridesharing companies, Uber and Lyft, as previously reported by Watchdog.org, are appealing to ALEC for help in promoting the type of regulatory space that allows for innovation and consumer safety.
A recent ALEC report even called for an end to special state tax code carve outs favoring certain businesses and fostering corporate cronyism.
Thoreson told Watchdog.org that Friday’s task force meeting “showed once again that ALEC is a forum for lively debate on topics important both at the state and national levels.”
“Rather than being the ‘top-down’ organization that critics would like to paint us as, we are a public and private sector member-driven organization that allows for healthy discussion by all parties before making substantial decisions,” he said.
Contact Josh Peterson at email@example.com. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson