Open government is a doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. Would a nonprofit organization with ties to state legislature and corporate interests count as a quasi-governmental agency?
The American Legislative Exchange Committee, or ALEC, is a nonprofit conservative organization that has generated controversy over the years. They describe themselves as a nonpartisan membership association for state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. ALEC conferences bring policy experts, business leaders, and legislators together to flesh out key issues surrounding limited government and free markets. Together, they draft model bills, which are essentially mock pieces of legislation which legislators can take back to their home states and advocate for as law.
The majority of the backlash with the organization is not with its stance on certain policy issues, but the high degrees of secrecy and lack of transparency at its conference meetings. This has become a serious issue in recent years. In 2012, the New Jersey’s The Star Ledger analyzed more than 100 bills and regulations previously proposed by the administration of Governor Chris Christie. Similarities with ALEC model bills were “too strong to be accidental” according to the article.
Does ALEC’s status as a nonprofit organization exempt it from being transparent about their talks? According to multiple sources, ALEC does not reveal who is a member of the organization. Even though ALEC’s policy seminars are open to reporters and other nonmembers, public conference agendas, unlike those distributed to members, do not include the names of presenters, legislative and private-sector board chairs, or the meetings’ corporate sponsors. Meeting minutes are only available to members and have never been voluntarily released.