Republican state lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and right-wing operatives are descending on Orlando this week for the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ready to fight “woke capitalism,” extend a lifeline to big polluters, ban ranked-choice voting, attack bodily autonomy, and consider an array of other model policies.
The significance of ALEC choosing to hold its biggest event of the year at the four-star JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes—less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World—and invite Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) to headline a group of speakers that includes U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL), Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) is not lost on anyone who has noticed ALEC’s strange shift away from championing the free market in favor of the big hand of government.
Following the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, unanimously passed by ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force in December 2021, the organization’s war against “woke capitalism” has emerged as a dominant theme at its meetings. And this year it even added woke capitalism warriors to its private sector board of directors.
At its meeting this week, ALEC will once again present Iron Lady Awards to “outstanding” women who have “led the charge guided by the principles of free enterprise and individual liberty.” The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has learned that Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) and Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez (R) are this year’s recipients.
Moody is a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which has an ESG Working Group, and is an active member of the coalition of right-wing groups weaponized to fight woke capitalism. Nuñez was a member of ALEC when she was a state lawmaker (2010–18), and as lieutenant governor has been promoting DeSantis’ anti-woke policies.
As in the past, ALEC kicked off its annual meeting last night with its Christian Right extremists friends at Susan B. Anthony’s Pro-Life America (SBA), which is pushing for a nationwide ban on abortion. Supporters were invited to a “Late Night Dessert & Coffee Reception to Continue the Conversation” about “the impact of federalism in a post-Dobbs policy environment and state jurisdiction to protect the right to life.”
At its annual meeting last summer, ALEC and SBA first celebrated the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling removing women’s right to access abortion in the U.S. over “late night dessert and coffee,” as CMD reported.
Top Sponsor a Major Player in Anti-Woke Fight
The right-wing Leonard Leo-funded group Consumers’ Research, which has played a leading role in manufacturing the crisis around sustainable investing, is the lone Chairman-level sponsor of ALEC’s meeting this week, according to a sponsor list obtained by CMD. This marks the second consecutive meeting that Consumers’ Research has sponsored ALEC at this level.
Meeting sponsors at the Vice Chairman level include Leo’s dark money voter suppression group Honest Elections Project (HEP), the tobacco giant Altria, Charles Koch’s Stand Together, UPS, and another right-wing nonprofit active in the fight against woke capitalism: the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Others listed as Vice Chairman-level sponsors include: American Hotel & Lodging Association, EdChoice, Energy & Environment Legal Institute, learn4life, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Netchoice, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Prolific, The Adams Project, and the James Madison Institute.
The American Federation for Children, bankrolled by billionaire and Betsy DeVos (Trump’s former secretary of education), and Crown Cork and Seal are listed as Director-level sponsors, with America’s Credit Unions and Save Our States listed as Trustee-level sponsors.
Stopping ESG and DEI
Among the many workshops at this week’s meeting is one titled “Stopping ESG.” According to ALEC’s meeting agenda, “Politically motivated investing strategies, such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing, put political crusades ahead of investment returns…. This workshop will educate [participants] on how to identify and avoid politically motivated investing strategies to help keep the promises made to retirees and taxpayers.”
This workshop follows a similar anti-ESG session at ALEC’s December 2022 meeting. As CMD first reported, at that workshop Andy Puzder—who has been involved in drafting all three of ALEC’s anti-ESG model bills—sought to amp up the rhetoric by claiming that ALEC and the Heritage Foundation are facing a monumental moral fight of historic significance.
“My father’s generation’s challenge was the Nazis, who were, by the way, very proud socialists,” Puzder said in a total misrepresentation of history. “The challenge of my generation was the communists, who were, of course, very committed socialists,” he continued, again misconstruing basic facts. “The challenge of your generation is ESG investing,” he concluded, warning that ESG is “socialism in sheep’s clothing.”
Though Puzder is not listed on the presenters list CMD obtained for this week’s meeting, a number of right-wing operatives it has been tracking as part of its SFOFExposed project are, including: Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research; Derek Kreifels, executive director of the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF); Paul Fitzpatrick, president of 1792 Exchange; and Noah Wall, vice president of SFOF.
CMD first exposed SFOF and its close ties to ALEC in February 2022. The group’s priorities include battling “woke capitalism,” promoting domestic fossil fuel production, and amplifying the far-right fight against ESG as a sound investment strategy.
These speakers may also participate in a panel titled “States Keeping Politics Out of Pensions” as part of Thursday’s closed meeting of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force, which will also discuss a couple of proposed anti-ESG model bills.
One of these, the Proxy Voting Integrity and Transparency Act, seeks to prevent government entities managing public plans from considering ESG factors when engaging in the proxy voting process.
Another, the Public Trusts Pledge Prohibition Act, would ban state and local treasury funds and public retirement systems “from signing, joining, or promoting policy agreements, resolutions, or proclamations issued or promoted by nongovernmental organizations.” This would include the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, which counts CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension fund, as a member.
ALEC members will also debate the Resolution in Support of Free Market Solutions and Enforcement of Existing Regulations for Uses of Artificial Intelligence, which would prevent governments from ensuring that artificial intelligence is developed with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in mind.
Extending a Lifeline to the Fossil Fuel Industry
While ocean waters off the coast of Florida hit hot-tub temperatures this week, members of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force are debating two model policies designed to promote the fossil fuel industry as renewables gain market share.
The anti-environmental Preserving The Environment, Open Spaces, Forests, Livability, and Wildlife Habitat Statute To Regulate Large Scale Solar Plants imposes new restrictions and regulations on the construction of solar farms, including minimum lot size and stricter location requirements.
In its list of location restrictions, the bill seems to suggest actual concerns about potential environmental impacts by prohibiting solar farms from endangering the “habitats of any species of fish, wildlife, or plants protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA),” along with “recovering species.” This may seem like an unnatural shift for ALEC, which has been critical of the ESA in the past.
The campaign strategy—dubbed “woke-washing”—aims “to trick environmentally-conscious voters into supporting a pro-fossil fuel agenda by co-opting the language of the progressive climate movement.” In other words, disguise “anti-climate extremism as pro-environmentalism.”
Another model policy under consideration this week, The Electric Consumer Affordability and Reliability Act, limits increases in consumer electricity rates and makes it more difficult to close power plants in order to keep older fossil fuel producing plants online longer.
Eliminating Ranked-Choice Voting
With the introduction of the Safeguard American Votes and Elections Act (SAVE Act), ALEC intends to ban ranked-choice voting (RCV), the process by which voters rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots rather than simply voting in favor of a single candidate.
The bill appears to be a product of ALEC’s outsourcing of voting model bills to the Honest Elections Project (HEP), a dark money operation established in February 2020 to push for voting restrictions and spread baseless and dangerous claims about election fraud, laying the groundwork for Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results later that year.
In a May 2021 meeting of the secretive Christian Right Council for National Policy, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson told attendees asking about election reform bills that ALEC “will be developing that at the Honest Elections Project [seminar], through them.”
ALEC has held at least three voter suppression summits with HEP, but this is the first model policy it has sought to push forward as a final bill.
With HEP and Save Our States both listed as meeting sponsors and Stop Ranked-Choice Voting listed as an exhibitor, it’s very likely that these groups are the source of the bill.
Save Our States Executive Director Trent England and HEP’s Executive Director Jason Snead chair the Stop Ranked-Choice Voting effort. Both have played key roles in ALEC’s work to suppress the vote—from its work in the Cleta Mitchell-led Process Working Group to the Honest Elections voter suppression academies.
Two months ago, England and Snead joined with Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky to release a video opposing RCV.
And on August 1, the Bradley Foundation-funded Encounter Books is publishing The Case Against Ranked-Choice Voting, written by England and Snead. Bradley is ALEC’s top known funder between 2017 and 2021, CMD reported.
“Voting for more than one candidate on the ballot in a single race may seem a little odd to most, but to those familiar with ranked-choice voting (RCV), it has provided a way to improve voting and elections,” according to the Campaign Legal Center. “RCV elections are more inclusive because it gives voters an easy and more meaningful way to express their candidate preferences.”
Attacking Workers’ Rights
ALEC meeting attendees will also be given the opportunity to debate the Taxpayer Dollars Protect Workers Act.
The bill essentially blacklists any company that voluntarily recognizes a union by preventing it from qualifying for state economic development incentives and prohibits unions from enrolling members and creating a bargaining unit unless a secret ballot election is held through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Violators of that ban would be forced to repay any state economic development grants they received, CMD reported earlier this week.
For years, ALEC has prioritized anti-labor legislation under the guise of “worker freedom.”
On Thursday, meeting attendees will again participate in ALEC-led efforts to privatize the public education system in the U.S. by spinning the lie of promoting “school choice.”
In the workshop “Building on the Momentum for Education Freedom,” ALEC members will learn how to better advocate for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Also called backpack bills, ESA laws allow parents to take the amount of money that typically goes to their local public school for each child to a different school of their choice. ALEC has a model policy on ESAs that was first introduced in 2015.
In “The Educational Choice Movement: Red, Blue, or Purple” workshop, “Attendees will walk away with a better understanding of which demographic and sub-demographic groups are most likely to support educational choice programs in their states,” ALEC’s agenda states.
During the lunch session for everyone, Yass prize panelists will speak and the latest prize winners will be announced. The award was “created by Jeff and Janine Yass to honor innovative education providers for providing sustainable, transformational, outstanding, and permissionless education.”
On Friday, members of ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force will also hear a presentation on the LEARNS Act, Governor Sanders’ signature bill from this year’s legislative session. Although it is facing a challenge in the courts, the bill creates a new voucher program that provides students with 90% of the amount public schools receive per student in state funding from the previous school year to spend at another school. The program is due to be phased in over three years, meaning that by the 2025–26 school year any student eligible to enroll in a public school in Arkansas will be able to apply for a voucher to attend a private school or be homeschooled instead.
Other new model policies being considered at this week’s ALEC meeting include:
- Accessory Dwelling Units Act
- Act to Prohibit State Procurement of Electric Vehicles with Forced Labor Components
- Alternative Investment Transparency Act
- An Act Preventing Breed Specific Regulation and Restrictions on Dog Ownership
- An Act Relating to Prohibiting Contracts or Other Agreements with Certain Foreign-Owned Companies in Connection with Agricultural Land
- Elimination of Youth Justice Fines and Fees Act
- Public Community College State Finance Program
- Reject CBDCs and Protect Financial Privacy Act
- Resolution in Support of Ukraine
- Resolution Supporting a US-Taiwan Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income
- Restrictions on Foreign Acquisitions of Land Act
- Taxpayer Receipt Act
- Teen Social Media and Internet Safety Act
- The Career Transparency Act
- The Early College Education Program
- The Kinship Care and Fictive Kin Reform Act
- The Opportunity High School Diploma Program
- Veterans Justice Act