NYTimes Twice Ties Right-Leaning ALEC to Trayvon Martin Case; 'Risks of Focusing on Social Issues'

New York Times reporter Michael Cooper, who did not hide his disdain for Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, sees an internal threat for Republicans hidden in "the recent flurry of socially conservative legislation" emanating from state legislatures in his Saturday lead, "Concern In G.O.P. Over State Focus On Social Issues." In a bid at guilt by association, both Cooper and another Times reporter cite ALEC, conservative-affiliated nonprofit, for extremely tenuous ties to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Fiscal issues and union rights were front and center in many Republican-controlled legislatures last year. But this year, with the nation heading into the heart of a presidential race and voters consumed by the country’s economic woes, much of the debate in statehouses has centered on social issues.

Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach about abstinence instead of contraception.

The recent flurry of socially conservative legislation, on issues ranging from expanding gun rights to placing new restrictions on abortion, comes as Republicans at the national level are eager to refocus attention on economic issues.

Some Republican strategists and officials, reluctant to be identified because they do not want to publicly antagonize the party’s base, fear that the attention these divisive social issues are receiving at the state level could harm the party’s chances in November, when its hopes of winning back the White House will most likely rest with independent voters in a handful of swing states.


The risks of focusing on social issues were highlighted this week when the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed group that pushes conservative laws at the state level, announced that it would be refocusing its efforts on economic issues. Several sponsors had recently withheld their support after the group came under public pressure for advocating voting restrictions and self-defense legislation modeled on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which became an issue after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

ALEC has been attacked by leftist organizations like Common Cause and Van Jones, who signed a 9-11 Truther petition.

Campaign finance reporter Mike McIntire also linked ALEC to the Trayvon Martin case in his Sunday's front-page expose with a hostile headline: "Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist."

Despite its generally low profile, ALEC has drawn scrutiny recently for promoting gun rights policies like the Stand Your Ground law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, as well as bills to weaken labor unions and tighten voter identification rules. Amid the controversies, several companies, including Coca-Cola, Intuit and Kraft Foods, have left the group.

McIntire added heavy-breathing analysis to the humdrum details of how all interest groups, left and right, actually work:

Most of the attention has focused on ALEC’s role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.

The documents -- hundreds of pages of minutes of private meetings, member e-mail alerts and correspondence -- were obtained by the watchdog group Common Cause and shared with The New York Times. Common Cause, which said it got some of the documents from a whistle-blower and others from public record requests in state legislatures, is using the files to support an Internal Revenue Service complaint asserting that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status, something ALEC denies.