SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- There's been a lot of talk lately at the State Capitol about "Alec," but it's not a reference to a person.
ALEC is the acronym for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative leaning think tank that creates model legislation for states to enact. DFL lawmakers have stepped up criticism of the Republican majority for running with ALEC-inspired measures.
"We ought to, as legislators, craft our own bills coming from what's important to the people of Minnesota," Sen. Terry Bonoff, a Minnetonka Democrat, told reporters Friday.
Governor Dayton raised the ALEC connection two weeks earlier, while explaining his veto of four civil lawsuit reform bills that had been opposed by a State Supreme Court task force.
"So exactly who did the Republicans in the legislature listen to?" Dayton asked, as he held up a packet of papers.
"Three of the four bills come right from this manual, the Tort Reform Boot Camp, published by the American Legislative exchange council, or ALEC."
Common Cause of Minnesota released a report earlier in the month showing side-by-side comparisons of ALEC model bills and those introduced by the Republican majority in the Minnesota legislature.
In some cases the language is paraphrased, or incorporated into local bills that take into consideration Minnesota's existing laws. But in other cases entire phrases and paragraphs are copied verbatim.
"Nationally they fly legislators down to some of the most exclusive hotels and resorts in the country," Mike Dean, of Common Cause Minnesota told KARE Friday.
"There are also corporate lobbyists there and those groups sit down together and essentially draft these model pieces of legislation."
Dean said Common Cause has tracked ALEC out of concern for a lack of transparency in the crafting of legislation.
The ALEC organization in Washington did not respond to messages left Friday. But Republican leaders, appearing at their weekly press briefing at the State Capitol, denied that ALEC has any outsized influence on legislators.
"I am not a member of ALEC, and those bills did not come from ALEC," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, a Chaska Republican who serves as an assistant majority leader.
"But regardless of where it comes from, a good idea that's brought to the legislature should be considered. Folks in our district care about these issues, and when they bring them forward I think that we have a responsibility to look at them."
She criticized Gov. Dayton for pointing the finger at ALEC when he shot down the four lawsuit reform bills.
"It would bring down the cost of participating in a lawsuit, whether you are a plaintiff, defendant or an individual, or a business," Ortman remarked. "And so that's something that's good for Minnesota regardless of where the idea generates."
But House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, a Minneapolis Democrat, said people should know more about what's in the model bills and who benefits.
"Whether you believe ALEC is pushing these bills or not, who's benefiting from a lot of the bills? Almost every bill that's passed off the house floor are large corporations," Thissen asserted.
A flyer posted in the State Office Building during the 2011 session invited lawmakers to a meet-and-greet event with an ALEC's fiscal task force director Jonathan Williams.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, identified in the poster as "Minnesota's ALEC Chair," was not available for comment Friday afternoon. In the past she has said that Democrats are "making way too much ado about one legislative organization."
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