Connecticut drawn into fight over conservative ALEC’s tax-exempt status
Connecticut is one of 15 states where campaign finance complaints were filed against the American Legislative Exchange Council this week, alleging that the conservative non-profit group was illegally distributing software to Republican lawmakers.
Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy allege that ALEC, as the council is known, made unreported in-kind contributions to its members in 2020 by giving away campaign software worth $3,000 a copy, violating state campaign laws and federal laws prohibiting partisan activity. The voter-management software compiles and collates voter history and information and helps the coordination of campaign efforts. Many campaigns use such software.
The complaints by two groups that fashion themselves as campaign-finance watchdogs are the latest elements of a decade-long fight with ALEC over its secrecy and whether it abuses its tax-exempt status by lobbying and helping to elect state lawmakers. They also have asked the IRS to investigate.
“The state needs to know who is supporting their elected officials or the people who are interested in contributing to those elected officials,” said Cheri Quickmire, the executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut.
In Connecticut, the complaint filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, says state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, as a member of ALEC, would have been given the software. France is listed by ALEC as its Connecticut chair.
The complaint does not assert knowledge whether France, who also is a candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, or any other politician in the state made use of the software. In fact, neither group is certain how many Connecticut lawmakers belong to ALEC.
With their complaint, Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy are asking the elections commission to compel ALEC to provide membership data so investigators can learn how many, if any, used the software.
“I think this is an important opportunity to pry open the doors on some of this information,” Quickmire said.
France could not be reached for comment, and no one from ALEC or Voter Gravity, the political consulting firm that developed and owns the software dubbed ‘ALEC CARE,” responded to phone calls or emailed requests for an interview.
ALEC is a business-financed group that provides model legislation to state lawmakers on a broad range of issues, though it never has been viewed as a significant influence on legislation considered by the Connecticut General Assembly.
House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said he did not believe any member of the House Republican caucus used the software.
Under state rules, no one from the State Elections Enforcement Commission could comment on the complaint or even acknowledge its existence unless the commission votes to open an investigation.
Dave Armiak of the Center for Media and Democracy, or CMD, said the group was provided information about the software by a whistleblower described only as an ALEC member.
“The hope is this will bring some transparency to what was a blatant partisan operation,” Armiak said.
The complaints filed in Connecticut and elsewhere claim the value of the in-kind contributions could be $6 million, a number based on the $3,000 cost and an assumption copies were distributed ALEC’s members, estimated by CMD as about 2,000.
Connecticut has strong campaign-finance disclosure laws, including a 2010 law passed in response to the Citizens United opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by interest groups.
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