Close observers of the Utah Legislature don't need any conspiracy theories involving shadowy multi-national organizations, secretly funneling orders to their local operatives, to explain some of the more ridiculous measures that have come before that body.
But it helps.
Salt Lake City this week has played host to the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council. That's an organization that brings state lawmakers from across the country together with officials of many large corporations. There, as at every convention of professional and occupational organizations, they talk shop.
What is troubling is that the shop they talk is all about amending state laws across the country so that they better serve the interests of private wealth and pay less heed to the requirements of average citizens.
The primary example is the recent act of the Utah Legislature demanding that the federal government either cede some 30 million acres of federal land within Utah borders to the state, or sell the land to private owners and give the state a cut of the proceeds.
The bill resembled similar legislation that was proposed in Colorado (failed) and in Arizona (approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor). It also tracked, nearly word-for-word, sample legislation provided by ALEC.
The same is true of proposals to reject the multi-state Common Core Curriculum for public schools, to ban paycheck withholding of public employee union dues, to push privatization of public functions, ban cities from raising minimum wages and call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow federal laws or regulations to be nullified by two-thirds of the state legislatures.
State legislatures that ALEC seeks to control.
ALEC claims to be no different than hundreds of other organizations, sharing information among people with similar concerns. But there is something wrong with this picture.
ALEC is organized under federal tax law as a charitable organization. Which means that the many thousands of dollars given to it by corporations to wine, dine and provide child care for junketing lawmakers are treated as tax-free charitable donations, even though the real purpose is clearly to lobby elected officials, something that organizations so constituted are specifically prohibited from doing.
If Utah lawmakers truly believe in the wisdom of these ALEC-style measures, they should carry them themselves, without the help of an organization that deserves to be under serious scrutiny from the IRS.