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No-love letter

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Earlier this summer, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, sent a letter to more than 300 corporations asking about their ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Durbin focused specifically on ALEC's past work pushing "Stand Your Ground" bills in statehouses, and whether those corporate backers had supported the model legislation.

ALEC wasn't pleased with Durbin's digging. During its 40th annual conference in Chicago in early August, ALEC circulated a letter telling Durbin he had no right probing for information that "no group is required to disclose." Among the signatories were several Montana names: Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, an ALEC member since his first term in the 2011 Legislature; Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, who received $2,969.20 in corporate scholarships to attend ALEC events in 2007; and Henry Kriegel, deputy state director for the national conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity.

"I actually thought it was a little cheap, to be honest with you," Kriegel says of Durbin's requests. "Silly and cheap." Salomon didn't attend the conference, but signed the letter electronically. He echoes Kriegel's concerns, calling Durbin's letter "a ridiculous ploy for publicity."

An analysis done by ProgressNow later revealed that of the 293 signatures ALEC collected, 55 were either fake or duplicated. One ALEC member signed the letter, "Hey Dick Kiss My Ass! Shooter From Arizona," which may come from Arizona state Sen. Don Shooter, who served on ALEC's Civil Justice Task Force.

Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat, offered a different view from inside ALEC's conference. According to her accounts for The Progressive magazine, Taylor donned her most conservative outfit and "did my best Michele Bachmann impersonation." What she found was a policy-making "menage a trois" that "produces a corporate agenda to elevate private profits over the needs of most people."

"I realized that ALEC has invaded Wisconsin in a far more comprehensive way than I had believed," Taylor wrote, specifically citing ALEC's promotion of policies that weaken unions and restrict worker rights. "Our state has become an ALEC petri dish in preparation for what they hope is an ALEC nation, where free market principles and freedom from government and regulations reign."

The Center for Media and Democracy recently identified 466 ALEC model bills introduced nationwide in 2013. Several, including a set of charter school initiatives, were introduced in Montana.

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