Two watchdog groups are accusing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) of abusing its nonprofit status, pointing to information about ExxonMobil Corp. as proof.
The Center for Media Democracy and Common Cause say ALEC is engaging in corporate lobbying for organizations like Exxon, while working under an IRS nonprofit designation that prohibits such lobbying.
The accusation that the conservative ALEC is misusing its 501(c)3 status, usually reserved for educational and charitable organizations, is not new — liberal groups have made the charge for years.
But the two watchdog groups say they have new information, given national attention over the last year to Exxon’s history of lobbying against climate change policies.
“It has become painfully obvious over the past few years that ALEC is a corporate lobby front group masquerading as a charity — at taxpayer expense,” Arn Pearson, general counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy, said in a statement. “If the laws governing nonprofits are to mean anything, the IRS needs to take action to enforce them in this case.”
“For years ALEC has been a key asset in Exxon’s multi-billion dollar campaign to push a dangerous climate-denial agenda and secretly lobby politicians on anti-environmental legislation that pollutes the environment,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.
ALEC and Exxon both dismissed the watchdog groups’ allegations.
“The Common Cause and Center for Media and Democracy campaign serves their own fundraising purposes alone,” said ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling. “These routine, frivolous complaints delivered to the media — and later to the IRS — seek only headlines where no wrongdoing has taken place.”
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the accusations are “ridiculous” and defended the company’s positions and research on climate change.
“Allegations by the Center for Media Democracy and Common Cause are inaccurate — and ridiculous — when you consider that ExxonMobil has long acknowledged the risks of climate change,” Jeffers said. “We are actively working to reduce emissions in our operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, encouraging productive discussions on policy solutions such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and spending billions on research and technology to support lower emissions energy solutions.”
ALEC’s most visible activities are writing model legislation reflecting pro-business, conservative viewpoints that state lawmakers frequently propose in legislatures. It also writes reports for member legislators and holds conferences with policymakers to press areas of support. The group defends its activities as education.
The organizations filing Thursday’s complaint cite numerous payments Exxon made to ALEC as a member and try to tie those payments directly to ALEC’s work fighting climate policies.
From 1998 to 2014, Exxon paid ALEC more than $1.7 million, according to the report, citing public records. Some of that money was specifically earmarked to address climate change, the report says.
The complaint highlights instances in which state legislators have adopted legislation or resolutions similar or identical to ALEC-written proposals aimed at curbing environmental regulations and decrying efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The Center for Media Democracy and Common Cause filed a similar IRS complaint in 2012, saying that ALEC’s member contributions are going to lobbying activities, not educational efforts. Their latest complaint puts a new focus on Exxon as it relates to ALEC’s advocacy.
In the last year, Exxon has come under fire from liberals, environmentalists and others for its past statements denying climate change and opposing policies to fight it.
This story was updated at 3:59 p.m.