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"A lot of speakers talked about how Republican and conservative ideals could get the country back on track and get away from this capital cronyism," he said.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R Cheyenne, has been an ALEC member for eight years. He attended last month's meeting in Washington.

Common Cause has assembled incomplete lists from the states totaling 1,300 names, said Nick Surgey, the group's chief counsel.

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Surgey said ALEC offers such amenities Converse Purple Shoes

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ALEC tends to do better in states with strong Republican bases and where there is a tight partnership between the public and private sectors, he said.

as cigar night and free drinks. Until recently, the National Rifle Association sponsored clay pigeon shooting events during ALEC meetings.

"I think ALEC is a pretty good organization. When you talk about less government and letting the state do their own thing and free markets, what's wrong with that?" he said.

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"The major difference is in the ideological perspective of ALEC and that it has known corporate financial backers [with conservative leanings, obviously]" he wrote in an email to the Star Tribune.

On Dec. 3, the nonprofit citizen lobbyist organization Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy released a report that said Wyoming is among the top 10 states in the amount of corporate "scholarships" lawmakers receive to attend ALEC meetings.

Rep. Pete Illoway, R Cheyenne, who is retiring from the state Legislature after 14 years, has been the state's legislative chairman for ALEC.

Zwonitzer said a standout at the Washington conference was a speaker from the American Enterprise Institute, a top free trade, free enterprise think tank.

state, though, pays dues and expenses for legislators Converse Beige Low Top to attend NCSL and CSG meetings. And the information is made public in the state Legislative Service Office's annual report.

Illoway said major corporations that donate to ALEC may also be giving money to NCSL and CSG.

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Jim King is the head of the University of Wyoming's Political Science Department. He said ALEC appears to be a legislative think tank similar to NCSL.

"We know more than we ever knew about ALEC," Surgey said. "It's a shadowy but incredibly powerful organization. They've managed to avoid public scrutiny for nearly 40 years. It's almost as if they were hiding in plain sight."

Legislators who are ALEC members say Converse Kids Boys

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the organization meetings are worthwhile because they have good speakers. The organization, they said, is conservative and pro business but otherwise similar to the National Conference on State Legislatures and the Council on State Governments.

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´╗┐Groups challenge Wyoming lawmakers' lack of transparency with ALEC

According to Common Cause accounts, the legislators pay $50 per year to belong to ALEC and in return receive free travel to and from and lodging at meetings where they are wined and dined by various corporation representatives and are cajoled into introducing ALEC model bills when they get home.

ALEC claims to have 2,000 legislators as members but does not release their names.

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The event was sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

The "huge danger" of this group, he said, is that non ALEC legislators aren't aware they are voting ALEC bills because the bills' sponsors don't tell them.

With ALEC, Surgey said, it all happens in secret, at a luxury resort during a conference rather than in a state house.

As for whether ALEC is a dangerous organization, as Surgey suggested, King said that depends on a person's philosophical or ideological perspective.

Some of these bills are complicated, "nuanced" and difficult for legislators to fully understand, Surgey said.

"The press always gives ALEC a bad rap," Zwonitzer said. "Some of the speakers are very pro business and I don't always agree, but they have some great people."

"Liberals see ALEC and similar organizations as part of a conservative movement (some would say "conspiracy"); conservatives see ALEC and similar organizations as helping promoting a governing philosophy that they share," King wrote.

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"It would almost be funny if it were not so outrageous," Surgey said. "It is the epitome of what people imagine lobbying is."

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Common Cause refers to the scholarships as corporate donor "slush funds." The organization is challenging ALEC's nonprofit, tax free status with the Internal Revenue Service on grounds it is a lobby and not a charity.

ALEC officials, he said, used to conduct briefings in the White House during former President Ronald Reagan's time in office.

Regarding the state's high ranking in ALEC "scholarships," Illoway said he has done a pretty good job of collecting corporations to cover the expenses of legislators who attend the conferences.

"It would seem that legislators' interactions with ALEC membership in the association, attending its meetings, drawing upon its staff resources, and the like should be reported as legislators report their interactions with other lobbying organizations," King added.

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