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The watchdog group Common Cause laid out its case yesterday against the American Legislative Exchange Council , a non-profit whose advocacy for gun rights and

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Microsoft Identified as Supporter of ALEC, Conservative Non-Profit Accused of Abusing Tax-Exempt Status

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The watchdog group Common Cause laid out its case yesterday against the American Legislative Exchange Council, a non-profit whose advocacy for gun rights and other conservative causes has stirred controversy (see lampoon at right) in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. According to Common Cause, at least one local company has been mixed up with ALEC: Microsoft.

Common Cause, as it explained in a statement on Monday, filed a complaint with the IRS that charges ALEC with "flouting federal tax laws by posing as a tax-exempt charity while spending millions of dollars to lobby for hundreds of bills each year in state legislatures across the country." As it does so, according to Common Cause, ALEC works with companies across the county that are interested in pursuing legislation the non-profit supports.

Common Cause is basing its allegations on thousands of ALEC documents the group says it got from a whistleblower and public records requests made to state legislatures--documents also shared with the New York Times, which wrote a long piece about the matter on Sunday.

The documents reportedly show that Microsoft--along with corporations including Bank of America, Walmart, and Verizon--participated in conferences alongside legislators from around the country. Model bills often results from such conferences, which are then pushed by the legislators back home.

ALEC has supported a wide range of legislation, from bills condoning citizens' use of force in self-defense cases (resulting in the now infamous Stand Your Ground law) to those dealing with oil drilling regulations, voter identification laws and education reforms like charter schools.

In an interview with Seattle Weekly yesterday, Common Cause president and CEO Bob Edgar said he did not know what Microsoft might have worked on with ALEC. "I would guess they were more interested in bills on corporate rules and regulations," Edgar said, promising to have his staff sift through documents in coming days for any further information. (Stay tuned.)

Microsoft offered no immediate elucidation. A spokesperson who pledged to look into the matter had no answers by the end of the day.

Perhaps Microsoft took a cue from chairman Bill Gates, whose foundation has also been involved with ALEC. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave ALEC nearly $377,000, for education efforts--in particular, according to the foundation's website, measures dealing with evaluating teachers, a favorite issue in reform circles.

Earlier this month, however, as ALEC started drawing criticism from liberal activists, the Gates Foundation announced that it would no longer make grants to the non-profit. Microsoft could not or would not say yesterday whether it has followed suit.

More is at stake than just company PR. Common Cause's Edgar says that many companies have been writing off their ALEC membership dues--running from $7,000 to $25,000--as tax deductions. Those might not be valid if the IRS finds that ALEC abused

its non-profit status. Corporations like Microsoft, Edgar says, could be liable for thousands of dollars in back taxes and fines.

 
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