American City County Exchange
Learn more about corporations VOTING to rewrite our laws.
The American City County Exchange (ACCE) is an offshoot of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that describes itself as "America’s only non-partisan free market forum for village, town, city and county policymakers." As of 2015, ACCE is operated as a project of ALEC, not a separate 501(c)(3). ALEC is funded by corporations which pay membership dues to have their lobbyists vote side-by-side with legislators on "model" bills, which legislators then introduce in their local jurisdictions. Like ALEC, ACCE's funding appears to come almost entirely from its corporate members. Local elected officials are asked to pay just $100 for a two year membership, where corporate members pay between $10,000 and $25,000. While ALEC focuses on state legislatures, ACCE was launched in 2014 to target city and county governments.
The Guardian writes that ACCE "offer[s] corporate America a direct conduit into the policy making process of city councils and municipalities."
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
- 1 History and Founding
- 2 Positions and Issues
- 2.1 ACCE Advances Familiar Pro-Privatization, Anti-Union, Anti-Climate Agenda
- 2.2 Support for Local Control Questioned
- 2.3 Opposition to Minimum Wage Increases
- 2.4 Part of National Push for Local "Right-to-Work"
- 2.5 Participation of Energy Industry and Climate Denial Movement
- 3 Known Membership
- 4 Personnel
- 5 Funding
- 6 Contact
- 7 References
History and Founding
ACCE was launched in 2014, which -- as The Guardian reports -- was a year when ALEC "suffered a loss of income and membership after it became engulfed in controversy over its backing for 'stand your ground' laws."
The Center for Media and Democracy noted, "The creation of ACCE comes as national corporate and ideological interests increasingly try to exert influence over municipal government. For example, over the past year, David Koch's Americans for Prosperity has spent money on the mayoral race in Coralville, Iowa, the Board of Supervisors election in Iron County, Wisconsin, and school board elections in Douglas County, Colorado and Kenosha, Wisconsin."
Positions and Issues
Learn more about ALEC/ACCE's agenda at ALEC Exposed, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.
ACCE Advances Familiar Pro-Privatization, Anti-Union, Anti-Climate Agenda
As described by The Guardian, the agenda of ACCE's first meeting, which coincided with ALEC's 41st annual meeting in Dallas in December 2014, was similar to ALEC's "usual menu of conservative priorities -- pushing back government regulation, fighting moves to curb climate change, reducing trade union powers and cutting taxes. [...] An early draft of the agenda for today’s meeting revealingly listed ACCE’s very first workshop under the simple title: “Privatization” -- though in the final version the wording had been sanitized into: 'Effective Tools for Promoting Limited Government.'"
Bloomberg Business writes that ACCE "push[es] policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies."
- "'There's a lot of money to be made in local government,' said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in campaign finance.
- "Levinson said that for the new group, 'privatization makes perfect sense, working hand in glove with corporations makes perfect sense, moving the agenda or expanding the agenda to county and city makes perfect sense.'"
Support for Local Control Questioned
ACCE's parent organization, ALEC, has long pushed for state-level preemption bills to prohibit local governments from enacting policies like paid sick days, a higher minimum wage, municipal broadband, or limits or labels on GMOs. This history has made some local officials skeptical that ACCE is truly interested in supporting the interests of local residents, as opposed to its corporate funders, as both The Guardian and the Center for Media and Democracy have reported:
- "'ALEC and ACCE aren't about implementing a set of right-wing policies, they are about moving corporate America's agenda,' Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told the Center for Media and Democracy. 'Local government is the best way to reflect the values and meet the unique needs of the local community,' she said. 'ACCE is just another effort to rig our democracy in favor of corporate special interests.'
- "Natalia Rudiak, a Democratic city council member in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said she was 'offended' by the suggestion she needed an outside body such as ACCE, which is licensed in Arlington, Virginia, to tell her what her community needed. 'Local politics in America is the purest form of democracy,' she said. 'There is no buffer between me and the public. So why would I want the involvement of a third party acting on behalf of a few corporate interests?'"
Alderman Steve Arnold, who attended ACCE's December 2014 meeting, described ALEC's approach to local control as "contradictory":
- "When a prevailing policy favors ALEC corporate sponsors at the state level, as with low minimum wages in red states, local efforts to raise the wage are to be crushed, or even better, pre-empted by state law. But when state policy violates ALEC’s corporate sponsors' interest, such as laws favoring collective bargaining, local control is the leading edge of a divide-and-conquer strategy."
Opposition to Minimum Wage Increases
Like ALEC, ACCE fights minimum wage increases. In addition to the preemption bills mentioned above, ACCE's first meeting included a workshop titled "Local Minimum Wage: a defense for small business and their employees." The group also organized a closed-door workshop on "Local Minimum Wage," at which Brian Crawford from the American Hotel & Lodging Association was one of the lobbyists instructing local officials.
The Guardian reported that ACCE and ALEC have "launched an aggressive dual-track mission that combines legislation and litigation in what ALEC calls a 'new battleground' over worker compensation.... Cara Sullivan, who heads ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force, told the meeting that corporate America was facing an 'onslaught' of bids to raise the minimum wage at all levels of government. 'Perhaps the biggest threat comes from the local level. We are seeing a number of localities that have increased their minimum wage,' she said, according to the accounts."
While ALEC seeks to preempt minimum wage and living wage provisions at the local level, ACCE "seeks to play the same role with blanketing laws at the city and county level," according to The Guardian. "Heightening the concern among rightwing groups is the sense that they are losing the argument."
At the ACCE meeting, Brian Crawford of the American Hotel and Lodging Association "urged conservatives to launch populist campaigns against wage increases by adopting the mantra that higher pay hurts ordinary Americans. It was crucial, he said at the meeting, to have 'the right face, and that's one of the things we’re focusing on… Not the Hyatts, not the Hiltons, not the Marriotts, but the small business people, telling their story about the American Dream -- the independently owned Holiday Inn, owned by an Asian-American who came to this country, put all their life-savings into it, and now they’re going to lose this business because they can’t afford a $15 wage.... The key component is the PR.'"
Part of National Push for Local "Right-to-Work"
ACCE also works to restrict and disempower unions through so-called "Right to Work" legislation. As of February 2015, one of the two ACCE "model policies" listed on ALEC's website was a "Local Right to Work Ordinance." ACCE's first meeting also included a presentation titled "Local Right to Work: Protect my Paycheck." ACCE representatives were featured on a Heritage Foundation panel on local right-to-work in 2014, where they spoke alongside Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. According to reporting by the Center for Media and Democracy, they "highlighted what they viewed as opportunities for local ordinances in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania."
The New York Times reported in a front page story that the ACCE/ALEC push for local "right to work" laws is "a new front in [conservative groups'] effort to reshape American law" that is likely to lead to lawsuits. The Times describes how a "carefully devised plan" rolled out in Kentucky in late 2014, with county by county passing right to work ordinances within a matter of weeks. The coalition pushing for local right to work in Kentucky includes ALEC, Heritage, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Bluegrass Institute, among others.
Anti-Union Strategy Is "Death by a Thousand Cuts"
Brent Yessin, a well-known union-buster and lawyer working with ACCE on the issue, reportedly laid out a divide-and-conquer strategy for undercutting unions with minimum opposition or public response. Noting that "[t]here are literally thousands of targets for the initiative" and that "[i]t is a death by a thousand cuts" for unions, Yessin explained, "We are looking for states where we can pass it locally and not worry that the legislature or governor or both will then repeal. [...] We . . . have met with officials in a number of counties, a number of states, state jurisdictions, county jurisdictions in Washington, Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and others."
He also said the strategy could prompt a lot of litigation. "Yes, there's going to be a lot of litigation," Brent Yessin told the ACCE attendees of ACCE's 2014 December meeting. "We'll have a state counsel in each of the states that will help coordinate all the appeals."
Yessin instructed legislators at the ACCE meeting to first go after private sector workers, rather than more sympathetic public sector workers:
- "If you tackle it together, you're going to have the teachers, the fireman, the policeman, and SEIU bus drivers and dump-truck drivers, and they're going to be the ones in your fiscal court, or your county commission or whatever, and they're going to be the ones chanting and picketing and raising cain," he said. "Later, public sector employees."
Participation of Energy Industry and Climate Denial Movement
According to Steve Arnold, an alder from Fitchburg, Wisconsin who attended ACCE's "policy summit" in December 2014, the meeting included panels and presentations by "representatives from the natural gas producers association, investor-owned utilities, and the petroleum industry," as well as "infamous climate science denier and former ALEC staffer Todd Wynn," representing the Edison Electric Institute, and Karen Moreau of the American Petroleum Institute.
Arnold described the experience as like a "'corporate dating service' for corporations and corporatist legislators":
- "Wynn was explicit in describing how a local elected official's relationship with a utility company can be a 'you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours' situation:
- "'Engage and get to know your local electric utility. Those guys are really great,' Wynn said. 'They can be awesome assets for you. They can help you out with your races at some point in time as well, which is always positive.'"
Arnold also reported that Moreau of the American Petroleum Institute compared democratically-passed local bans on fracking to the rise of Nazi fascism:
- "'It really hit me when I visited a Holocaust museum here a couple years ago in DC,' Moreau said, 'and I wandered through the exhibit that describes the rise of Hitler and describes the rise of fascism, and how fascism actually takes hold, and it struck me because it was so similar to what I see happening in our small towns on issues like fracking.'"
- Jack Sandlin, member; Indianapolis City-Council Council member
- Charles Tassell, Midwest Chairman; Deer Park, Ohio City Council member
Indiana Reportedly One of "Strongest" ACCE States
In March 2015 ACCE Director Jon Russell told the Indianapolis Business Journal that Indiana was one of ACCE's "strongest" states with 22 members, and that ACCE had around a dozen corporate members. The paper noted that "ALEC’s secrecy is carrying over to the American City County Exchange," and stated that Russell would not name any of ACCE's corporate or public sector members, only that the Indiana public sector members came from Hamilton, Marion, Jackson, Allen, Jefferson, Floyd, Harrison and Monroe counties.
The Indianapolis Business Journal also reported that Indianapolis City-County Council member Jack Sandlin (R) "joined ACCE last year because he was looking for ways to learn more about national issues, such as pension costs, that might come before the council. 'As a part-time councilor, sometimes it’s hard for us to find good information,' he said."
As of 2014:
- Jon Russell, director.
- John Harkins, co-chair. Mayor of Stratford, CN.
- Nicholas J. Wachinski, co-chair. Executive director of the American Bail Coalition.
Director Jon Russell
Jon Russell is the director of ACCE and a member of the Culpeper, Virginia city council. He has an Associate's degree in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor's degree in Homeland Security/Emergency Preparedness from Thomas Edison State College.
In 2006 he was elected a city councillor in Washougal, Washington, and was elected mayor pro tem by the city council. He resigned that position in 2012 to become national coordinator of Students for Life of America. In 2014, Russell was elected to the Town Council of Culpeper, Virginia.
He has been a member of the following organizations: American Council of Young Political Leaders, Culpeper Chamber of Commerce, Culpeper Young Professional Group, Men Care with Culpeper Social Services, Culpeper Heating Shelter, and the Virginia Defense Force. In Culpeper in 2014, he also formed an organization called "All Voters Matter," which aimed to move the town's elections from May to November.
Like ALEC, ACCE's funding appears to come almost entirely from its corporate members. Local elected officials are asked to pay just $100 for a two year membership, where corporate members pay between $10,000 and $25,000. ALEC receives almost 98 percent of its funding from sources other than legislators' dues.
Read CMD's special report on ALEC funding here.
Nonetheless, in 2015, ACCE offered a "Sample Letter of Justification" on its website that provides language to request local government funding to attend its San Diego conference. The letter claims, "This conference brings together hundreds of state and local elected and appointed leaders to focus on best practices in public policy that are important to local governments." It does not mention the participation of corporate lobbyists or other business groups.
The IRS identification code listed by ACCE in membership documents, 52-0140979, is the same as that used by ALEC.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
The right-wing billionaire Koch brothers have given substantial financial support over the years to ACCE's parent organization, ALEC, although lack of public disclosure makes it impossible to calculate the total. In 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace were able to document at least $600,000 in contributions to ALEC from Koch family foundations, including the Claude R. Lambe Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, that had been given over the previous decade. In the 1990s, the Kochs bailed out ALEC with a loan of nearly half a million dollars. Koch Industries has had a seat on ALEC's corporate board, called the "Private Enterprise Advisory Council," for decades, and has served as its chair. The amount it has spent in "dues" and other contributions has not been disclosed.
Koch network organizations regularly participate in ALEC conferences. The Koch-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity funds "scholarships" for legislators to attend ALEC conferences and has sponsored conferences.
American City County Exchange
2900 Crystal Drive, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: (703) 373-0933
Fax: (703) 373-0927
- American Legislative Exchange Council, "Welcome to the American City County Exchange," organizational website, accessed February 9, 2015.
- Ed Pilkington, "Conservative group Alec devises offshoot ACCE to lobby at local levels," The Guardian, July 30, 2014. Accessed February 10, 2015.
- Brendan Fischer, "ALEC Offshoot Takes Aim at Local Government," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, July 31, 2014.
- Ed Pilkington, "Conservative group Alec trains sights on city and local government," The Guardian, March 6, 2014. Accessed February 10, 2015.
- Tim Jones, "Corporate Lobby ALEC Aims at U.S. City Councils With New Group," Bloomberg Business, August 10, 2014.
- Steve Arnold, "Undercover at ACCE: ALEC Offshoot Spins City and County Officials on Dirty Energy, Local Control," Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch, February 23, 2015.
- Mary Bottari, "Hotel Lobby Sues Los Angeles to Block 'Extreme' Wages," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, January 12, 2015.
- Ed Pilkington, "How a powerful rightwing lobby is plotting to stop minimum wage hikes," The Guardian, February 20, 2015.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Legislation tagged "ACCE", search results, February 11, 2015.
- Brendan Fischer, "An Embattled ALEC, Buoyed by Election Results, Lays Blueprint for 2015," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, November 17, 2014.
- Shaila Dewan, "Foes of Unions Try Their Luck in County Laws," The New York Times, December 18, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, "'Death by a Thousand Cuts' and ALEC's Local Strategy for Attacking Unions," Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch, February 23, 2015.
- Kathleen McLaughlin, "Secretive 'bill mill' gets local foothold," Indianapolis Business Journal, March 21, 2015.
- Matt Koesters, "Deer Park pol pushes hyper-local ALEC arm," Cincinnati Enquirer, July 14, 2015.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, "American City County Exchange (ACCE) welcomes new members at ALEC 41st Annual Meeting in Dallas," organizational press release, August 6, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2015.
- Jon Russell, "About Jon," personal website, accessed February 9, 2015.
- Ray Legendre, "Washougal ponders life after Councilman Jon Russell," The Columbian, May 28, 2012. Accessed February 9, 2015.
- Anita L. Sherman, "In Culpeper: Meet Jon Russell – candidate for town councilman, Northern Virginia Times, accessed February 9, 2015.
- Center for Media and Democracy, "A CMD Special Report on ALEC's Funding and Spending," research report, PR Watch, July 2011.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, "ACCE Conferences," organizational website, accessed February 11, 2015.
- American City County Exchange, Private Sector Membership Application, organizational document, accessed February 11, 2015.
- Lisa Graves, "A CMD Special Report on ALEC's Funding and Spending," PRWatch, July 13, 2011.
- Lisa Graves, "ALECexposed: List of Corporations and Special Interests that Underwrote ALEC's 40th Anniversary Meeting," PRWatch, August 15, 2013.