It is a low profile organisation with connections to high-profile corporations. Among its funders and board members are Exxon Mobil, Walmart and Pfizer.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) describes itself as a non-partisan public-private partnership promoting limited government and individual liberty. Critics say it is a powerful ultra-conservative group behind controversial state laws including the “Stand Your Ground” law used by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, to justify his shooting of an unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin.
They also accuse the organisation of pursuing a coordinated effort across the US to push for voter-ID laws that civil rights groups say disinfranchise millions of minorities and low-income voters.
This week, Coca Cola and Kraft foods severed their ties with ALEC after a boycott campaign by the rivil rights group Color Of Change.
Anger over the group's influence on a range of legislation affecting the environment, education and labour rights has been a major issue among Occupy protesters across the country.
But ALEC members say the group does nothing more than bring together members of the general public, private sector and federal government to develop policy.
Debbie Lesko, Arizona's ALEC chairman and Arizona state representative, described the group's activities in December:
"They get together so that we can share information and educate each other about major issues such as improving education, pension reform and fiscal responsibility. It's a great organisation. It's been around for years and I find it to be very helpful and educational. It's basically just model legislation. Nothing is really drafted there. We don't draft any legislation. We discuss legislation that may have already been used in other states."
Who is behind the American Legislative Exchange Council and what makes them so influencial in US politics?
To discuss this we are joined by Lisa Graves, the executive director of the progressive non-profit investigative reporting group, Center for Media and Democracy; Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the civil rights group Color of Change; and Nicole Neily, an ALEC supporter and a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, a non-profit, conservative organisation.
"No-one thinks they are getting together for some sandwiches and tea to talk about legislation. They're drafting model legislation they are pushing out around the country. They share a different vision for democracy, they share a different vision of who should be able to vote in elections and who should be able to participate, and the type of laws that keep us safe in our communities."
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the civil rights group Color of Change
FACTS: WHO IS ALEC?
- ALEC was founded in 1973 by conservative state legislators
- ALEC says it is a non-partisan group that stands for a free market
- More than 300 corporations belong to ALEC, including AT & T and Shell Oill
- Corporations pay up to $25,000 to become ALEC members
- About 2,000 state legislators are members of ALEC
- The majority of ALEC's legislative members are Republican
- Only one per cent of ALEC's income comes from legislators who pay $50 per year
- ALEC creates more than 1,000 model bills every year for legislators
- ALEC says that one in five of its bills is enacted into law each year