Hello, Late Night crew! This is Phoenix and I’ll be your tour guide on the Good Ship FDL tonight. Mind the paintwork!

Last week I referenced the, ahem, delicate situation of one fair-haired lad by the name of John Hinderaker, better known to us as The Man Formerly Known As Assrocket over at the PowerLine hobby blog for bored rich Republican movers and shakers. Seems that the man who is one of the most vocal online defenders of the shadowy conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (aka ALEC) juuuuuuusst happens to work for a law firm that has Koch Industries, key ALEC patrons, as a client.

ALEC’s not a new group at all, being four decades old — here’s a Minnesota State Campaign Finance Board decision concerning them that dates from 1995 — but the media focus on it is new; until the 2010 elections, there was barely a word about them in the press, which is just the way ALEC’s members like it. This is important to them, as their membership is chock-full of players from the corporate world and the state legislators with whom they co-write bills (and yes, the Koch brothers are involved), and the legislators at least really would rather their constituents not know about this.

One reason ALEC is able to stay in the shadows is that it claims not to be a lobbyist group, but exists merely to “exchange” information and ideas, and so are not compelled to register the group or its members as lobbyists. But as People for the American Way notes, ALEC’s idea of “exchange” is a rather, erm, interesting one:

ALEC propagates a wide range of “model legislation” that seeks to make it more difficult for people to hold corporations accountable in court; gut the rights and protections of workers and consumers; encumber health care reform; privatize and weaken the public education system; provide business tax cuts and corporate welfare; privatize and cut public services; erode regulations and environmental laws; create unnecessary voter ID requirements; endorse Citizens United; diminish campaign finance reform and permit greater corporate influence in elections.

In order to draft and promote their “model legislation,” ALEC operates task forces that bring representatives from corporations together with lawmakers. Each ALEC task force is chaired by both elected officials and “private sector” members. According to Jesse Zwick of the Washington Independent, “ALEC’s task forces are better known for crafting legislation that coincides, rather than conflicts, with the interests of its private-sector members. Famous for hosting lavish conferences for state legislators who possess no staff of their own, the group pampers lawmakers while providing them the opportunity to collaborate on legislation often previously researched and introduced by the policy shops of its corporate members.”

ALEC can host these lavish conferences because its business-community members have deep, deep pockets. Take a gander at this list of sponsors for their last annual meeting. Bear in mind that “President” level donors coughed up $100,000, Chairman donors $50,000, Vice-Chairman donors $25,000 and Director donors $10,000 — and notice that companies like Amazon shares Chairman status with Koch Industries.

How important is ALEC (and ALEC’s secrecy) to the conservative anti-citizen hegemony? Enough so that the mere mention of the group in a public forum can set the Red Alert klaxons screaming. When Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin at Madison published his investigative work on ALEC, it frightened the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s Stephen Thompson so much that he retaliated with a FOIA request to see if the good professor had used State of Wisconsin resources to compose and disseminate his report. This ham-handed attempt at suppression had the ironic effect of increasing media interest in ALEC, and while you’re likely not going to hear about them on the evening TV news, NPR and NYT customers will have a fair shot at knowing of ALEC’s existence.

Let’s see if we can get a few more people to know about this shadowy group, shall we?

UPDATE: A good chunk of ALEC’s power comes from its secrecy; it’s hard to fight a group that you don’t even know exists, much less know who belongs to it, and to that end it works to keep people from having anything resembling complete and updated lists of its members. However, the fine folks at SourceWatch are keeping tabs on the politicians and businesses that are known members, as well as known ALEC staff and ALEC boards and task forces. Check ‘em out.