INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Pence addressed the national gathering of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on Friday in Indianapolis, telling the group, "I was for ALEC before it was cool!"
Thousands of state legislators from across the country pay into the conservative group, meeting among one another with corporations that also pay to attend. ALEC serves as a conduit for creating model legislation that its member legislators take back to introduce in their respective home states.
But the organization, amid scrutiny for some of its perceived political positions and proposed bills that came from its sponsored meetings, has seen a drop off in corporate sponsors in recent years, including Google, AOL, Yahoo, Yelp, eBay, BP and Facebook.
The group has been behind state-passed voter ID measures, stringent immigration-enforcement laws and "Stand Your Ground" legislation. It's also come under criticism for what was seen as an environmental agenda that denied climate change.
But Pence, who returned to his home state from the campaign trail for, in part, his keynote address, spoke highly of the group's efforts.
"I was not going to miss the chance to welcome the premier gathering of state legislators in the United States of America to the Hoosier state," Pence told 1,200 attendees in an Indianapolis hotel ballroom.
"We have a choice in this election, today, to turn our ship of state at the national level in the direction that so many conservative Republican led states have chosen to go," Pence continued.
The non-profit group, a 501(c)(3) organization, is able to keep its list of donors and the amount of money donated to the group undisclosed, leading to questions over who is financially behind the coordinated effort of lawmakers across the country pushing forward a political agenda through legislation in state capitol buildings. And particularly, the role of corporations — many of which have now stepped away from the group — in the process of creating the legislation remains in question.
There have been efforts to strip the group of its non-profit status.
Pence, in his remarks, contrasted the group's mission with the speech laid out by Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night.
"I stayed up pretty late watching it, too, but what we heard was more, more of the same," Pence said. "At least what I heard was more — a commitment to more taxes, more regulation, more government, more of the same failed policies that have landed our national government $19 trillion in debt."