Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

ALEC Finds New Friends

"Obviously federalism is one of ALEC's foundational principles, and so facilitating a conversation about federalism is very much in line with our work," Buss added.

The embattled group is trying to fend off accusations that it is illegally lobbying state lawmakers, and broadening its efforts to the federal level could subject it to even greater public scrutiny.

ALEC is organized under tax code 501(c)(3) and is barred from political activity. It can lobby, as long as attempts to influence legislation do not constitute a "substantial part" of its activities. Although its stated mission is to bring corporations and lawmakers together to craft and promote legislation, the group insists it does not lobby.

That stance prompted formal complaints earlier this year from several government watchdog groups, including Common Cause. Marcus Owens, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale, the former head of the IRS' Exempt Organizations division, has asked the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of the group.

"To the extent that ALEC officials themselves are at this event, they are having lobbying contacts," said Joe Birkenstock, who advises the firm's clients on Congressional ethics issues. "It seems to me that it's probably a slam-dunk."

House ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from jointly sponsoring meetings or other events with any private group, including nonprofits, and the RSC logo does not appear on an official invitation to the Members-only event, which is slated to start at 3 p.m. on Friday and run through dinner, according to the invitation.

Next week's event falls just before Members of Congress return to their districts for the final weeks of campaigning  - "baby steps to start," the GOP aide said.

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