Conservative activists and lawmakers from across the country will gather in Nashville starting Wednesday for a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Better known as ALEC, the organization has become a lightning rod for people concerned about the influence of business on statehouses. Since starting up in the early 1970s, it's grown to become one of the biggest organizations for state legislators, and ALEC's influence got a boost when the Tea Party wave swept Republicans into power in state capitols across the country in 2010.
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee frequently attend ALEC conferences and meetings. In 2016, the General Assembly approved spending $100,000 in state funds to host the organization.
One way the organization exerts influence is through so-called "model legislation," bills crafted by its members for lawmakers to take back home and introduce as their own proposals. Topics on the agenda for this week's session include cutting regulations, changing the ways unions collect dues and discussing what rules should be put into place for autonomous vehicles.
Anne Barnett with the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, a coalition of unions, says meetings like the summit taking place this week in Nashville breed a cozy relationship between conservative lawmakers, activists and business groups that few Americans are aware of.
"For me, it comes down to what the intention or what the agenda is behind these bills, whether these legislators are looking out for the best interest of the people who elected them or the best interests of the corporations," she says.
Barnett's organization is planning a protest on Thursday afternoon outside the downtown Nashville hotel where ALEC will gather.
An ALEC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story, but in the past, the organization has said it's no different from other advocacy groups, unions or associations with a liberal bias.
ALEC says its model bills are drafted by its members at sessions like the one taking place this week in Nashville. And after they're written, they're still just proposals. It's up to lawmakers to decide whether to run with them.
ALEC's States & Nation Policy Summit runs through Friday. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to address the group early Thursday afternoon.