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There exists a four-letter acronym that for many Democrats brings to mind the forces of darkness; a shadowy cadre of puppet masters that spread pro-business, conservative gospel to every state legislature in the land.

ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council.

Around since the mid-70s, ALEC has in the past decade established itself as one of the main laboratories for conservative ideas, shared in conferences and taken back to states where they are promptly introduced into legislatures.

Republicans like it. Democrats hate it. But until now, the progressive party has not really had an answer for it.

This month, Joel Rogers and his Center on Wisconsin Strategy launched the cleverly named ALICE, the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, as a one-stop, web-based, public library of progressive ideas on a wide range of issues in state and local policy.

This comes at the same time as a group of progressives formed the new statewide business group known as the Wisconsin Business Alliance, an alternative to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the influential conservative business lobbying group.

The WBA describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization for business owners who support "broad-based prosperity and a modern economy that's built to last." But it is pretty clearly designed to combat the influence of WMC.

But Rogers, the ALICE founder, said it is wrong to think of his group as an "exact" answer to the influence of ALEC, the Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes limited government, free markets and federalism.

For one thing, ALEC focuses on state laws; ALICE focuses on state and local. And while ALEC has some 2,000 members, holds conferences and has corporate financial backing, ALICE sees itself as a smaller, less well-funded part of a group of organizations that could one day get progressive ideas the same exposure as ALEC manages to do with conservative ideas.

"I am doing this thing on chewing gum and string," Rogers said. "It is only meant to be a partial antidote to ALEC. The goal is to one day have a fair fight, so hopefully this will help us get our ideas out there."

Unlike ALEC, ALICE is run out of a university-based think tank, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, also known by its own acronym, COWS.

COWS is a liberal "think-and-do tank" based at UW-Madison. It is nonpartisan and focuses on jobs and the economy, energy and transportation, and making government work.

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State Government Reporter for Wisconsin State Journal

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