Last week, reporters with NBC’s Atlanta affiliate station crashed the Spring Task Force Summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC, an organization that works with state legislators, think tanks, and policy experts to advocate for limited regulation and reduced taxation, is a favorite target of left-leaning media outlets and reporters.

The report published by 11 Alive, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, paints ALEC as a group of nefarious money-mongers who buy their way through state legislatures to accumulate power. 11 Alive also suggests ALEC was involved in a “secret back room meeting”… a secret back room meeting to educate part-time legislators.

What is ALEC?

“It’s really a corporate bill mill,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat who has served in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly for years. “They’re cranking out legislation, putting it into the hands of legislators who go back and file it.”

Orrock would know. She was once a member of ALEC.

“The corporations that are there have equal standing with the legislators,” Sen. Orrock said.

“You mean they can vote?” we asked.

“They absolutely can vote, and truth be told, they write the bills,” she answered, referring to the lobbyists.

There really are back rooms where corporate lobbyists have direct access to lawmakers completely out of sight, with no transparency or public filings. They’re also wined and dined after hours at these events with nothing recorded on ethics reports.

We know because we saw one of these back rooms with our own eyes, and were kicked out with the aid of off-duty police officers on orders from ALEC staff.

Orrock won awards from the Progressive States Network. It’s also not uncommon for think tanks and policy shops to have sample legislation posted on their websites for state house use. But facts and things.

Despite what the 11 Alive report suggests, media were allowed to attend the meeting, provided they obtained credentialing in advance. The 11 Alive reporter didn’t obtain credentials in advance, but stayed at the event hotel under a pseudonym, claiming he was on vacation with his family.

ALEC responded to 11 Alive’s report:

For several years, ALEC has welcomed journalists from prominent outlets to ALEC workshops and plenary sessions. In December 2014, 34 journalists were credentialed to attend the Washington, D.C. meeting. The ALEC media policy clearly states which meetings are open.

Unfortunately, the recent piece on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) broadcast by NBC Atlanta (WXIA-TV) sensationalizes and misrepresents ALEC member engagement and policy discussions. ALEC is a forum for the exchange of ideas and free-market policies by a diverse array of members including legislators, business and thought leaders, think tank scholars and individuals.

11 Alive Atlanta takes issue with the format of policy discussions as well as ALEC travel reimbursement and media policies, all of which are clearly posted at ALEC.org. The report exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of ALEC.

All ALEC policy discussions are abstract, educational in nature and use examples from existing state policy as the basis for academic discussion and professional development. All drafts are posted at ALEC.org, as are those models approved by the Board of Directors, comprised solely of state legislators. This was not made clear in the 11 Alive piece.

Unlike other state legislative organizations, ALEC is not taxpayer funded. Travel reimbursement for continuing education is a universally accepted practice and conforms to regulations set forth by the IRS and state ethics commissions. ALEC reimbursement guidelines are posted at ALEC.org.

ALEC’s Bill Meierling who was in the meeting when it was abruptly interrupted by the NBC reporter spoke to Erick Erickson about the bizarre episode.

Progressive outlets enjoy gotcha stories and making a boogeyman of ALEC, but for an NBC affiliate to engage in this kind of fantastical story telling is… interesting.

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