Washington Gadfly

American Legislative Exchange Council Demands Lefty SMART ALEC Group Change Name

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Evan Gahr Investigative Journalist
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The conservative powerhouse ALEC is demanding that an alternative liberal group called SMART ALEC change its name by next Monday to avoid a trademark infringement lawsuit.

But SMART ALEC founder Matthew Cardinale today laughed off the four-page cease and desist letter he received from a lawyer for ALEC, which writes model laws for right-wing state legislators.

“Isn’t that awesome,” he wisecracked. “I suspect they already spent more money on this letter than we even have. We’re so appreciative that they are thinking about us. It was just really great to hear from them and we are thankful that we are in their thoughts and prayers.”

ALEC lawyer Norman Rich was not so jolly in his June 13 letter to Cardinale.

“For over fifteen years, ALEC has expended considerable effort and expense to develop and maintain the goodwill associated with its name and to control all intellectual property, including trademark rights in ALEC, associated with its public policy advocacy, educational services and general business affairs,” Rich contended.

“ALEC fully supports free expression and an exchange of ideas on public policy, but not misappropriation of its ALEC name and trademark by your organization.”

Saying that ALEC wanted to “prevent further infringement and harm to its rights and the goodwill in its registered marks,” Rich asked Cardinale to remove all references to ALEC or SMART ALEC in his organization’s promotional material, retire the domain name smartalec.org. and “cease and desist cease and desist from all further use of the ALEC name and trademark in any manner that suggests a connection with our client.”

Cardinale, who just met with New Orleans city officials to discuss his model affordable housing legislation, suspects the legal fuselage was prompted by a June 7 Huffington Post opinion piece about his group, whose logo is a smiling solar-powered house. He said that nobody could confuse ALEC with SMART ALEC and his use of the term is constitutionally protected speech anyway.

“First of all we’re not ALEC we’re SMART ALEC. We are not using their logo. We have a First Amendment Right to criticize them.”

He said that as a “progressive homosexual talking about affordable housing” nobody could confuse him with a right-wing ALEC operative. Indeed, the SMART ALEC  website makes clear that SMART stands for “State and Municipal Action for Results Today” and ALEC is “Agenda for Legislative Empowerment Today.”

Cardinale, editor  of Atlanta Progressive News, which first reported that the Georgia ACLU director resigned  to protest the group’s rabid support for transgender bathroom rights, vowed to represent himself if ALEC sues.

The formerly homeless teen, now a third year law student, personally funds SMART ALEC. The group’s GoFundMe.com page has raised just $800.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, financially supported by Charles and David Koch and corporate members, reported $7.3 million in revenues for 2013, the last year budget figures could be found online. It has spearheaded the successful effort for private school vouchers and voter ID laws, plus the “stand your ground” state legislation that allegedly helped George Zimmerman get acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin.

This is not the first David v. Goliath battle for Cardinale. In 2012, he won a pro se lawsuit before the Georgia Supreme Court that forced the Atlanta city council to reveal how members secretly voted on a proposal to limit public comment at meetings.

Rich, a partner in the Washington office of Foley and Lardner, did not respond to requests for comment.

But actually suing SMART ALEC could be problematic for ALEC. To challenge the group’s claim he is harming their reputation Cardinale could ask ALEC for donor names, plus all kinds of potentially embarrassing internal emails and documents.

As ex-MSNBC host Ed Schultz learned last year after he defeated an ex-business partner at trial, sometimes even successful litigants can end up big losers overall.

Although there is a whole left-wing cottage industry devoted to fighting ALEC, nothing online indicates any adversary ever got it into court.

Cardinale, itching for a fight, could be the first.