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SALT LAKE CITY — The same group that filled the streets of Salt Lake City one year ago in support of an environmental activist sentenced to prison for disrupting a federal oil lease auction was back at it again Thursday afternoon. This time, Tim DeChristopher supporters are protesting the American Legislative Exchange.

ALEC is a conservative think tank that promotes limited government and free markets. It has been the subject of Occupy protests and an Internal Revenue Service complaint about its tax-exempt status.

Outside the Grand America Hotel, where the convention is being held, one person was protested as other protestors chanted, "Shut it down!"

Utah state Sen. Curtis Bramble of Provo, a lifelong member and current board member of ALEC, says the attacks from liberal groups like Common Cause are "a lot of fluff and hoopla."

But anti-lobby groups protesting the convention Thursday said they're exposing secret legislative deals being made here in Utah and around the country. Whistle blowers claim 850 bills were pre-voted on by those associated with ALEC.

"ALEC hides what's going on behind closed doors. It's tried to claim that these bills are merely free-market bill when, in fact, the bills advance the agenda I would call ‘crony capitalism,' designed to help push more money to the very industries that are part of ALEC," said Lisa Graves, with the Center for Media and Democracy.

The organization has helped shape many of the nation's "Stand Your Ground" laws now being tested in the killing of a Florida teenager.

ALEC is holding the convention until Friday at the Grand America hotel.

Contributing: Jennifer Stagg

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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