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One of critics' biggest knocks against the American Legislative Exchange Council, which opens its 39th annual conference in Salt Lake this week is the lack of transparency in the organization, including about who finances the group.

"We don't know who they're meeting with. We don't really know who are members. … There's a veil of secrecy and security around these conferences," Maryann Martindale, executive director for the Alliance For A Better Utah, told me earlier this month.

So it's not surprising that ALEC's defenders are asking questions about where the Alliance For A Better Utah gets its financial backing — and the answers aren't very satisfying.

As a non-profit, the Alliance is required to file a Form 990 with the IRS, disclosing some level of detail about its funding sources and top-paid executives. But Eric Ethington, spokesman for the group, said that the Alliance filed for an extension this year, meaning it doesn't have to file until October, and doesn't have any other 990s available.

"We believe all things should be open and transparent, so as soon as our taxes and 990s are available, we'll make them available to anybody upon request," he told me recently. "I think any comparison between the two of them is silly."

Of course the Alliance could voluntarily disclose where it got its money absent the 990s, or even detail its top donors, but Ethington said he doesn't know who those donors are. Most of the financing, he said, comes from small donors who give $100 or less.

That didn't convince some of ALEC's critics, who pushed Ethington the Alliance via Twitter to disclose the group's finances.

Dan Burton, a Republican, questioned what ALEC is hiding and challenged the Alliance to show people the money.

"Transparency doesn't have to be enforced by [government]," Burton said.

UPDATE: Josh Kanter, founder for the Alliance For Better Utah, said this evening that he is the primary financial backer for the group, which only has one other sponsor who gave more than $5,000 to the group. Kanter says it's a no-brainer that he is a Democratic donor, but points out that the Alliance's board includes Republicans.

— Robert GehrkeTwitter: @RobertGehrke

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