When the American Legislative Exchange Council held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City this week, a coalition of progressive and left-leaning organizations met them in protest with at least half a dozen protesters.
“It represents a pay-to-play system where corporations work with select legislators to draft model legislation that puts corporate profit ahead of the public interest and often ahead of public safety,” said Doug Clopp, deputy program director with the watchdog group Common Cause, as quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Formed in 1973, ALEC brings together legislators nationwide to promote state level legislation in support of the “free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism.” Organized as a charitable organization, critics argue, tax laws allow ALEC to avoid the kind of scrutiny that might otherwise be required of a politically active organizations.
In an opinion piece published on the Deseret News website, Josh Kanter, founder of the progressive Alliance for a Better Utah, asserts that while ALEC’s free-market and limited government principles are “laudible,” the manner in which it forwards those goals “undermines fundamental aspects of our country’s representative democracy.” ALEC is “secretive,” ABU argues, and serves the interests of those with “money and power” by allowing legislators to pass off ALEC legislation as their own.
Not so fast, say local legislators and supporters. Ideas from any group must pass through the legislative process before passing into law.
“Whether it was created by ALEC or George Soros, the Koch brothers or the Alliance for a Better Utah; whether you’re talking about the left or the right, when ideas come forward, they still have to go through the legislative process, and that’s a very public, very transparent process,” said Curt Bramble,Utah State Senator and an ALEC board member in an article on KSL.com.
Indeed, questions remain whether ALEC lacks transparency or whether groups which oppose its legislation are using the issue of transparency to make ALEC a lightning rod for the left. ALEC’s meetings are open to the public, albeit for a registration fee, and several reporters indicated that they were attending the meetings. The Alliance for a Better Utah included as members of its coalition to “Expose ALEC’ a shlew of Democratically aligned organizations, including Common Cause, the AFL-CIO, and ALEC Exposed (a branch of the Occupy movement that sent out emails encouraging protesters to “occupy ALEC.”
Further, arguing that ALEC works “behind closed doors,” the ABU claimed that ALEC supports voter suppression, school vouchers, privatization, and public land initiatives, a strange mix of the nefarious and innocuous. Much of the funding for ABU comes from individuals with ties to the Democratic Party, not individuals looking solely to assure the operation of good government. With the message against ALEC a mixture of partisanship and questionable accuracy, it is difficult to find sympathy with ABU’s message without also questioning its motives.