The ALEC Controversy — Much Ado About Nothing

I listened to the NPR segment about The Nation magazine and Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD’s) alleged exposé on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national association of conservative state legislators. Calling their project “ALEC Exposed,” The Nation and CMD try to make hay out of the well-known fact that ALEC’s task forces, which include both public- and private-sector members, draft model legislation “behind closed doors.” As if any lawmaker ever places in the public record his deliberative discussions with staff and lobbyists on legislation he is drafting!

The Nation and CMD also neglect to mention that although private-sector members have a “voice and a vote” in the task forces that develop model legislation, only the public-sector (state-legislator) members of ALEC’s board of directors decide which proposals become ALEC model bills.

More importantly, ALEC model bills only become law if they go through the same process of hearings and debate that other bills introduced in state legislatures do.

I checked out The Nation‘s landing page, then “Business Domination, Inc.” (the first of five articles posted on the site), then the CMD site and its archive of 800-plus ALEC model bills. There’s no there there. What The Nation and CMD are waging is just another lefty campaign to drive the marketplace out of the marketplace of ideas.

In “Business Domination, Inc.,” the authors claim that ALEC believes that “Any force in civil society, especially labor, that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus for itself, and to treat people like road kill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.” Didn’t Karl Marx say stuff like that about all capitalists?

The model bills the authors cite to illustrate ALEC’s alleged hostility to people and the earth in fact demonstrate ALEC’s fidelity to its mission, which is “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” One ALEC model bill would require a super-majority vote to raise taxes. Another would require tax rates to decline as state revenues increase, another would prohibit government agencies from unfairly competing with private-sector firms, another would require competitive contracting at the Department of Motor Vehicles, another would bar unions from using membership dues for political advocacy.

These and similar model bills are damning evidence of skulduggery only if one starts with the premise that for-profit companies are evil and have no legitimate place in the legislative process.

As noted, ALEC’s mission is to advance the principles of free markets, limited government federalism, and individual liberty. To do that effectively, ALEC needs (a) expertise and (b) muscle (lobbying support). Now, if you’re a conservative state legislator, who ya gonna call: the Sierra Club,, the Service Employees International Union? Naturally, you work with your allies — people in the private sector who know which taxes and regulations impede their ability to compete and create jobs, and who can mobilize support for legislation embodying “Jeffersonian principles.”

The Nation and CMD try to make a big deal over the fact that ALEC’s private sector members have the power to ”veto” any proposed model bill. While this is technically correct, the implication of impropriety is without merit. Before an ALEC task force (on energy, taxes, education, etc.) adopts a model bill, both the public- and the private-sector task force members must support it. This process that The Nation and CMD find so objectionable is called consensus-based decision making. It ensures that each ALEC task force is genuine partnership. It ensures that neither side can advance an agenda adverse to the principles or interests of the other side.

How weird that an organization whose last name is “Democracy” does not understand that when decisions are to be made by two co-equal partners, neither side can out-vote the other! Each party must have the power to “veto” the other, otherwise they are no longer equal.

While they’re at it, why don’t The Nation and CMD run an exposé on the role of unions and environmental groups in drafting and promoting labor and environmental laws? Well, because those are the right kind of people – you know, people who care about the “public interest” rather than profits.

So from their perspective, it’s totally fine, even noble, for example, that the Bluewater Network helped California legislator Fran Pavley draft AB 1493, the greenhouse gas (GHG) motor vehicle emissions bill that gave EPA the whip hand to ram GHG standards down the throat of the U.S. auto industry. But it’s not okay for businesses to help conservative legislators develop legislation to cut taxes or block GHG regulation in their respective states.

What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. In hard-core lefty politics, it never is. The hard left is not into fairness. They’re into power. And they know they can’t get power by playing fair.

Photo: The Nation’s John Nichols speaks at a union-funded rally in Madison, Wisc., to oppose changes to the unsustainable collective bargaining agreements of unionized government employees. Credit: fixjuxa on Flickr.