ALEC & the NCSL: Compare and Contrast

Parts of the right wing blogsophere are trying to whitewash ALEC, and at the same time to denigrate the NCSL.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with one or both organizations, let me give you a brief introduction, because people on the right want to misinform and disinform you.  They will tell you they are the same when they are significantly different, or even more misleading, will try to tell you that ALEC is good, and the NCSL is bad, by misrepresenting both. 

As you look at the differences, which are greater than any simiarities, keep in mind the concept of a line of dialog I heard recently on a television show, ‘Justified’.  While a dramatic series, the point was an excellent one for this context.  A corrupt sheriff, presented with the offer of a bribe in the form of a briefcase full of money asks, “If this is the carrot, what does the stick look like?”, referring to the paired incentives of a carrot and a stick, a reward that comes with the possibility of an equal or greater punishment.

The NCSL I’m writing about is not  the British National College School Leadership entity for teachers, nor is it the National Capital Soccer League for kids in Washington D.C., and I’m not writing about the NCSL International, which is an organization about meteorology.  No, I’m writing about the NCSL that is the acronym for the National Conference of State Legislatures.  That NCSL is an NGO – non-governmental organization – for the people who work in our state legislatures, encompassing staff and state senators and state representatives.

 I’m sure in the eyes of the ALEC members they’re not bad, they’re just doing what they need to do to get their conservative, sometimes very extreme causes rammed through resistance, and to get themselves elected over and over. If that means doing the bidding of special interests to give the corporations significantly greater profits through the auspices of a secretive organization, I’m sure they rationalize to themselves that’s ok.  I suspect that unlike the fictional sheriff and the bribe, they aren’t honest enough with themselves to recognize either the carrot or the stick, or to even acknowledge the corrupt aspects of the transaction.  It should be a big red flag to them when they aren’t candid about the source of the legislation they introduce.

Unlike ALEC drafted legislation, legislators don’t lie about NCSL content, which is bi-partisan rather than ‘Buy-partisan’ or ‘bought’ partisan.  Unlike ALEC meetings, no legislator is thrown out of an NCSL meeting for a point of view or for being open about the content of the meeting.  That happened to Mark Pocan, a state representative of Wisconsin, and reporters are not banned:

Wisconsin Dem State Rep. Kicked Out Of ALEC Conference | Wisconsin State Rep. Mark Pocan (D) was kicked out the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in New Orleans today despite being a a dues-paying member of the organization and receiving an invitation to the event, Wisconsin blog Dane101 reports. “I was still kicked out of the cigar reception by an employee of ALEC. ALEC has become a secret society where they will kick out anyone with a video camera, tape recorder or an original opinion,” he said in a statement. In addition to attending the conference for legislative reasons, Pocan was covering the event for a progressive publication, but ALEC was not allowing many reporters, including ThinkProgress’ Lee Fang and Scott Keyes, who were violently removed from the conference yesterday.

So…….what is ALEC?  I’ve been writing about it here a bit, and will be doing so even more in the near future.  ALEC is a shady and shadowy organization through which special interest groups, rich organizations and a few rich individuals like the Koch brothers and the Walton of WalMart family, but also many others, spend a lot of money on conservative legislators, both state and federal, but mostly state level, to get them to submit THEIR legislation, legislation that will benefit THEM, the corporations and special interests, at your expense.    Here is the opening paragraph from wikipedia on ALEC:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a politically conservative[1]501(c)(3) nonprofit policy organization, consisting of both state legislators and members of the private sector, mostly representing corporations. ALEC’s mission statement describes the organization’s purpose as the advancement of free-market principles, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty. Among other activities, the group provides a venue for private individuals and corporations to assist politicians in developing what it considers model laws serving the economic and political aims of its members.

Note, it’s MEMBERS are all conservative, and the interests served are those of the special interests, the corporations, who benefit directly and indirectly, from the legislation they draft.  It is an organization specializing in culture war and extracting money from the 99% of the citizens of this country.

For convenient contrast, here is the opening paragraph from wikipedia on the NCSL: (emphasis added is mine, to point out differences - DG)
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1975 to serve the members and staff of state legislatures of the United States (states, commonwealths, and territories). NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system. It has three objectives: to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures; to promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures; and to ensure state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.
All state legislators and staff members are automatically members of NCSL. NCSL provides research, publications, and networking opportunities to aid, train, and serve its members in a wide variety of ways.
NCSL is the premier legislative organization in the country and maintains relationships with the smaller policy organizations like the Council for State Governments (CSG). CSG representatives sit on NCSL’s Executive Committee and NCSL representatives sit on CSG’s Executive Committee and Governing Board.
The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch did an excellent comparison between the two organizations, one which refutes the bogus claims the two entities are alike or similar in significant ways. They are not.

What this excellent article doesn’t point out is that the right wing PACs and SuperPACs, entities which are funded by largely the EXACT same special interest corporations and individuals reward those legislators who toe their line, who submit and force through their legislation largely unchanged, with campaign contributions and with election support. As we have seen in the right wing primaries, where only extreme right candidates are running, the domination of the airwaves, the media control of the message, is enormous. In more than 90% of races, the candidates with the most money spent win.

Renenber that carrot and stick comparison earlier?

This amounts to corporations and wealthy individuals buying elections, buying candidates, and then through entities like ALEC, having those same individuals they helped get elected in turn do their legislative bidding, in state after state across the country. The similarity between the legislation that is passed is almost eerie, often identical except for the name of the state in the legislation.

This, in spite of the fact that the challenges to that legislation, like the challenges to the Voter ID bills as an example, have been very very costly for states to defend, and do not stand up well to challenges in court – ALSO unlike the NCSL.  Heck, ALEC doesn’t have to pay for THAT; we do.

The essential difference between ALEC and the NCSL is the difference between government bought by big money and big business interests, as distinct from government by the people and for the people. If you believe businesses are people, then you see no conflict. Romney was wrong however, corporations are NOT people, and through ALEC, corporations turn government against the interests of real, human beings, real people.

A Comparison of ALEC and NCSL
Submitted by Lisa Graves on July 13, 2011
 ALEC Has Corporate Leaders and Members, who Vote on Bills Behind Closed Doors, While NCSL Does Not
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may appear on the surface to mimic the bipartisan educational archetype of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), but ALEC’s corporate governance structure, near total reliance on corporate funding, and strong ties to legislators from predominantly one political party make it distinctly different. To learn more about ALEC overall, go to ALEC Exposed. (This article was co-authored by Jennifer Page, Brendan Fischer, and Mary Bottari.)

NCSL is run by an Executive Committee made up of legislators only.

Corporations and their lobbyists are not members of NCSL committees. NCSL rarely if ever develops “model” legislation, but it does widely share its governance rules and substantive policy positions online.

An ALEC PR document obtained as part of the ALEC Exposed archive proclaims that: “Both legislators and corporate members have a voice and a vote in shaping policy.” Formally, ALEC is jointly led by a corporate board of directors and a board of 23 state legislators, plus its executive director, who continues to work for the Bingham government affairs firm and who was a long-time lobbyist for Verizon/GTE. The chairman of ALEC’s corporate board is a former tobacco lobbyist whose new firm helps businesses “manage the legislative and regulatory process.” In all, the corporate board has 24 members (corporations, trade associations and other groups). Twenty of 24 representatives of these corporate entities are lobbyists. ALEC’s annual joint board meeting is where model bills voted on. (ALEC says only the legislators have a final say on all model bills. ALEC has previously said that “The policies are debated and voted on by all members. Public and private members vote separately on policy.”) Although ALEC’s “public” board approves the “model” bills, corporations vote alongside politicians on ALEC’s task forces on bills that are then forwarded to the board. Most corporate chairs of ALEC’s task forces are also experienced lobbyists. ALEC says “no lobbying takes place.”

ALEC has crowed that it gives business “an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated” in changes to state laws.[which sure sounds a lot like 'lobbying' without the transparency of.....regular lobbying - DG] Its model bills and resolutions have been published in state houses across the country, but without disclosing that they were approved through ALEC, or that corporations voted for the legal changes in advance.

Money: ALEC Is Funded Almost Entirely by Corporations, While NCSL Is Not

NCSL does not accept for-profit corporate members or donors. In 2010, NCSL’s general fund was $16.8 million. State legislatures contribute about $10 million a year to NCSL. Most of the remainder comes from grants from federal agencies such as the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Transportation, and from mainstream private foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It also has funds from the sale of NCSL publications. Its convention costs are covered by registration fees.

ALEC, on the other hand, is funded almost entirely by its corporate members. In 2009, ALEC’s revenues were $6.3 million. About one percent ($82,981) of its revenues came from dues paid by state legislators. That is, over 98.6% of ALEC’s money comes from sources other than legislative dues, including primarily funds from for-profit corporations and foundations funded by the family fortunes of corporate CEOs. In what could be called window dressing for its corporate coffers, ALEC charges state legislators a nominal fee of $50 a year to be members, which some legislators pay with tax dollars. Legislators also get a discounted rate for conferences and even “scholarships” to attend them. Corporations are charged up to 500 percent more in dues to become members and get to vote just like legislative members on ALEC task forces. Basic corporate dues range from $7,000 to $25,000 per year plus fees of between $2,500 and $10,000 to be on ALEC task forces with state legislators. ALEC’s corporate donations and sponsorships subsidize its conventions.
ALEC also receives money from foundations that help fund information campaigns against addressing climate change and other issues. For example, two foundations connected to the Koch Industries oil fortune — the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation — gave ALEC over $200,000 in 2009, in addition to corporate dues paid by the company. ALEC also gets checks from other right-wing non-profit groups, like the Allegheny Foundation, funded by the Scaifes, and Coors’ Castle Rock Foundation, too.

Partisanship: Almost All of ALEC’s Legislative Leaders are Republicans, While NCSL’s Leadership Is Strictly Bipartisan

NCSL is led by a fully bipartisan group of legislators through an “Executive Committee.” Each year, the chair of NCSL’s Executive Committee rotates between Republican and Democratic legislators. This year, NCSL’s president and Executive Committee Chair is state Senator Richard Moore (D-Massachusetts). The previous leader was state Senator Dan Balfour (R-Georgia). NSCL’s committees are led in a similar bipartisan fashion, and its overall membership has a large number of legislators from both major political parties. Additionally, much of NCSL’s staff is drawn from nonpartisan professional legislative staff of state legislatures across the country.

ALEC is led jointly by a corporate board and a 23-member public board. All of the public board members are Republican legislators, and the board is chaired by Rep. Noble Ellington (R-Louisiana). There is no indication that a Democratic legislator has ever chaired ALEC’s public board. The legislators who co-chair each ALEC task force are all Republicans, and all but one of the leaders of each state delegation are Republicans. In all, ALEC’s legislative leadership is 103 Republicans and one Democrat. ALEC does count some additional Democrats in its membership, but overall it is lopsided to the right of the political spectrum in its leaders and members.

ALEC also has an “advisory” board of “scholars,” all of whom have been active in Republican administrations, politics, or right-wing causes — at one point, ALEC’s executive director stated, “The ALEC agenda is the Bush agenda,” referring to the first president Bush. ALEC scholars are also connected to ALEC funders. For example, Steve Moore is on the Wall Street Journal editorial board and has devoted substantial time to David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity to advance its agenda. Unlike NCSL, ALEC’s staff is not non-partisan legislative professionals but has strong connections to other right-wing groups or funding, such as Koch Fellowships or internships.

ALEC has also given awards to luminaries on the right, including Charles and David Koch and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. ALEC’s alumni include the current Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), as well as several controversial new governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Jan Brewer of Arizona. Donald Rumsfeld was also the chairman of ALEC’s corporate board when he headed G.D. Searle pharmaceutical and was between jobs as Secretary of Defense.

How significant is this? On just one day last month – February 14, 2012 – Alliance for a Better Minnesota listed 5 bills drafted by ALEC that were  being debated in our Minnesota legislature.  ALEC legislation is being introduced and supported all the time. (Alliance for a Better Minnesota provides the ALEC legislation for comparison with the MN legislation):

At 8:15am, the House State Government Finance committee will hear HF 2033–what Republicans call the “Equal Pay and Benefits Act.”….Though the language isn’t identical, it’s clear in both cases public sector workers are being attacked. The same sentiment and ideas lie behind Minnesota’s HF 2033 and numerous ALEC model bills and recommendations.

At 10:15am, the House Government Operations and Elections committee will hear HF 1975, which removes the requirement that before an agency seeks out a private contractor, it must first verify that no state employee is able and available to provide the services needed. This is, quite simply, an attack on public workers. It hands their contracts over to private contractors!

…There’s still more ALEC to come! At 12:30pm, the Education Finance committee will hear HF 1860. HF 1860 is a bill aimed at defunding and starving Minnesota’s public education system by allowing school levy dollars to follow students to charter schools. One of ALEC’s main goals in education is defunding public education by driving those dollars to charter schools. Just take a look at the ALEC Charter Schools Act:

“This legislation allows groups of citizens to seek charter from the state to create and operate innovative, outcome-based schools. These schools would be exempt from state laws and regulations that apply to public schools. Schools are funded on a per-pupil rate, the same as public schools. Currently Minnesota operates the most well-known program.”

At 1pm, we turn to the Senate for more ALEC hearings. The Senate will hear SF 1577, their controversial, burdensome and unnecessary bill proposing a constitutional amendment requiring law-abiding citizens provide a photo ID to vote.

If all that’s just not enough ALEC for you, you’re in luck. Also at 1pm, the Committee on State Government Innovations and Veterans will hear our final ALEC bill of the day: SF 1614. SF 1614 has the distinct honor of being one of the Republicans’ Reform 2.0 initiatives as well. I wonder if Reform 2.0 and ALEC are related somehow…?

SF 1614 creates a Small Business Regulatory Review Board, which sounds mighty similar to ALEC’s Regulatory Flexibility Act. 

How many legislators are more or less openly members of ALEC? There are 30 that we know of, but since the members are secretive and the meetings are secretive, and since legislators lie about the legislation they offer and who really wrote it, it’s hard to tell who they all are.

A recent MPR report listed this about the legislators and the number of bills since the conservatives gained a majority in both house and senate, quoting Common Cause Minnesota, another group which watches ALEC, so far as it is able:

“It really brings up the question of whose interest do our legislators,  really have, these constituents or corporate special interests?” said Mike Dean who is the executive director of Common Cause-Minnesota. His group released a report linking more than 60 Minnesota bills to ALEC model legislation and naming 27 state lawmakers with ALEC memberships.

The World Bank has a simple definition for corruption, one which I believe accurately fits quite comfortably the relationship between powerful, rich special interests contriving legislation that is then passed by conservative legislators who benefit either directly from generous donations either to their campaign or benefitting their election campaigns, or more indirectly by funding their pet culture war conservtive causes in exchange for preferential treatment in proposing and passing special interest legislation.

That definition of corruption used by the World Bank is ‘the abuse of public power for private benefit’.    That would seem to be ALEC personified.