ALEC: Progress Florida's Latest Good-Guy Target
Around the State
Permanently-outraged-lefty Progress Florida is at it again, whipping up fear over something that deserves praise, not persecution.
This time the object of its wrath is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that lobbies legislators for -- gasp! -- free-market policies.
To hear PFers talk, these free-market policies are somehow infecting the Florida Legislature with the screwy notion that Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individualism are tearing the middle class apart. And, dear me, guess who they come from? None other than -- double gasp! -- corporate "extremists."
Read what St. Petersburg-based Progress Florida's latest angry press release and pitch for cash has to say: "Through a secretive organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporate lobbyists are meeting with Florida's legislators and writing extreme, anti-middle class legislation. ..."
ALEC is a 39-year-old organization of state lawmakers who meet "to share and spread conservative policy ideas." Its main focus is fiscal and economic policy. At the moment its chief concentration is on "pension and lawsuit reform, tax and spending limitation, and school choice."
Guess who especially doesn't like them apples? If you said unions, go to the head of the class.
All of a sudden along comes a liberal movement called Color of Change. The brainchild of former White House aide Van Jones -- in cahoots with union leadership across the nation -- Color has launched a campaign to portray ALEC as racist and therefore unworthy of business support. It's Color of Change that has Progress Florida doing its bidding and bowing and scraping like a serf before a warlord.
How does Progress Florida and its national generals get a racist charge to stick against ALEC? Because -- wait for it -- ALEC supported voter ID laws and the "Stand Your Ground" laws on the books in 26 states. That's all it took! It might sound laughable to you, but in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, no business is going to stand around and be called racist no matter how crazy the idea. Many of them -- notably Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Wendy's -- told ALEC, "We're out," and just like that, ALEC was forced to disband its public safety and elections task force. Not enough money coming in.
Meanwhile, what we need to do to be safe down here in Florida, according to PF, is "Tell Florida legislators to either drop their membership in ALEC or publicly sever ties with this secretive, extremist group."
This is crazy.
There are at least 10 different groups besides ALEC that advise legislators -- to whom legislators pay dues -- and many of them are more left- than right-leaning. State Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, is chairwoman of one of them -- the nonpartisan National Foundation of Women Legislators. Harrell rattles off a list that runs from the Council of State Governments and Southern Legislative Conference to the National Organization of Black Legislators and Women in Government.
"Every one of them exists to educate legislators on policy," Harrell explains. "And, frankly, we find them invaluable, particularly in showing us what other states are doing."
Among the largest groups advising legislators is the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) -- and that's the one that every Florida senator, every representative, every legislative staff member belongs to. It describes itself as nonpartisan, though some conservative legislators insist the organization is a little too far to the left for them. The state pays all dues.
Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, said, "NCSL dues once were a significantly higher expense for us. In the past two years, as the budget tightened, they have been drastically reduced. We are members at a reduced price."
As provided by Steve Godwin, director and special counsel to the House, here is the history of NCSL dues that paid for Florida House members and staff: 2008-09, $335,145; 2009-10, $321,739; 2010-11, no payment; 2011-12, $39,700.
By comparison, ALEC's 2,000 legislator members nationwide chip in $50 each a year, but donations from companies like AT&T, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson make up the rest of the organization's $7 million annual budget.
According to an editorial in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, "Contrast that ($7 million) to the tens of millions that teachers unions are investing in Wisconsin to recall Governor Scott Walker. Or all the corporate cash that flows to ... liberal lobbies for higher taxes and more regulation."
Harrell, meanwhile, credits ALEC meetings for helping her come up with some of her best bills. "My 'cancer drug donation' bill of this last session came out of ALEC," she said. "This allows individuals who have had their cancer medication changed, to donate still-sealed meds to others who need it. It means a significant savings for a lot of people."
WSJ concludes its editorial with this: "The left these days isn't content merely to fight on the merits in legislatures or during elections. If they lose, they resort to demonizing opponents and trying to shut them down. The business community had better understand that ALEC won't be the last target."
In its press release Progress Florida, as always, uses the kind of adjectives that scare the pants off people. "Insidious" shows up big. So does "dangerous" and "extremist" and "unjustifiable." On this particular occasion the scare adjective of choice is "secretive" -- it pops up three times in a short press release.
You want more transparency, fewer secrets in the Legislature? There's a better way to do it than to abandon one of the few voices in the state capital that supports free-market policies. Instead of bullying big business, let's do this:
Attach a bibliography to every bill that comes before a subcommittee of the Florida Legislature, one that provides a list -- name and address -- of every nonlegislative fingerprint on it.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.