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ALEC: Progress Florida's Latest Good-Guy Target

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: April 20, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
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.

Gayle Harrell

Rep. Gayle Harrell | Photo: Nancy Smith

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.

Secretive? Really?

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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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Comments (5)

Frank
8:19PM APR 23RD 2012
Hmmmm - Nancy says "American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that LOBBIES legislators for -- gasp! -- free-market policies." Common Cause today filed a complaint with the IRS that lobbying would be a violation of ALEC's non-profit, tax-exempt status.

In response, ALEC's General Counsel indicated they don't lobby: “Its purpose is to receive all points of view, conduct analysis and research and create model legislation,” he explained. “It’s not in business for any particular tax legislation, economic legislation or goals of any type.”

Someone's wrong here - either Nancy or ALEC.
Karen Sweeney
7:43PM APR 20TH 2012
Excellent article!
Frank
11:15AM APR 20TH 2012
Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

If ALEC had stayed with free market solutions lobbying we wouldn't be having this dialogue. Instead, they (and by association and fiscal support, organizations like my State Farm Insurance Company) have gotten themselves tied into promoting hot button social legislation like Stand Your Ground, voter ID suppression laws, prison privitization policy, and restricting school science curriculum. That's the rub.

Additionally, I personally don't agree with other legislation they've proposed that are anti-union, anti-minimum wage, and with a Climate Change denial prospective, although at least those have an arguable connection to free market issues. However, since I strongly disagree with some of those positions, now that this is out in the open if the State Farm Insurance company that I've supported for 40 years without a claim wants to continue to support ALEC in these partisan politics, I'll have little choice personally but to cut all ties with my current insurance provider.
Diane
10:04AM APR 20TH 2012
I think another look needs to be had of ALEC. Late last year, ALEC called for the demise of the Common Core Standards: “A package of model legislation opposing the common standards gained ground yesterday at the American Legislative Exchange Council. The organization's education task force approved the package.”

Their Mission Statement reads - Education Task Force is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed.

If ALEC takes its mission seriously, then this model legislation against the CCS is long overdue and should have been introduced when the talk of common core standards and a national curriculum was introduced by Bill Gates and the Department of Education.

My question is why does ALEC, with legislative members sit back watching when they should be doing their hammering on the floor of Congress before legislation such as the Common Core Standards (CCS).

Then all of a sudden they decide not to proceed with their protest of the CCS. Could that in anyway have anything to do with the $376,635.00 grant given to ALEC by Bill Gates - the very same Bill Gates who paid the NON-EDUCATOR to write the Common Core Standards?

I am not saying PE is right in their attack, but ALEC is not squeeky clean either. Check out their list of non-legislative members.
Al Dawson
7:15AM APR 20TH 2012
Here is your choice America: on one hand, an organization applying Jeffersonian principles to devise free market solutions to current social issues; on the other, an agitprop specialist race monger, fired by the WH, notable mainly for blaming the US government for the attacks of September 11, who calls the aforesaid organization racist and extremist.
Anyone out there? Hello?

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