By Sen. Richard L. “Dick” Roeding (Retired)
Editor’s note: The following op-ed was submitted to the (Louisville) Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader. Neither newspaper published it.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded out of frustration in 1973 by a bipartisan group of conservative legislators fed up with the liberal-run National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and groups like the Lexington-based Council of State Governments (CSG).
While these left-leaning organizations actually get funding from your tax dollars to promote many policies opposed by conservative Kentuckians of all political stripes, ALEC partners with individual legislators and businesses to help create legislation that promotes the free-enterprise system, including less government and Jeffersonian principles as well as traditional standards and values.
This is why I and thousands of other state legislators from all 50 states joined ALEC.
As ALEC’s state chair during my 18 years in the Kentucky Legislature, I can personally testify to the effectiveness of the public-private partnership made possible by ALEC’s approach. Unlike NCLS and CSG, ALEC gives its member legislators more insight and understanding about how business is affected – both positively and negatively – by laws and regulations they pass.
It’s a true association that produces “model” legislation with equal votes on both sides – legislators and business representatives. These pieces of proposed legislation are thoroughly discussed and researched. Reaching consensus sometimes takes years.
With this type of policy and procedure, most of ALEC’s proposed legislation will not only be conservative but also constitutionally sound.
No wonder ALEC is giving the liberal establishment a fit.
Far-left ideologues like Richard Beliles and his Common Cause group, which is funded by George Soros, who is well known for giving billions to extremist political and environmental projects, claim ALEC violates its nonprofit tax status by “lobbying.”
Since when did giving legislators and business interests in the private sector a forum in which to meet and discuss policy constitute “lobbying?” ALEC advocates for policy, something IRS rules allows nonprofit, 501(c) 3 organizations to engage in.
Refusing ALEC that right would be tantamount to denying all legitimate policy organizations – liberal and conservative – from exercising their First Amendment rights.
Just because Common Cause doesn’t agree with the views advocated in ALEC’s model bills is not reason enough for the Attorney General to revoke the group’s tax-exempt status.
ALEC’s standards and values have matched mine over the years to a much-greater extent than any other national legislative association. This is the reason so many state legislators are drawn to ALEC, even though individual lawmakers must pay for membership in this group.
Kentucky shelled out more than $85,000 to cover liberally oriented NCSL membership dues for its legislator members. Contrast that with the $100 ALEC membership fee for state legislators.
The truth is, Common Cause and other similar groups are feeling the heat of the current political atmosphere where the liberal/socialist side is losing the battle of ideas. They and their liberal groupies in Washington, who had their proverbial political heads handed to them during the 2010 election cycle, are desperate. Thus, they attack the credibility of their philosophical opponents instead of arguing issues and policies.
This appears to be a well-coordinated, well-financed campaign designed to intimidate both members of, and companies involved with, ALEC.
Their weapon of choice is the race card.
Color of Change, a group founded by a disgraced Obama administration official, asserts ALEC is behind the “Stand Your Ground” legislation being used by a defendant accused of shooting to death a black teenager in Sanford, Fla.
I proudly sponsored a similar bill that passed during the 2006 session of the Kentucky General Assembly on a vote of 88-6 in the House and 36-1 in the Senate. Senate Bill 38, the “Castle Bill,” involved collaborating with former Rep. J.R. Gray, a Democrat, who definitely was on the opposite side of the political fence. Yet we worked together, using Florida’s bill as our model. ALEC had nothing to do with it. In fact, ALEC cannot pass legislation. Only the peoples’ elected officials can do that.
While Common Cause has every right to request that ALEC’s tax-exempt status be revoked, let’s be clear aboutwhy they are making the request. It’s not because ALEC lobbies for legislation – as the group’s leaders often assert.
Rather, it’s due to ALEC’s effectiveness in efforts throughout individual states to promote such policies as voters-ID laws, which protect the election process, and in opposing unconstitutional laws like Obamacare and its unpopular, socialistic individual mandate.
ALEC’s model health-care bill, which prohibits penalties from being levied on patients for failing to purchase health insurance, has resulted in legislation in a dozen states and constitutional amendments in three others, with three more including constitutional amendments on ballots this year.
Also, more than half the states are suing to have the misguided federal health-care law overturned. It would be much better use of Kentucky taxpayers’ money if our current Attorney General would join that lawsuit rather than harass a great organization like ALEC, which facilitates the sharing of “best practices” among state lawmakers.
Common Cause wants ALEC’s tax-exempt status pulled because it receives funding from the corporate community. If that is the criterion, then Common Cause itself must also be investigated – considering that executives from Cisco and McKinsey sit on its board of directors. Even though these groups surely have government-relations arms, no one opposed to Common Cause’s big-government ideas is trying to delegitimize them.
If we are to maintain our basic freedoms – including our free-enterprise system – we cannot allow only advocates for liberal/socialist thinking to be heard. We must protect the freedom of speech in the marketplace of policies so legislators can benefit from all points of view as they craft the laws of this state and nation.
Retired state Sen. Richard L. “Dick” Roeding served in the Kentucky Senate from 1991 to 2008.