The right-wing website Breitbart.com is promising to "shine a light" on the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in the coming days, a campaign that comes as corporate sponsors and lawmakers flee the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media should be cautioned that any efforts to compare the two organizations is without validity, given their contrasting missions, standards of transparency, degrees of corporate influence, and ideologies.
Contrasting Missions: Providing Research Vs. Advancing Ideology
NCSL Mission: Provide "Research, Technical Assistance And Opportunities For Policymakers To Exchange Ideas On The Most Pressing State Issues." From NCSL.org:
The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation's 50 states, its commonwealths and territories. NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues. NCSL is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. NCSL is your organization. The leadership of NCSL is composed of legislators and staff from across the country. The NCSL Executive Committee provides overall direction on operations of the Conference. [NCSL.org, accessed 6/4/12]
ALEC Mission: Advance "Principles Of Free-Market Enterprise, Limited Government, And Federalism." From ALEC.org:
The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public. [ALEC.org, accessed 6/4/12]
- ALEC Has "Conservative Bent" And Is "Best Known For Bringing Together Lawmakers And Business Interests To Write Model Legislation." From Minnesota Public Radio:
ALEC is a national group with a conservative bent that caters to state lawmakers. It is best known for bringing together lawmakers and business interests to write model legislation. [Minnesota Public Radio, 5/15/12]
Transparency (Or Lack Thereof)
NCSL: Publishes A List Of Its Private Sector Sponsors. A list of private sponsors of NCSL and their level of financial participation is available to the public on the organization's website. [NCSL.org, accessed 6/4/12]
NCSL: Publishes A List Of Every Member Of Its Standing Committees. Example:
[NCSL.org, accessed 6/4/12]
ALEC: Successful "In Part Because It's Done Its Work Behind Closed Doors." From Businessweek:
Corporate members can deduct yearly dues, which run up to $25,000 -- more if they want to sponsor meetings; and ALEC doesn't have to disclose the names of legislators and executives who attend. That's important, because if ALEC operated with complete openness it would have difficulty operating at all. ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters in part because it's done its work behind closed doors. Membership lists were secret. The origins of the model bills were secret. Part of ALEC's mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work. If this were to become clear to everyone, there'd be no reason for corporations to use it. [Bloomberg Businessweek, 5/3/12, emphasis added]
NCSL "Rarely" Writes Model Legislation. From The Washington Post:
Meagan Dorsch, an NCSL spokeswoman, said her organization, which offers research and technical assistance for legislators and their staff, is bipartisan -- the president alternates each year between a Republican and a Democrat, and each of its 12 standing committees have co-chairmen representing both major parties.
NCSL differs from ALEC in that only legislators and staffers are able to be members, and NCSL rarely writes model legislation. [The Washington Post, 12/27/11, emphasis added]
- Model Bills Are Published Online. [Model Tax Legislation, NCSL.org, accessed 6/4/12]
ALEC Model Legislation Is Not Available To The Public. From the Shreveport Times:
Some of ALEC's model bills are posted online at www.ALECexposed.org, the website of the Center for Media and Democracy, a self-described watchdog group. The site says the center got copies of the bills, which are made available only to members, "after one of the thousands of people with access shared them." [Shreveport Times, 6/3/12]
Disparity In Corporate Influence Between NCSL And ALEC
ROLE OF CORPORATE MONEY
NCSL Derives Most Of Its Contributions From State Legislatures And Federal Grants. According to the Center for Media and Democracy:
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. [Center for Media and Democracy, 7/13/11]
From 2007-09, ALEC Raised "$21,615,465 From Corporations, Foundations, And Other Sources, And Just Over $250,000 In Dues Paid By State Legislatures." According to the Center for Media and Democracy:
According to ALEC's IRS filings, over the past three years it has raised $21,615,465 from corporations, foundations, and other sources, and just over $250,000 in dues paid by state legislators, amounting to just over 1 percent of its income. [Center for Media and Democracy, 7/13/11]
- In Its 2010 Return, ALEC Reported "Contributions, Gifts, Grants, And Similar Amounts" From Corporations To Be $5,997,347, While Membership Dues Were $84,883. [ALEC 990 for FY 2010 via Guidestar.com, accessed 6/4/12]
ROLE OF CORPORATE REPRESENTATIVES
NCSL Does Not Allow Private Individuals To Vote On Model Legislation. According to The Oregonian:
Oregon Sen. Bruce Starr, a Republican from Hillsboro and NCSL vice president, says there are key differences.
In ALEC, private individuals and elected lawmakers have equal voice on model legislation. NCSL does not do that, Starr says. "There's not an opportunity for anybody but legislators and legislative staff to sit at the table and discuss what those policies look like. And the only ones that have the vote are legislators." [The Oregonian, 5/27/12]
ALEC Allows Both Legislative Members And Private Sector Members To Vote On Motions That Create Model Legislation. According to a memorandum sent to ALEC's Civil Justice Task Force members, which was provided to Common Cause:
A majority vote of legislative members present and voting and a majority vote of the private sector members present and voting, polled separately, are required to approve any motion offered at a Task Force or Executive Committee meeting. A vote on a motion to reconsider would be only with the sector that made the motion. Members have the right, in a voice vote, to abstain and to vote present by roll-call vote. In all votes a member can change their vote up until the time that the result of the vote is announced. Only duly appointed members or their designee as stated in Section VIII (D) that are present at the meeting may vote on each motion. No proxy, absentee or advance voting is allowed. [Common Cause, accessed 6/4/12]
ALEC Draft Bills Are "Sometimes Killed By The Corporate Members At The Table." According to the New York Times:
ALEC says that its lawmaker members have the ultimate say over its policy deliberations, and that no model bills are adopted unless its governing board, made up entirely of legislators, approves it. But the organization's rules give corporations a great deal of influence on the task forces, where model legislation must first clear a preliminary vote before going to the board. As a result, meeting minutes show, draft bills that are preferred by a majority of lawmakers are sometimes killed by the corporate members at the table. [New York Times, 4/21/12]
NCSL Is "As Bipartisan As Possible" With Leadership Rotating Between Parties Annually. From iWatch News, a product of the Center for Public Integrity:
The Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures is a research and advocacy group that pools the resources of state legislators nationwide. Every state legislator is a member, making the group "as bipartisan as possible," says Jon Kuhl, an analyst for NCSL. "Our president rotates every year between the parties."
NCSL also endorses laws, but they face a high bar for NCSL's seal of approval: legislators from across the political spectrum must pass them by a two-thirds majority. When NCSL does promote a law, it is usually something that members across party lines can agree on, like preserving state authority and battling unfunded federal mandates. [iWatchNews.org, 5/8/12, emphasis added]
ALEC Was Founded For "Conservative State Lawmakers" By Leaders In The Right-Wing Movement. From ALEC.org:
More than 30 years ago, a small group of state legislators and conservative policy advocates met in Chicago to implement a vision:
A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.
At that meeting, in September 1973, state legislators, including then Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett, a veteran of then Gov. Ronald Reagan's 1968 presidential campaign, together with a handful of others, launched the American Legislative Exchange Council. Among those who were involved with ALEC in its formative years were: Robert Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio, all of whom moved on to become governors or members of Congress. Congressional members who were active during this same period included Senators John Buckley of New York and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Congressmen Phil Crane of Illinois and Jack Kemp of New York. [ALEC.org, accessed 6/4/12]
- ALEC "Has One Democrat Out Of 104 Legislators In Leadership Positions." From ALECexposed.org:
ALEC describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The facts show that it currently has one Democrat out of 104 legislators in leadership positions. [ALECexposed.org, accessed 6/4/12]
Breitbart.com Targets NCSL
Breitbart.com Claims It Will "Shine A Light" On "Hard-Left" NCSL. From Breitbart.com:
In 1975, Congress created the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to provide a vehicle for state legislatures to jointly lobby Congress. Ideally, it could serve as a bulwark against further federal encroachment on state government. Like any organization that isn't explicitly conservative, however, NCSL soon became a hard-left institution.
In the coming days, Breitbart will shine a light on NCSL, its activities and many of the positions for which it lobbies Congress. The fight against government encroachment in our lives is much bigger than most realize. An entire infrastructure has been built to advocate constantly for expanding government. To reverse our slide, we must begin to dismantle this infrastructure. NCSL is part of that. [Breitbart.com, 6/4/12, emphasis added]