In PA: The Battle Against ALEC Rages On
At the end of April, the New York Times and Common Cause ran a story regarding the internal operation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Their angle was to explore the challenge that was levied to the group’s tax-exempt status which ALEC is defending.
ALEC has come under scrutiny after they pushed several proposals that were viewed as controversial. First, they pushed the “stand your ground” law, known in Pennsylvania as the “castle doctrine” which was enacted in 2011. A similar law was enacted in Florida and is being used in the defense of George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin. Second, ALEC pushed the voter ID legislation which has also been seen as controversial.
Recently, ALEC announced it would be reorganizing in the wake of the opposition that the “stand your ground” legislation brought to the organization.
In the time since the New York Times story ran, a group of Pennsylvania progressives exposed the funneling of taxpayer money toward the policy-writing group, American Legislative Exchange Council in the Pennsylvania state legislature, 14 lawmakers have decided to sever their ties with the group.
Keystone Progress, a liberal activist group based in Harrisburg, say that members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate spent a combined $310,817.39 since 2000 in support of ALEC. Included in the spending was food and trips to different cities in the country.
ProgressVA did a similar review of the state legislature in Richmond, Virginia.
The group says at least 51 legislators in Pennsylvania remain members of ALEC, with exact figure being unknown because ALEC doesn’t release membership information.
According to their website, ALEC “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.” The organization advances their cause by partnering with legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.
An example of an ALEC-proposed bill can be found in Matthew Baker’s (R-Tioga) H.B. 42, a proposal that challenged the Affordable Healthcare Act by prohibiting the government from penalizing individuals, employers or health care providers for participating in a healthcare system of their choosing.
Critics of ALEC say the group disproportionately supports legislation that furthers the interests of corporations. David Ward, a media representative from Keystone Progress, said ALEC has pushed an “extreme” policy agenda that marginalizes the consumer.
“ALEC pushes a lot of extreme laws, and members of congress use that exact same language to pass a lot of bills,” Ward said. “We stand on the side of the everyday person; the everyday consumer.”
Ward said the investigation of legislative spending toward ALEC began when Keystone Progress requested spending reports and correspondence reports between legislators and ALEC through Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. The group compiled a list of the top five legislators who distributed public funding toward ALEC.
At the top of the list was Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny, Washington), who Keystone Progress allege spent $12,901.70 of taxpayer funding toward ALEC. Pippy said the claims were “completely incorrect,” and his only association with ALEC ended in 2006.
He added that he worked with the group after his return from active duty in 2001 while working with the Department of Homeland Security.
“The state was reimbursing my travel expenses for some of the meetings I was going to in [Washington] D.C.,” Pippy said. “The money didn’t go to ALEC; it went to pay for the different conferences I was attending.”
Keystone Progress has also released a petition calling for the public denouncement of ALEC by the 60 Democratic legislators who have yet to do so. The petition placed added emphasis on Rep. Joseph Petrarca (D-Westmoreland, Armstrong) and Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D-Philadelphia), whom Keystone Progress say remain members of ALEC.
Rep. Petrarca denied any involvement with ALEC, saying in an email that he “has no ties and has never been a member of ALEC.”
ALEC’s national organization denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that ideology fuels Keystone Progress’s attacks. Kaitlyn Buss, communications director for ALEC, said in an email that attacks against the group threaten to undermine productive discourse on policy.
“These attacks are coming from extreme liberal front groups who are trying to suppress the open exchange of idea and debate on public policy when it does not align with their big-government ideology,” Buss said. “ALEC legislators will continue to provide free-market solutions to the problems they face in their states.”