The American Legislative Exchange Council is a clearinghouse for conservative representatives and senators of both parties to swap ideas for state laws. It claims more than 2,000 lawmakers as members and 100 members of Congress as “alumni.”
Wednesday, it issued its annual ranking of states based on its view of the economic potential of their tax policies, placing Georgia at 10th best even though its performance under those policies was way down at 33rd. ALEC economist Art Laffer was a key advisor to former House Speaker Glenn Richardson and his GREAT Plan to replace property taxes with a sales tax.
Several Georgia legislators have risen in its leadership ranks, and it is the source of concepts behind multiple laws enacted in this state in recent years. Examples include the so-called 65 Percent Solution setting a minimum share of a local school’s spending going to classroom instruction, zero-based budgeting and the photo-ID requirement for voting.
Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue pushed the 65 Percent law, and this year the General Assembly repealed it, arguing that experience proved it ineffective in raising student performance.
ALEC wasn’t the only one calling for the photo-ID law, which was also recommended by a bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform years ago, but ALEC has become a lightning rod drawing criticism from the left to ALEC. Liberals contend the photo requirement is unfair to voters who tend to be aged, poor and unsophisticated, even though they haven’t come up with anyone for their court challenges who can testify that it prevented them from casting a ballot.
ALEC also drafted a model version of the stand-your-ground law that Georgia passed and that George Zimmerman is using in the Florida version as his defense in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s action has created controversy that liberals are using to pry support away from ALEC.
The group ChangeOfColor.org has been coercing consumer-products companies to stop their support of ALEC or face a boycott. Already UPS, Coca-Cola and Wendy’s are among those that have buckled under since no company wants to limit its customer base to a single political ideology.
Those companies issued statements essentially saying their interest in ALEC was access to legislators to lobby them against proposals targeting their products, like Coke’s fight to halt state bottle-deposit requirements. Some critics allege ALEC was a tool of the corporations.
“The suggestion that a corporation has ever ramrodded a bill through ALEC is patently false on its face and through the use of logic,” said Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock. “The process for becoming a model bill is extremely difficult, perhaps even more difficult than the normal policy process in many states. I challenge the ALEC attackers to provide an example of a single bill that was ‘ramrodded’ by a corporation that passed ALEC to become model language and then became law in a state.”
Rogers, who’s making appearances on national cable-TV shows to defend ALEC, notes that many organizations produce model legislation for lawmakers to adopt. Freshman Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, is defending it on social networks like Twitter by debating liberals tweet for tweet, challenging critics to attend an ALEC conference.
ALEC officials contend the attention from the attacks have brought it a groundswell.
“Over the last 24 hours, ALEC has been inundated with letters of support from elected officials, community leaders and concerned citizens in response to the intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda,” ALEC Executive Director Ron Scheberle said in a statement issued Thursday.
One point ALEC and its detractors agree on is that ALEC has been effective in getting conservative concepts from idea to implementation. Where the debate over those philosophies on the national level has been played out in the media since Ronald Reagan’s election, the statehouse arguments haven’t seemed as obviously part of a broad movement until recently.
When Tea Party candidates like Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker and Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell and scores of legislators get into office, ALEC is one of the places they turn to formulate their agenda and begin changing the direction of their states’ government.
With so many conservatives in office in Georgia, ALEC will remain a significant force here regardless of the attacks.