Utah’s legislative session is still 6 months away, but this week, several state lawmakers are drafting laws along with hundreds of other lawmakers and business representatives from across the country who belong to the American Legislative Exchange Council. The group, known as ALEC, is meeting in Salt Lake City this week, and as Jessica Gail reports, many are unhappy with the organization’s way of doing things.
Monday night, there were two different political dinners going on near the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
One took place inside the 5-star hotel: a board of directors dinner to kick off the 39th annual American Legislative Exchange Council Meeting. But across the street from the hotel, a different group gathered. This one calling itself the ALEC Welcoming Committee.
“ALEC does a really good job of pairing legislators with corporations with specific bills that they want to get passed and then these corporations can donate to these specific legislators and they can leverage their power financially to get more power in our democracy.”
That’s Deb Henry, who helped organize the dinner and protest called the Parade of Empty Plates.
“The idea was to contrast the type of economy that ALEC is really pushing which is a bunch of empty plates in the middle class and the lower class.”
Many critics of ALEC, like Rafel Cordray, say it’s too secretive. The public is not allowed inside while the legislators who belong to the group meet with corporate representatives.
“There are corporate members and state legislative members and they get inside the hotel behind closed doors and they come up with laws that put profits before people.”
But Republican State Senator Curt Bramble of Provo, who sits on the group’s national governing board says don’t be too quick to judge. He says ALEC is the nation’s largest, individual public-private membership association of state legislators with over 2,000 members. And, he says it’s bi-partisan, so while it’s a conservative group, there are members of both parties who attend.
"ALEC is nothing more than a resource for legislators as we look the challenges of public policy and as we look at solutions that have worked in other states. ALEC is one of many resources that we can look to and say do they have something that fits what we’re trying to do and does it fit?”
Bramble adds just because some ideas may be supported by ALEC, doesn’t mean they are a good fit for Utah.
“ALEC had some model legislation for privatization. Well, the fact is the Speaker of the House and I did our due diligence on privatization. we looked at the potential for privatizing our state hospital; we looked at the potential for privatizing our prison system and we found that it was not a good fit. If it isn’t a good fit the Utah state legislature won’t adopt it.”
When asked about the private sector involvement in ALEC, Bramble says that happens in every legislative organization from the most liberal to the most conservative.
The agenda for ALEC’s annual gathering included a luncheon with Utah Governor Gary Herbert, along with task force subcommittee meetings on issues like public pension reform, commerce and taxation, and energy.