The Corner

In Defense of ALEC

Wendy Gramm and Brooke Rollins (the chairman and president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where I work) have a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a vigorous defense of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has come under concerted attack from left-wing groups bent on shutting it down. The campaign of intimidation has chased away a number of corporate donors, which is really shameful, because like many campaigns that seek to suppress dissent, this one is based on misinformation. 

ALEC is referred to as “shady,” though it gathers in conferences that can number 1,000 attendees. It is called a lobbying group because some of the presentations are by representatives of industry. Well, I attend ALEC conferences in the hopes of propagating my own model legislation, which I write myself. It’s a bonus to be able to offer my opinion and recommend improvements to other people’s proposals. At ALEC, I represent the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and I am far more focused on what state legislators and other think tanks are doing than on what the industry groups are trying to push. But I have to admit that the presentations by some of those industry groups, for example explaining the impact of new EPA regulations, are among the most informative and sophisticated policy discussions I have ever seen anywhere. But I look at industry’s support as charitable, and I’m grateful for it — we get a lot more out of it than they do. 

The Left’s inordinate susceptibility to conspiracy theory and moral indignation makes for a dangerous combination, and sometimes they do real damage to a worthy cause, a real injustice in the service of imaginary justice. Wendy Gramm and Brooke Rollins put their finger on what’s ultimately at stake:

ALEC’s real crime is this: For nearly four decades, it has been an effective, engaged facilitator of good governance and liberty-oriented legislation in statehouses across the country. Its critics don’t just object to one or two of the council’s programs, they object to its existence.

Their comments may be legitimate discourse, but this ought to be called what it is. It’s a debate about the role of government in a free society. ALEC is for less government and more freedom. Its opponents are for more government, and the false security that government brings. We know from the lessons of history that earned, individual success is not only the key to happiness and progress, it is the bedrock of a just society. ALEC’s advocacy is really for the American dream.

Our organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (based in Austin, Texas), is a modest player on the national stage. Yet what we do generates big results, and not just in our home state, but across America. Much of our good work with ALEC has been accomplished via its Public Safety and Elections task force — the very task force the council recently shut down due to pressure from left-wing groups.

Since 2010, our foundation has worked on a “Right on Crime” program designed to reform state-level criminal-justice policy along common-sense lines that will deliver real justice to victims while offering offenders who pose no threat to public safety a chance to reform.

ALEC has been instrumental in promulgating many lessons from our “Right on Crime” work to policy makers in other states. For example, the Maryland legislature recently passed legislation patterned on ALEC model legislation derived from our work in Texas. The Maryland bill provides incentives to probationers and parolees to pay restitution, hold down steady work, and engage in good behavior in their communities—while saving Marylanders’ taxpayer dollars as recidivism and re-incarceration rates consequently drop.

These aren’t partisan issues. They’re not even ideological, unless common sense and good-governance reforms are ideological. Everyone in every state has a direct interest in effective criminal justice, in safe communities, and in efficient, cost-conscious governance.

Yet prison reform is exactly the sort of activity that ALEC’s attackers have attempted to shut down with relentless criticism and pressure on donors and members.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Health-care reform, pension reform, and a whole range of public-policy challenges will go unconsidered and unmet if ALEC and institutions like it disappear. In their place will be exactly what ALEC’s antagonists publicly decry: a debate dominated by special-interest groups.

Mario Loyola — Contributing editor Mario Loyola is senior fellow and Director of the Center for Competitive Federalism at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He began his career in corporate ...

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