ALEC likely to be influential in Utah’s legislative session

It’s not often that coverage of the American Legislative Exchange Council makes it into the local news, even though many of Utah’s state legislators are members of the secretive lobbying organization. But after the Guardian broke a story about what is often called ALEC, the little known organization made it into one of Paul Rolly’s columns last month.

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Even though in the past ALEC has supported all sorts of troubling positions, like the Reagan administration’s opposition to South African apartheid divestment campaigns, and hazardous policies, like the stand your ground laws that played a role in Trayvon Martin’s death, it was a footnote in the organization’s history that got Rolly’s attention. At ALEC’s convention this year, state chairs were asked to vote on the adoption of a so-called loyalty oath, pledging their allegiance to ALEC’s agenda. Here is the text of the oath:

“I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

You can see our spoof of the loyalty oath here.

Though the oath was not adopted, it is deeply concerning for a government watchdog group like ours that our state legislators would consider putting the interests of a corporate-driven organization over the interests of their constituents. It is a betrayal of their oath of office. Unfortunately, in keeping with the secretive nature of ALEC, we’ll never know how close the ALEC oath was to being adopted. That doesn’t mean we didn’t try to find out.

The state chairs from Utah include both Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and state Rep. Ken Ivory. We asked supporters from each of their districts to email them to ask how they voted on the ALEC loyalty oath.

Fortunately, Niederhauser took a moment to respond to an email from Better UTAH’s founder, Joshua Kanter. Niederhauser affirmed that the state chairs, of which he is one, did not support adopting the loyalty pledge. Ivory told his constituent in an email that he’d never heard of the pledge. And, even though we don’t know how Niederhauser and Ivory voted specifically, we’re giving them both the benefit of the doubt, presuming that neither voted to uphold the pledge.

But the standard for democratic governance shouldn’t be “the benefit of the doubt.” As Utah citizens, we should expect a much more robust account of how our elected leaders craft and pass legislation.

We’ve been following ALEC ever since the organization decided to host its annual conference in Salt Lake City last summer. Unlike other national legislation-oriented groups like the National Council for State Legislators (NCSL), ALEC has a strictly partisan, corporate-backed agenda. Whereas NCSL rotates its chairs between Republicans and Democrats, ALEC is mostly Republican-dominated, and even large corporations get a seat at the table and an equal vote.

Organizations like ALEC, that sponsor model legislation, aren’t necessarily bad. It’s the lack of transparency from organizations like ALEC, as well as their accountability model, that make them suspect. It’s only recently that ALEC has started to post versions of their bills on their website. Previously, a Utah citizen would have no way of knowing if their representative’s bill was written by a corporation or by an elected official. But even more troubling is their accountability model.

ALEC, driven as it is by corporate sponsors, is accountable to those same corporate sponsors, not Utah voters. Voters can choose not to reelect a given state representative, but if the new representative is still a member of ALEC, not much has changed. That’s because Utahns do not get a vote in who ALEC’s corporate sponsors are, and elected officials who are members of ALEC become little more than placeholders, far from the statesmen and women they are elected to be.

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