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Confessions of a Conspirator
April 18, 2012
I have a confession to make. You are reading the words of a man knee-deep in one of the broadest political conspiracies in America today. I and my organization, the National Taxpayers Union, are deeply involved in a coordinated campaign to achieve certain goals. What are those goals? Glad you asked! We're so secretive about them that you can find them right on our website: fighting for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels. In pursuit of those goals, we have long partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council. You'll find that they're quite secretive about their principles as well, but I'll let the cat out of the bag: they work towards free enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.
As just one example of how the organization works, NTU and ALEC joined together to craft model legislation on spending transparency. At ALEC conferences, we worked with other like-minded groups and individuals to discuss best practices and potential pitfalls, heard from success stories in pioneer states, and developed a base for legislation that puts governments across the country on a path to publicly disclosing (in real-time, online, in searchable format) every taxpayer dollar spent.
Obviously I'm being a little facetious here, but I suppose that's because I just don't understand what all the fuss is about. You may have heard about ALEC in the news recently as bored liberal activists have made it their newest target for destruction after tiring of pillorying the Koch brothers for being wealthy and daring to be involved in politics and policy (apparently it's only acceptable if you lobby for higher taxes like Warren Buffett). In their strange world, the existence of an organization that provides a forum to educate state legislators and arm them with the tools to advance limited government solutions is unacceptable and they will stop at nothing to cripple it.
ALEC's opponents claim that its model of discussing, drafting, and distributing model legislation to address policy issues undermines democracy as we know it. Funny, I haven't heard the same concern about the existence of the National Conference of State Legislatures. NCSL is a similar organization that uses many of the same "tactics" (educating legislators and providing model language for them to use) as ALEC.
Are there differences? Sure there are! ALEC's opponents will point out that it has private sector members which, because business is evil and must be stopped, makes it quite different. But don't be surprised if they neglect to mention the fact that NCSL is the beneficiary of $10 million (well more than ALEC's budget) in taxpayer money! Which do you find more offensive to the interests of democracy: an organization that has private sector members freely choosing to be involved (or not), or an organization that gets your tax dollars to fund its activities whether you support it or not?
I, for one, find it pretty darn offensive that my state of Virginia sent more than a quarter million taxpayer dollars to an organization that just came out this week in favor of the odious corporate welfare program known as the Export-Import Bank. Yes, NCSL supports the same Ex-Im bank that conservative AND liberal organizations have opposed because it doles out taxpayer money to wealthy corporations in order to subsidize their export activities. But remember, conservatives are the corporate shills.
So, is the existence of ALEC's private sector membership really driving all of this? I doubt it. Another similar organization, the National Caucus of Black State Legislators, allows for businesses (and labor unions) to be members. On their website, they tout the fact that they have "over 120 corporations and labor unions" as members, worth $1.2 million (at least) to their annual budget. Yet, strangely, I haven't come across any complaints about NCBSL's business model as being corrupt or damaging to democracy. Perhaps that's because, generally speaking, they advocate for liberal policy positions rather than conservative ones. Like ALEC, NCBSL attracts public and private sector membership based on the principles they stand for. I may disagree with some of NCBSL's positions, but I see nothing untoward with their model just as there's nothing untoward about ALEC's model.
What's really going on here is pretty simple. Liberal activist groups hate the limited government principles of ALEC and other organizations like it and they are intent on stamping them out of existence. I hope that ALEC, its member organizations (which includes NTU), and the state legislators across the country that are involved in it and support its work will stand up to these intimidation tactics. ALEC as an organization and the principles for which it stands are too important to give up without a fight.
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