There’s a publication available to anyone that’s geared toward Ohio General Assembly members called, “A Guidebook for Ohio Legislators.” It contains a lot of useful information about being a state legislator and is over 200 pages long. The nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) puts out this reference tool, among many others. The LSC is overseen by a 14 member governing authority. You can see the members of that authority here and the staff here. Like the Ohio GA itself, the commission is dominated by Republicans but there are two Democrats from the House and two from the Senate (four out of 14). They also publish a document that lists their Fellows.
I came across this publication while on the campaign trail because people often ask, what does a state legislator do. If you remember your government class lesson on the separation of powers and the three branches of government, then you may also recall that legislative bodies are usually responsible for “just” two things: making laws (like those that govern everything from wild animals to guns to women’s reproductive rights) and approving budgets and appropriations. That’s it. The caveat here is that U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is correct when he says, as he did today at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s annual luncheon, “Budgets are moral documents,” and that budget bills are de facto policy statements.
I found the guide while looking for something more thorough than that above explanation, and that I could share. As you can see from a list of its chapters, it is quite thorough, though I assume there’s probably a lot that goes on that we never hear about.
My most interesting find, my first time through, was in Chapter 9, Staff Services Available to the General Assembly. In there, I saw that the American Legislative Exchange Council, more commonly referred to as ALEC, is described twice – first in the chapter’s preamble, and then again under, “Services from National Organizations.”
The first mention:
Two national organizations, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments (CSG), also offer services to both the legislature as an institution and the members elected to the legislatures in all states. The NCSL membership includes only state legislative bodies, while the CSG membership includes a wide range of state officials from the executive, judicial, and legislative bodies of each state. A third organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is a nonpartisan organization that publishes research information, public policy proposals, and model legislation to support its public policy agenda.
As noted later in Chapter 9 under the description for each of those three organizations, there is an appropriation to the LSC that pays for membership of the GA in all three organizations. The NCSL membership, “…automatically extends NCSL member ship to all members and staff of the House and Senate.” The CSG membership, “…entitles all legislators to individual CSG membership.” The ALEC membership, “…does not extend to individual legislators. Legislators who wish to join ALEC as individuals must pay their own membership dues.”
The second mention of ALEC is under the heading, “Services from National Organizations.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonpartisan public affairs and research organization that serves a membership composed of state legislators, business organizations, and foundations. ALEC members share a commitment to ideas based upon competition in the marketplace, free enterprise, limited representative government, federalism, and individual liberties. Through its task forces on various public policy issues, state legislators and private sector individuals work together to produce issue reports and model legislation. The organization also conducts conferences and workshops on public policy issues. Like other national organizations for legislators, the Council compiles statistics, monitors legislation, and provides analyses, research information, and model legislation on local, state, and national government issues.
ALEC is headed by a National Board of Directors, consisting of state legislators, and an advisory Private Enterprise Board, composed of persons from the private sector. Additionally, at least one legislator in each state holds a position as state chairperson. These boards meet regularly to manage ALEC’s business.
ALEC publishes a monthly newsletter, InsideALEC; occasional research papers under the title The State Factor; and ALEC Policy Forum, a collection of research and policy articles reprinted from the monthly newsletter. Model legislation, developed by the members and approved by a task force, is also published on its web site, http://www.alec.org, but generally is accessible only to members. Some publications from ALEC are available at the LSC library. The organization holds two major meetings each year, the annual meeting in the summer and the States and Nation Policy Summit in November or December. ALEC task forces also meet at other times. ALEC’s office is in Washington, D.C.
The Ohio General Assembly pays membership dues to ALEC through an appropriation to LSC. However, Ohio’s membership does not extend to individual legislators. Legislators who wish to join ALEC as individuals must pay their own membership dues.
According to the information currently on the ALEC website, State Representative John Adams (R, 85th District) is our state chairman, though he is termed out this year. (Nino Vitale (R) was elected to the seat last week.) Wikipedia includes this list of 19 individual Ohio members (of note on the list: one woman, Barbara Sears; Seth Morgan, who is with the Governor’s administration, John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and an assortment of Republican Ohio GA members).
I’m guessing most readers are familiar with why it is so intriguing that our tax dollars that pay to run our legislature are going for a membership to an entity that has only Republicans as its members. However, if this is all new to you, the best thing I can recommend for getting up to speed is to please read this transcript from a show Diane Rehm did at the beginning of October, “Understanding ALEC And Its Influence In U.S. Politics.” It provides many details about ALEC, including examples of how the corporate memberships and funding of ALEC dictates and influences its agenda, and subsequently the agenda in the state legislatures in extreme ways. Two examples:
[Diane Rehm:] Here’s an email from — let me just find it — from Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin who says, “As a former state legislator I’m very familiar with ALEC’s work. I’ve crashed ALEC conventions twice. I’ve seen firsthand how they lobby and influence legislators. Lobbying legislators introduce their model bills and helping them pass those bills is nearly their entire focus. They are essentially a dating service for lonely legislators to meet big money corporations. Unfortunately what is conceived in their relationship benefits the corporations more than constituents.”
and this one, which will sound familiar to many Ohio readers:
[Miles Rapoport president of Common Cause. He is also a former secretary of state and state legislator in Connecticut:] But I did see ALEC’s work close up when I was a Connecticut legislature — legislator in that there would be shortly before the state legislative session convened, a flood of bills. I’ll give you one interesting example where I think in — go back to 1985, ’86 — so I’m dating myself. All of a sudden 20 bills were introduced to make English the official language of the State of Connecticut. And all of us who saw that said, okay, ALEC’s mailing has arrived. And what many of the — mostly Republican legislators, occasionally a Democrat or two, would do was just give their aids the package of ALEC’s legislation and say, go file it for me. So that’s why you would see 20 bills come at the same time.
Again, read that transcript. It includes numerous other disturbing examples of how ALEC influences our legislators and our laws, and the role the corporate members and donors play in influencing both.
Another worthwhile examination of ALEC for the unacquainted is from last year, when Bill Moyers’ outlet published, “An Exposed ALEC Faces Mass Protests and Calls for Scrutiny.”
So then. You can imagine why I might be excited about ALEC getting some competition, and State Innovation Exchange (“SiX”) appears to be the entity. Politico, the New York Times, and USA Today have all run items about it in the last few days. It’s even got a new Wikipedia entry.
And I say? I’m keeping my eye on it because, as soon as states and individuals are able to be members, I believe the Ohio GA should make an LSC appropriation for a membership to SiX. Or else relinquish its membership to ALEC.
What’s your reaction to learning that ALEC is in our legislators’ guidebook and that our state pays a membership fee to the organization? Feel free to contact your state rep and senator about it.