As a AAA member since 1992, when my late mother insisted that I join, I was disappointed (to say the least) to see WPRI’s Ted Nesi tweet, during a long RI Senate hearing on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s toll-and-borrow infrastructure plan, that AAA Southern New England is officially in favor of bringing widespread tolling to Rhode Island.
When the roadside-assistance organization released a poll, recently, showing that a relatively narrow majority of its members support Raimondo’s RhodeWorks plan, I was willing to let it slide as purely an information activity, even though people with whom I agree on the issue suggested that it had essentially been a push poll that obscured the difference between supporting road repairs and supporting tolls. (N.B., I was not polled.) Sending a lobbyist to actually put the organization on a particular side of the issue is an entirely different matter.
According to the Secretary of State’s Lobby Tracker, Lloyd Albert, the Senior Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Northeast whom Nesi had named as offering testimony, collects $100 per hour to lobby in Rhode Island. Another lobbyist for the company, Mark Shaw, collects $150 per hour. Some portion of my most recent membership check, in other words, went toward paying Mr. Albert to argue for a major government revenue grab that I believe will be terrible for the state.
Of course, even if my money all went to Albert, it wouldn’t have covered a full hour of hanging out at the State House. The state government, by contrast, gives AAA enough money to have covered its entire $21,000 lobbying bill last year. According to RIOpenGov, the state Dept. of Administration paid AAA an average of $21,222 per year from 2010 through 2014. According to the state’s transparency site, the Governor’s Workforce Board began giving AAA Southern New England thousands of dollars a year, as well, in 2014 — $18,100 in fiscal year 2014, $500 in fiscal 2015, and $8,523 so far in fiscal 2016.
Yesterday, I noted that the private-sector groups that should offer some counter-force to the agents of big government are next to useless in Rhode Island, perhaps because they’ve simply been bought off. It’s more important to the people at the top of these organizations to preserve their network with government insiders than to assert the interests of their members when they conflict with the government’s interests. Members and potential members should take this reality under advisement.