What’s the Complaint, with ALEC?

Maybe I’m missing something.

I get that Rhode Island is so partisan that even relative conservatives have incentive to run for public office as Democrats.  And that the Democrat Party is the natural home of the Left, so liberals find it useful to highlight any conservative connections among their co-partisans.  So, it makes perfect sense that they would find the outing of such connections to be newsworthy.  Once the threshold of newsworthiness has been crossed, it’s then reasonable of less ideological news media to seek and report additional details.  But still, what’s the complaint against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Rhode Island?

Yesterday, the Providence Journal’s generally liberal editorial board presented the case as one of transparency:

[Promoting model legislation] is entirely within its rights, of course, but our democracy would be in considerably better shape if there were a lot more transparency about who’s paying for what. Most people didn’t know about ALEC’s role. …

Again, everything that ALEC did was perfectly legal in using its corporate clout, and the help of more than 2,000 state-lawmaker members, to push a broad conservative agenda across the nation. But it mostly did this stealthily. That’s our problem with it.

Oddly, the essay writers found it possible to list several of ALEC’s corporate sponsors.  Independent left-wing journalist Bob Plain doesn’t appear to have had any difficulty procuring a list of local politicians whom ALEC counts as “members” (and pressuring them to “distance themselves” from the organization).  Furthermore, WPRI’s Ted Nesi found over a decade of references to the organization, most in the official record, and some on early drafts of legislation.

Was it “stealthy” (in the Projo’s phrasing) of the lawmakers to remove the references as the bills proceeded?  Arguments could be made both ways.  But Common Cause had a direct hand in drafting campaign finance legislation currently in the General Assembly’s “further study” limbo that (if I may phrase it with excessive caution) is not exactly contrary to national left-wing activist groups’ strategy of bullying companies into distancing themselves from targeted politicians and organizations.  The legislation makes no mention whatsoever of Common Cause RI Executive Director John Marion’s deep involvement crafting the text.  Was that “stealthy”?

ALEC put its name on model legislation available throughout the country.  Should it have quietly emailed the text files to local lawmakers?  In one way or another, local senators and representatives chose to put their names out in the public as people at least having an interest in what the organization has to say.  Should they have insisted on private telephone calls and dinner parties?

One suspects that the complaint against ALEC, at least as far as Rhode Island and the Providence Journal are concerned, is that it didn’t stamp its feet loudly enough to alert politicians to the possibility that the more-liberal factions of their party would make an issue of its presence.  (As for Plain and his RI Future site, the complaint is pretty clearly that ALEC is to the right of MoveOn and therefore must be destroyed.)  Perhaps it would have been sufficiently “transparent” had the group sent representatives to walk the streets knocking on voters’ doors like sex offenders moving into the neighborhood.

The editorialists are, of course, within their rights to present conservatives disproportionately as villains, but they did so as if their motivation is entirely objective. That’s my complaint.



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