South Dakota has seen a surge of media and bloggers speaking out against taxpayer money being used for dues and travel expenses relating to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Papers such as the Aberdeen American News have been publishing editorials on the subject while blogs such as Madville Times have whole sections devoted to Alec. While I may not agree with the reasoning of most opposed to ALEC, I do agree taxpayer money should not be spent on such groups. I would however add the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments (CSG) to the list of organizations that should not receive taxpayer monies. In this post I will look briefly at all three of these organizations and examine why they are little more than “bill mills”.
Since ALEC seems to get most of the bad press I will start here. Here is how ALEC describes itself:
The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.
I have been described as “hardcore libertarian” it is likely no surprise that I support most of what ALEC aims to do. Anything that advances us towards a free-market enterprise with limited-government is good! However ALEC being paid for using public tax-dollars is not good!
ALEC allows corporations to join the organization with contributions. The bills created during ALEC sessions are done with the intent of pushing the agenda of these corporate donors. It is actually the same basic process as any other bill in politics, the only difference is the ALEC process calls the corporate interests “members” instead of “lobbyists”. But, just as with normal lobbyists, it can be hard to trace the bills presented at ALEC events with their corporate
sponsors members. Libertarian and liberty-minded individuals should be fighting against crony capitalism; this system creates another possible outlet for the expansion of crony capitalism.
As I said before I support what ALEC says it was setup for. However I do not see why taxpayers should be paying dues and travel for a political organization that basically renames lobbyists and pushes out legislation that enters the realm of crony capitalism.
The NCSL, another organization supposedly serving American legislatures. Here is how NCSL describes itself:
The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories. NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues. NCSL is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. NCSL is your organization. The leadership of NCSL is composed of legislators and staff from across the country. The NCSL Executive Committee provides overall direction on operations of the Conference.
NCSL could be seen as the opposite of ALEC, with the same potential results. Many big government solutions either originate or are pushed by lobbyist via the NCSL. A recent examples is the Main Street Fairness Act (Internet Tax). The NCSL has been responsible for the state-level laws that allow the federalization of the internet tax to become reality. Lobbyists then used the NCSL as a conduit to push this crony capitalistic legislation through so small business innovation could be stifled.
The NCSL has had a large part to play in states adopting common core standards for public education. Their website has a lot of information available to assist state legislatures implement common core (login required for most of the info). As people start to wake up to the dangers of common core they may want to look at the NCSL. The lobby groups using NCSL are pushing further Federal control over education.
Hopefully those fighting against ALEC will soon realize the same crony capitalism also exists within NCSL. The main difference between the two organizations is that the NCSL uses think-tanks supporting big government solutions. These think-tanks are financially supported by the very same crony-capitalists lobby groups that support ALEC.
And finally there is the CSG. Here is what the CSG has to say about itself:
Founded in 1933, The Council of State Governments is our nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.
CSG is an interesting organization because they try to appear to be more like the NCSL, however they were accepting corporate
sponsorship’s members long before ALEC came around. A recent example of that is the Fracking Chemical Disclosure Model Bill. Huffington Post has an example of this for Florida, but it has happened all over the country.
CSG has been a great outlet for lobby groups to push any agenda under the sun. While ALEC has a more conservative focus and the NCSL has a big-government focus the CSG has a “anyone that has money can have our focus” approach. In fact corporate members of the CSG can “vote” on model bills.
Of the three groups I am least familiar with the CSG. However I believe this organization may in fact potentially be the worse offender for crony capitalism.
So Now What?
I believe all three organizations can be a conduit for crony capitalism. This crony capitalism may not have been intended in any of the organizations; however it still exists despite the intentions. Going forward I believe states must stop paying dues and any travel fees associated with ALEC, NCSL, and CSG. It makes no logical sense for taxpayers to fund the very crony capitalism that hurts free markets. All three organizations are nothing more than ‘bill mills’.
The South Dakota Democratic Party has posted a petition asking for “No Tax Dollars for ALEC Due!”. If they were to change this to “No Tax Dollars for ALEC, NCSL, or CSG Dues” I would back their cause. It would be great to support the SDDP on an issue that fights against crony capitalism. Is the SDDP willing to fight crony capitalism that is ‘on their side’? I’m not sure. But I know most libertarians and true conservatives are ready to fight against crony capitalism everywhere; especially if they claim to be ‘on my side’.