Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat) are standing by their membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Rogers, who has been a member for 10 years, is also the national treasurer of the conservative organization, while Hill serves with Rogers as the state chairs from Georgia for the group.
Rogers said the criticism of the organization is unfounded, adding the attacks are “coming from the same far left radical groups that have been attacking conservatives for years.”
“The question is whether supporters of free markets and limited government will yield to these type of tactics,” Rogers said. “ALEC is the leading conservative legislative organization in the nation. It will continue to stand for free markets, less government and federalism. These are the principles on which America was founded and we need more lawmakers to stand by them.”
Hill also said the criticism is lacking in substance.
Hill said the attacks are coming from “a few fairly extreme organizations” that aren’t even focused on what ALEC is all about, which he identified as “a free open exchange of ideas by legislators and people in private industries.”
Not so, said Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia, a nonprofit organization that works “for elected officials to pass sensible laws and policies that make Georgia a better state.” The organization is affiliated with ProgressNow, a national progressive grassroots organization.
Long said ALEC is a “radical right-wing group that operates in the shadows of the government” and very little is known about how they operate.
“There’s a lot there that’s a bit of mystery,” he said.
He also pointed to ALEC’s influence in distributing model legislation to its political members and referenced Georgia’s voter ID law, some of the state’s pro-charter school bills and its crackdown on illegal immigration as examples of model bills being introduced in state legislators.
Now that Georgia-based Coca-Cola has backed away from ALEC, Long said it’s high time for Rogers as well as Hill to consider following suit.
He also said Rogers has been all but mum on his involvement with the organization.
If Rogers is proud of his association with the organization, Long said it’s imperative the senate majority leader is up front with legislation he’s taken from the organization.
Rogers said ALEC has between 800 and 1,000 model bills and said most of them originate from legislators who bring them to the organization.
According to its website, ALEC 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.”
The organization has joined forces with its private sector members to advocate conservative legislative causes on issues ranging from education to economics.
The organization was also instrumental in getting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law passed, which has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Martin shooting death.
George Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder in Martin’s death, said he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense.
The organization’s association with Florida’s statute has led to some of its corporate backers, such as McDonald’s Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods Inc and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to withdraw its support.
In the last few days, the organization has also announced that it would shift its focus solely to economic issues.
“It’s just an organization between legislators like myself, and we pay money to join,” Rogers said. “We have a dialogue between ourselves and private industries and other legislators.”
ALEC does not have a list of private sector members on its website, but members of its private enterprise board include representatives from Bayer Corp., GlaxoSmithKline, Reynolds American, Wal-Mart Stores, Energy Future Holdings, Centerpoint360, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods Inc., Pfizer Inc., DIAGEO, AT&T, Peabody Energy, UPS, Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, Exxon Mobil Corporation, State Farm Insurance Co., Altria Client Services, and Reed Elsevier Inc.
Dating back to 2008, both Cherokee County legislators have accepted campaign contributions from some corporations listed, including Coca-Cola, UPS, GlaxoSmithKline, PhRMA, Pfizer, Bayer Corp., Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods.
Scrutiny of Rogers’ campaign disclosures show as much as $44,000 in contributions in 2010 came from companies believed to have ties with ALEC.
However, Rogers pointed out the same corporations that sponsor ALEC also sponsor the National Conference of State Legislators and the Council of State Governments, two other nonprofit legislative organizations that lean to the center or left of the political spectrum.
“Many of these companies have large numbers of employees in Georgia,” he added. “I am glad that private sector employers consider me a pro-business legislative leader.”
He said he’s “probably brought more ideas to ALEC for model legislation” than he’s ever used.
An example is his model resolution he passed through ALEC that calls for the federal government to return gas tax revenue to the state.
Once that bill passed through ALEC, Rogers said he introduced that resolution in Georgia, which he said passed.
Hill added legislation that went into effect about four years ago that allows Georgia residents to freeze their credit was a model bill from ALEC.
“We talked to other legislators and had taken ideas from them,” he said.
That’s not good enough for Long.
He said he and others would like a better understanding about ALEC, the corporations who are involved and their role in crafting legislation to govern the citizenry.
“It’s a powerful group of corporations and lawmakers who sit at the table together and write our laws without our knowledge,” he said. “They are being told by corporations what are the laws they need to pass.”