McEntee: ALEC works in secrecy, Utah activists in public
While legislators from all over the country met at The Grand America hotel, activists opposed to the American Legislative Exchange Council met in a State Street room with old brick walls that seemed ready to crumble in a light breeze.
Like those lawmakers and the corporate representatives mingling with them many of the people in that room had come to Salt Lake City to state their cases against ALEC alongside the Utah League of Women Voters, the Alliance for a Better Utah, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and others.
It's the kind of on-the-ground activism that, despite its dearth of noisy rallies, should inspire all of us to ferret out the best information on issues that are vitally important to us the quality of our air, water, land, quality public education, hassle-free voting and many other issues.
In the case of ALEC, the frustration of the activists and the public is understandable. Dozens of Utah lawmakers, all of them Republicans, are members of ALEC, which works in secrecy to produce hundreds of model bills about those same issues.
But it's done behind closed doors in that posh hotel, and no one but the players have a voice. As Bob Edgar of Common Cause put it, there are plenty of special interests, checkbooks, lobbyists and a goal of privatizing many functions that we now pay for and therefore have a say about.
Now, ALEC maintains it does no lobbying, but as Edgar said, "that doesn't pass the smell test." Nor, he said, does the organization's claim that it is a tax-exempt public charity. Common Cause has filed a whistleblower complaint against ALEC with the Internal Revenue Service.
"They have a checklist," he said. "Health care, global warming, climate issues. Lobbying is a pretty clear activity."
So is ALEC's emphasis on making it harder for voters to vote, all in the cause of preventing those not eligible to mark a ballot, said Jenn Gonnelly, of the Utah League of Women voters.
Utah voters must produce photo IDs because of legislation spawned by ALEC. But across the country, 20 million voting-age citizens don't have the type of identification required by the laws, she said.
Or, to put it another way, Gonnelly said, consider this: Between 2000 and 2007, there were 32,299 reports of UFO sightings, 352 deaths cause by lightning and nine instances of "possible voter impersonation."
The alliance's Maryann Martindale has been indefatigable in ferreting out Utah bills that align with ALEC's goals. That includes Rep. Ken Ivory's bill, passed this year, that ostensibly would force the federal government to cede 30 million acres that belong to the American public to the state.
(Ivory reportedly was euphoric that representatives of four surrounding states wanted to do the same and open those lands to private interests and extraction industries. But it's for the children, right?)
So kudos to those here and around the country for trying to pry the lid off ALEC. And for their role in persuading some 30 former ALEC corporate sponsors, mostly lately General Motors and Walgreens, to pull their support. One more thing: They've done it all in public.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/pegmcentee