Ted Simons: ALEC is the American legislative exchange council, and critics say it's a corporate interest lobbying group that directs and produces model legislation for state lawmakers. Last week we heard criticism of ALEC's influence from the head of common cause. Tonight we hear from a supporter of ALEC. Joining us is Tom Jenney, of Americans for prosperity. Good to have you here.
Tom Jenney: Thank you for letting me be here.
Ted Simons: What is ALEC?
Tom Jenney: ALEC is the American legislative exchange council. You can find it on the web at WWW.ALEC.org. There's no big secret here. They put their agenda out there, they put their model legislation out there on the web for everybody to see. There's no big secret to this. They're a lot like -- They're the conservative version of the national conference of state legislatures, which is kind of a more of a centrist, maybe center left organization, and it's the same counterpart to the progressive states network, which if you're a left wing legislator you would probably go the PSN.
Ted Simons: But we kind of -- We had the head of common cause on last week. I mentioned PSN, and other groups. What he said was these were not charity groups, they were lobbying groups and ALEC is not a lobbying group. And he had problems with that. I want you to respond to the idea that it's an organized -- Organization that's filed as a charity. First of all, is that true?
Tom Jenney: As far as I know, they have at least some element that's got to be 501c3 and a large part is putting policy ideas out there for people to look at. And it seems to me, I just don't understand what the news story is, really.
Ted Simons: The news story is a lot of people think they have undue influence, and they're a lobbying group that says they're not a lobbying group. Do you see them as a lobbying group?
Tom Jenney: I suspect if people think they have undue influence, people from the left who worry at one point, one-third of all the legislators in this country belonged to ALEC. So it's a group with a lot of influence, but that's largely because conservatives in state legislatures have quite a lot of clout.
Ted Simons: We mentioned Bob Edgar last week, I want to listen to what he had to say regarding the idea this is a lobbying group that says it's not a lobbying group.
Bob Edgar: It's actually lobbying on the cheap. I think what your constituents here in Arizona want, they want their representatives to come to the state capitol and do the best job they can, listen not only to corporations, but listen to all sides of a particular issue. And they want lobbyists to be known, registered, and not hiding in the shadows.
Ted Simons: Do you think ALEC is hiding in the shadows?
Tom Jenney: That's absolutely silly. Go to their website. You can find all their model legislation on that website.
Ted Simons: Do we know who donates to ALEC?
Bob Edgar: I don't know if you do or not. I haven't checked with that. But a lot of organizations, including left wing organization and they're protected under a very old, five decades old court case decided, NAACP versus Alabama, and the courts rightly said organizations often want to protect their donors.
Ted Simons: Should those organizations, again, I'm speaking from what the other side is saying and what we're hearing from the other side, should those organizations have that kind of influence in modeling legislation at various state legislatures around the country, and having that kind of contact with lawmakers? That kind of access?
Tom Jenney:I think a public --
Ted Simons: that a public person may not otherwise have.
Tom Jenney: What have you heard of a legislature who didn't -- Who's down there at the legislature and never looked at any other states for an example of what to do? This person just sat there and didn't listen to anybody coming in, no lobbies, just tried to make up their own mind about legislation. Wouldn't you think that person was uninformed? You'd think that person was not using the resources available. So if you are a center right, if you're a conservative, you go to ALEC and network, and you try to find good ideas for your legislature. If you are a centrist, you go to the national council of state legislatures. In fact we pay Arizona state -- The state of Arizona pays for people to go to NCSL. If you're a left winger you go to progressive states network.
Ted Simons: The idea, and I think this is what I'm hearing from common cause, is that ALEC is in a sense defrauding the tax code, and basically the influence is there, it's -- I think you used the word lobby, they are lobbying, but they say they're not a lobbying group. And thus anyone and their brother can donate and get a tax credit for it. Is that fair? First, is that right, secondly, is that fair?
Tom Jenney: I think you've got groups all over on the left, including by the way a lot of University professors, who come in and basically weigh in on bills that are before legislatures, and these are 501(c)3, and you could argue these think tanks and University professors, that they shouldn't be doing that. But in reality, we have a pluralistic system. My concern, my big concern about this whole story or this nonstory, as I think the case is, is that it kind of leads to a conspiracy mentality. For instance, one of the big issues, I think we should be focusing on issues. One of the big issues facing the legislature is the fight over the Medicaid expansion. I could sit here and tell you the hospital lobby, the hospital corporations are going to get a ton of money from Washington. If we do this expansion. And I could tell you they've hired the biggest lobbyist in town, Chuck Coughlin. And a lot of people joke that chuck Coughlin is the shadow governor, and all this stuff. But that conspiracy mentality, that conspiracy thinking doesn't get us to the real issue, which is, should we expand Medicaid in Arizona or not? We think it's a bad idea. The people on the other side for reasons that have nothing to do with the corporations that will profit from this, there's a lot of people who don't stand to gain a penny, who still think it's a good idea. And I think we need to debate on that level. On the policy level.
Ted Simons: We have debated on the policy level many times on this program, but if I want to donate to lobbying firms, whether it's chuck Coughlin or ABC over here, I don't get a return on that as a donation. Folks who donate to ALEC do get a return, and that's what I think the criticism is. That we're basically paying for this kind of a corporate interest lobbying group to have this kind of access. That's what I keep hearing. How do you respond to that?
Tom Jenney: For better or worse, the tax code is the way it is. The case law is the way it is. And there are left wing groups that do the same thing. And everybody knows how to play the game, and everybody invests where they want to. George SOROS, he's got a group of left-wing organizations he's helped funded, and god bless him, they're out there in the policy arena, and they do what they can under the law.
Ted Simons: Last question -- When common cause says taxpayers support, taxpayers fund, and taxpayers subsidize ALEC, does that bother you?
Tom Jenney: I think it's mostly not true.
Ted Simons: You don't think it's true?
Tom Jenney: If you look at the national council of state legislatures, there's actually an appropriation from our legislature to send legislators to that and staffers to that organization. I'd rather they didn't use taxpayer money that way, but it's not a huge amount of money, and a lot of the staffers will tell you they get good information from that organization, and again, I wouldn't -- I don't think we should do that. I think we should zero out that appropriation, but in the big picture is this corrupting, sending legislators to the national council, is that corrupting our legislature? I don't really think so.
Ted Simons: Tom, I'm glad we had you on. Thanks for joining us.
Tom Jenney: Thank you.