In trying to smear ALEC, Wash Po liberal gets it wrong

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank published an op-ed last week trying to pile on to the liberal attacks on the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC is a 40-year-old organization of conservative state legislators. I’ve been attending its meetings for more than 20 years.

Because ALEC takes an unashamedly free market approach to policy issues, it tends to attract more Republican state legislators than Democrats, but it has always been bipartisan and frequently reaches out to moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats. For example, then-Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia has spoken via video to the group.

ALEC’s mission has expanded over the years. It now has several task forces that focus on different issues facing the states: health and human services, tax and budget, education, energy, communications, commerce, etc.  The task force meetings usually include presentations from various individuals and groups; the one I attended last week had presentations from Canada on trade issues and from a People’s Republic of China diplomat talking about the country’s new economic reforms. Task forces also craft resolutions and model legislation that states are free to embrace or disregard.

Milbank claims the task forces are run by private sector companies. That assertion is absolutely untrue. While each task force has a private sector chairman, in my 20-plus years attending the meetings have always been run by the public sector chair (i.e., legislators).  And the private sector is not just companies; there are think tanks and other non-profit educational groups that participate.

The left is unhinged that state legislators and companies and think tanks talk to each other about policy issues at these meetings. It might be worth reminding them that President Obama frequently has corporate CEOs to the White House to “listen” to their views on specific laws and his proposals. Of course, that’s often only after he has made a complete mess of something, like Obamacare, and even then it may be more for show than substance.  But the president engages in that dialogue too. Indeed, the reason so many health care trade associations and companies didn’t attack Obamacare when it was being drafted was so they could have a “seat at the table.”

Milbank also is miffed that he didn’t get to drift in and out of the task force meetings. Hey, I wonder if it’s OK for the rest of us to sit in on the Post’s editorial board deliberations as its writers decide which is the most liberal position they can reasonably support? Why are they so secretive? What’s going on behind those closed editorial-board doors? I’d love to write about those discussions—if the Post would only let me in.

Actually, one of the task force meetings had a Washington Post reporter attend, and there were a few other reporters in other task force meetings, though I believe they were off the record. Maybe Milbank just needed to ask more politely.

And as I said, if the Peoples Republic of China can attend an ALEC task force meeting and make a presentation about economic reform, how secretive can it be?

Finally, Milbank mentions that ALEC has lost some state legislators and corporate sponsors recently. I’m suspect that’s true, though I do not know the specifics; and I believe the organization has also gained some other members.

What Milbank doesn’t say is that ALEC has been directly targeted by the radical left, including Occupy Wall Street, in an effort to undermine an organization that works as a check on the left’s efforts to take control of state legislatures. Also, union members have been showing up in droves to picket ALEC meetings—so you know ALEC must be doing something right.

If the left is successful in neutering ALEC it will remove a major roadblock inhibiting its goal of dominating state legislatures—and state laws. This is a war over ideas and policies. The left usually loses those battles when they’re fought in the open, so it has to try and make the fight appear to be about something other than its redistributionist vision. And it has to rely on left-leaning journalists to provide the cover.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas.