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A few weeks ago I mentioned that the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council was coming to Salt Lake City. Well, it’s here and it’s time to get to work. Sutherland Institute is a proud sponsor of the conference and as a sponsor I have a few insights I can share given the controversies surrounding it.

ALEC, as it’s called, is a lot like Sutherland Institute, except its operating model is a bit different. Instead of being a state-based think tank like Sutherland, it’s a national think tank comprised of delegate members. It’s like a mini-Congress in function. Center-right state legislators from across the nation are ALEC’s primary targets and non-politician supporters make up the rest of its membership because, frankly, somebody’s got to pay the bills for its meetings.

Progressive and left-leaning political activists don’t like ALEC because of the influence it has with state legislators. They don’t like when legislators actually sit and listen to each other along with intelligent policy experts. They don’t like that model legislation is crafted by ALEC’s membership.

Another big concern for left-wing activists is that corporations support ALEC because, of course, corporations are evil. In the catechism of progressivism, socialism is good, capitalism is evil; government welfare is good, corporate welfare is evil; money from retired left-leaning capitalists is good; money from still active right-leaning capitalists is evil; and silly street-theater protests are good, but constructive and intelligent discussions about policy are evil.

But there’s no conspiracy between corporations that give to ALEC and corporations that ask for and receive corporate welfare – nor is the fact that some corporations that give to ALEC and also receive corporate welfare evidence that ALEC is bought and paid for by the bad guys. This fantasy assumes that the thousands of individual members of ALEC exist to do the bidding of evil corporations, and that’s just nonsense. It’s like saying that every liberal is bought and paid for by billionaire-capitalist-turned-Marxist George Soros. But that’s just one example of the fertile and simplistic minds of these progressives who protest ALEC.

Another concern expressed has been transparency – the idea that the vetting process for model legislation inside ALEC isn’t open to the public. Honestly, I don’t know how an organization can be more transparent than ALEC – join it and you get to participate in it; you get to hear everything they talk about; you get to sit in on its meetings; you get to help craft model legislation; and, if you disagree, you get to voice your disagreement. What’s a more transparent process than that?

Our own Sutherland Institute is much less transparent than ALEC. We might be more open about our outreach in the community and our public conversations, but we’re much less transparent as an organization. For instance, Sutherland doesn’t have delegate members with controlling votes, and it certainly doesn’t hold delegate-style public meetings to craft its policies and legislation. In fact, most of Sutherland’s work is done quietly and behind the scenes. And yet, Sutherland is known for the integrity of its work. It’s even trusted for its influence.

So what makes ALEC the great evil in the minds of left-wing activists? My only guess is that ALEC has the key ingredients that progressives hate: Corporations give money to it, and executives from Big Business sit on its board of directors. And for progressives that means evil corporations are using ALEC to nefariously influence state legislators who, evidently, don’t have a brain in their bodies to think independently. Maybe that’s true about legislators from California, but I can bear witness that isn’t true about the vast majority of legislators in Utah.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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