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Tom Crouser: Does ALEC influence WV politics? (Opinion)

West Virginia Democrats have accused Republicans of duplicating large portions of American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation into state bills, notably the Senate’s ill-fated omnibus education bill. As we are about to begin a special session on education, I wonder what is ALEC and does it matter? Here’s what I found.

ALEC is described as a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private-sector members who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state governments.

It was founded in 1973 as a conservative counter to Richard Nixon’s Environmental Protection Agency, and his wage and price controls. That, and as a reaction to the 1964 thumping of Barry Goldwater.

Who belongs? The 2013 membership stood at 1,810 legislative members then representing 24 percent of state legislative seats. Today, ALEC bills itself as the largest nonpartisan, individual membership association of state legislators and some 300 private sector members.

Take a closer look. The current cost of membership for legislators is $100 for two years and, today, their website claims nearly one-third of the country’s state legislators belong.

Since there are 7,383 state legislators in the U.S., that infers a maximum of 2,461 legislative members paying $100, for a total of $246,100 for a two-year membership, translating into $123,050 yearly.

Now, according to the website Charity Navigator, which publishes public information on 501©(3) nonprofits, ALEC’s 2016 revenue was $10.3 million, meaning an estimated 1.2 percent of total revenue came from legislators.

Where does the rest come from? Can’t say for sure, but the private-sector membership application form says the minimum general membership fee is $7,000, with an opportunity to pay up to $25,000 should one wish. In addition, to join a specific task force (such as education and workforce development), another $5,000 is required. If 300 public-sector members paid $30,000 annually, that would be $9 million yearly.

In addition, a current legislator may earn a certificate in “Innovation, Efficiency and Accountability in Government” for $30 ($50 for a nonmember) plus attendance at specific ALEC training sessions (onsite member orientation, onsite legislative training and 15 hours of qualifying ALEC training — workshops or webinars — within the past five years).

The website also explains, “By joining ALEC, state legislators gain the competitive advantage of shared knowledge and experience, as they are able to learn from one another about what policies have succeeded or failed in the states. Similarly, business leaders and policy experts are able to discuss the real-world implications of potential policies with state legislators who best know their communities and economic landscapes.”

What are ALEC’s positions? A quick view of their educational report card features updates supporting educational savings accounts and charter schools. A deeper dive reveals an education article/video titled, “The Under-funding Myth,” about education.

As for taxes and fiscal policy, they are dedicated to “reducing excessive government spending and limiting the overall tax burden. The Task Force’s legislative members are at the forefront of developing sound, fiscally responsible and free market tax and fiscal policies ... .”

Anything wrong with that? Not specifically, but it could set up a legislator’s fixation on one side’s arguments without the other. After all, public-sector members presumably pay the 98.8 percent of the costs not covered by legislators’ dues.

How does this affect West Virginia?

Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, House Finance chairman, and Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, chairman of the Government Organization Committee, are listed as state chairmen of ALEC.

Additionally, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee was featured as State Legislator of the Week by ALEC on Feb. 20, 2018, and, at the time, served on ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force.

So, ALEC has influence in West Virginia. The question is now, will ALEC-trained legislators work for West Virginia’s best interest? We’ll see.

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals and a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist. Reach him at tom@crouser.com

or follow @TomCrouser on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Berdine, Robert - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Bonsall, Buddy - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Holstein, Gary - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Keener, John - 8 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Miller, Edward - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Wright, Virginia - 11 a.m., Nitro Church of God, Nitro.