John Adams once argued, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes … they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
For years, groups including Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy have behaved as demagogues—seeking political support by making false claims based on emotion rather than reason or fact. These groups, purporting to be watchdog organizations, have focused attention on free market groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because they disagree with policies that support economic competitiveness and want to keep business from expressing its interest and petitioning its government.
A watchdog identifies challenges or problems, but also celebrates success and change. If these groups are indeed watchdogs, their leaders, Rashad Robinson and Lisa Graves, would celebrate the great strides ALEC has made in the realm of transparency and the organization’s recommitment to limited government, free markets and federalism. The truth is these organizations want nothing more than the destruction of ALEC and all other free market organizations. In their view, democracy is best exercised when only their perspectives are brought forward.
The American Legislative Exchange Council represents nearly one-third of all state-elected legislators in the United States and its member companies employ more than 33 million Americans. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2012, nearly 16 million Americans were members of unions. If these union members have a right to collectively share their voice, then so too should the more than 33 million employees of companies that work with ALEC. Business provides an important perspective during the policy creation process, and it is incumbent upon legislators to learn how the policies they create may impact business competitiveness and economic development across the country.
In Robinson’s October 29 editorial in this space (Senate focuses on ALEC), he alleges ALEC obscures the origins and communication of policies it supports, and then pushes those policies in the states. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Robinson’s willful misrepresentation obscures these facts: All policies considered by ALEC are introduced by legislators; policies are not adopted by the organization until a board of legislators agrees; and, all adopted policies are posted at the organization’s website (www.alec.org).
ALEC has even gone so far as to post draft, working documents on the website. Essentially, it is quite easy for any person anywhere to see what will be discussed at future meetings and to see the results of those meetings. If posting a document on a website equates pushing legislation, then every blogger and nearly all people are engaged in lobbying activity.
Today, potential policies discussed by ALEC members must pass a simple litmus test: If a policy advances limited government, free markets and federalism, we are on board. If it isn’t, ALEC is not interested. Anti-free market groups reject this litmus test in bad faith.
As Robinson says in his editorial, there is a cancer in the American democratic process. It’s the politics of bad faith. If legislators and groups don’t learn from the past and innovate for the future, our exceptional nation will decline. If watchdog organizations and activist groups fail to recognize and celebrate positive change and diversity of opinion, then they are obstructing a constructive process. There is no greater representation of democracy and federalism than the gathering of people to share ideas.
Piscopo is the chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council and a Connecticut state legislator.