By John Daley
The American Legislative Exchange Council is powerful with state lawmakers, but some say it is too powerful.
ALEC's annual national convention got underway Wednesday in downtown Salt Lake City, and the convention is sparking some public criticism, in the form of pickets, protests and workshops. The debate over the pros and the cons of ALEC exposes a familiar fault line: the often-heated conversation about competing visions over the role of government, as well the role of business and corporations in shaping government policy.
ALEC hosted a dinner Wednesday at the Natural History Museum, and the event is being met by protest from a group called "Resist ALEC."
The annual convention brings together business executives, advocates for conservative causes and lawmakers from around the U.S., like Utah County's Curt Bramble, an ALEC board member.
"I think left-leaning organizations would like to make it a lightning rod," he said. "Look at the turnout, here. The message of limited government, free markets and state rights resonates with the American public."
But ALEC is under increasing scrutiny for bringing lawmakers together with lobbyists to craft "model legislation" on a variety of issues from immigration to consumer rules, including the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law at the heart of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.
Here, ALEC is being met with protests and placards from the group called Resist ALEC.
"Alec is a conglomeration of the world's richest multinational corporations," Jesse Fruhwirth said. "They're a lobbying organization that relies on a pay to play, where if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can buy legislation."
Another progressive group Alliance for a Better Utah is holding workshops.
"We're starting to gain some real ground on pushing them back," said Eric Ethington, of the alliance. "This isn't how we want our country run. It's un-American."
But Bramble defends ALEC-backed legislation.
"Whether it was created by ALEC or George Soros, the Koch brothers or the Alliance for a Better Utah; whether you're talking about the left or the right, when ideas come forward, they still have to go through the legislative process, and that's a very public, very transparent process," he said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said he believes there are more politics involved in the criticism than reality.
"ALEC, at least, the thing I appreciate is they predicted Utah would be No.1 for business, and they were right," Herbert said.
But his Democratic opponent for governor questions that top ranking.
"Economically, you can't have an economic development policy and be ranked last in education," Peter Cooke said.
The governor's office would dispute that characterization, but the debate is expected to continue for at least the next few days, as the ALEC convention continues through Saturday.