Faced with a campaign asking him and seven other Republican legislators to quit the controversial conservative lobbyist-legislator coalition ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — House assistant majority leader Andre Cushing, of Hampden, says: "If they can give me a reason why this is harmful to the state, I'll consider it."
One reason ALEC is harmful, says Rachel Talbot Ross, NAACP's Maine director, is what she calls the organization's "racist ideology and agenda."
Based in Washington, DC, and funded by corporations, ALEC promotes free markets and limited government, but has ventured into social policy that organizations such as the NAACP and Color of Change see aimed at African-Americans and Hispanics: sponsoring voter-ID and other "voter suppression" laws, harsh laws targeting immigrants, laws promoting lengthy prison sentences, and "kill at will" gun-lobby laws.
ALEC and its 2000 legislator members nationwide have been besieged since news surfaced that it was behind the "stand your ground" gun law that at first sheltered black teenager Trayvon Martin's killer from being charged with a crime in Florida.
In Maine, Cushing and other ALEC legislators have had their email boxes filled with messages urging them to quit ALEC. They were generated by Maine's Majority, a small progressive organization responsible for the "61%" bumper stickers (noting the percentage of voters who didn't vote for Republican Governor Paul LePage in 2010).
Cushing says he attended ALEC's national conference in New Orleans last year, with airfare and hotel costs paid by taxpayers. He feels it's useful for him "to interact with colleagues in other parts of the country." Cushing says he hasn't sponsored ALEC-created bills.
Senator Richard Rosen, of Bucksport, says his email box has been "flooded" with anti-ALEC messages to the point of "harassment." Rosen is the group's state legislative chairman. He expects to continue to be active with ALEC at least through the end of the year, when his chairman's term is up. He, too, says ALEC provides useful interaction with legislators in other states.
ALEC is influential in the state. Maine's Majority has published online a report, "Who Is Writing Maine's Laws?" that lists many bills taken up in the State House — some successful, some not — that it says ALEC has written (see the document at tinyurl.com/WhoIsWritingMaineLaws).
The latest citizen-initiative drive for a bill to limit state taxing and spending powers, announced April 15 at a Tea Party rally in Lewiston attended by LePage, originated with the group. At the rally, an ALEC official lamented attacks by "liberal bullies," according to the Kennebec Journal.
The controversy over ALEC, though, has caused a number of high-profile corporations to announce they have severed ties with the group, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield — as well as the Gates Foundation. Under pressure, ALEC recently disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which developed "model" bills on social issues.
Rosen, the Appropriations Committee chairman, thinks it "wise" that ALEC is moving away from social issues to concentrate on the "core economic issues" that drew him to the group.
Republican Senator Christopher Rector, of Thomaston, says he also plans to continue as a member. He likes to gather information "from as many sources as I can."
Despite his association with ALEC, he notes he voted against the bill passed by his fellow Republicans to end same-day voter registration. Opponents called it a voter-suppression effort and succeeded in getting it overturned in a people's-veto referendum last year.
"We will not let up!" in demanding legislators cut ties with ALEC, Talbot Ross says.
For more on ALEC, see "99% vs. 1% — on the Left," by Lance Tapley, March 7, 2012.