National Organizations that Influence State Legislation

by Burney Simpson // Aug 24, 2015 State & Local

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State legislators can be pulled in many directions as they decide how to vote on a proposal.

Historically, that decision has been influenced by legislative leaders, large contributors, voters, and local power players. Officials may also be swayed by educational efforts from associations and other interest groups.

In 1973, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) was launched with the idea of turning the old-fashioned method of influence on its head.

Alec is the not-for-profit conservative group that gathers state legislators, business groups, and others to craft model state legislation that can be used as is or modified and introduced by elected officials in their own state.

Alec created a kind of national top-down approach that allows bottom-up input from local legislators. It claims about 20 percent of its proposals have been enacted, though not necessarily as originally written.

Meanwhile, progressives have failed several times to form anything as influential as Alec. They recently began the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), a merger of several liberal-minded organizations, and made plans to exert greater influence in the 2016 legislative sessions.

SiX just may survive, if nothing else because its board boasts a number of well-known and well-connected progressives who have a history of bringing activists and money to their causes.

For those following statehouse activity, the websites of Alec and SiX offer a national overview of major issues in the states along with the talking points – left and right – that legislators will be making.

American Legislative Exchange Council

Alec is a well-oiled machine that churns out its model bills and holds conferences and other events for its membership. It stresses it doesn’t conduct any lobbying for its proposals.

About 2,000 state legislators are members, and nearly all are Republicans. Alumni include Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner, and presidential candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The Alec website gives researchers several ways to dig into the organization, providing overlapping channels filled with bill write ups and Alec contacts, along with news stories, blogs, and other publications on major topics, all with a conservative slant.

For example, the Initiatives chapter offers an overview of Alec’s top 10 issues. The Health Care Freedom Initiative argues against the Affordable Care Act, offers a link to model opposition legislation the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, and a link to The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare.

Alec’s board members and three national chairs are all state legislators. The CEO is Lisa B. Nelson, a one-time executive director of GOPAC, the Republican Party’s leadership training group.

Its corporate membership is heavy with S&P 500 corporations who fund the organization with tiered annual dues set at $7,000, $12,000 and $25,000. Its Private Enterprise Advisory Council includes Exxon Mobil, AT&T, and Koch Companies.

Arlington, Va.-based Alec recently launched the American City County Exchange (ACCE), applying the Alec concept of limited government and policy networking to municipal and local officials.

State Innovation Exchange

The liberal side has been largely ineffective in creating a similar national organization. But they keep trying.

The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) comes from the merger of Progressive States Network (PSN), American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE), and Center for State Innovation (CSI).

SiX is a networking, resource, research and strategy center that seeks to build links and communication among state legislators nationwide.

“We will help to build coalitions,” says Patty Kupfer, senior communications officer. “We will coordinate different groups on the ground with common areas of interest and conduct outreach to like-minded advocates.”

It is not a creator of model legislation though its Library of Legislation lists several thousand proposals that follow the progressive line.

SiX is still getting its sea legs, with 10 staffers in offices in Denver, Madison, Wisc., and Washington, D.C. It will hold its first annual convention in Washington on October 1-3, and plans to be more active in several key states in 2016, says Kupfer.

Oregon state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, the House Majority Leader-elect, gave SiX kudos for its approach during the organization’s first-ever press conference this August.

“I like the national perspective that my staff and I can get through the (SiX) information network,” says Williamson. “I’m excited (there is) a consolidated place where I can learn best practices going on nationally.”

According to its website, SiX’s major issues are criminal justice reform, elections and campaign finance, energy & environment, and income inequality.

Each issue chapter offers some background, the SiX focus areas within the issue, and links to legislation on each segment. Under Criminal Justice, SiX seeks to repeal Stand Your Ground legislation, prohibit police profiling, conduct bail reform, and enact the electronic recording of interrogations.

The organization is led by Nicholas Rathod, formerly a special assistant to President Obama responsible for setting up an intergovernmental affairs office for states and U.S. territories.

The board of directors includes Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Kim Anderson, a lobbyist for the National Education Association. The advisory board includes members

from MoveOn, Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, American Association of University Women, and other progressive organizations.

Burney Simpson covered the Illinois state legislature during the rise of state Sen. Barack Obama and the fall of Gov. George Ryan. He reports on business, urban affairs, and politics.

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