By Anna Scholl
The week before ALEC's annual conference, ProgressVA and Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws requested meetings with the Virginia legislators attending the conference to learn about the discussions happening behind closed doors and what legislation might be coming back to Virginia. Unsurprisingly, we didn't get a very positive response. In fact, no one agreed. So Lori Haas from VRGL and I did a little reconnaissance to find out what was going on behind those closed doors.
While ALEC may have dissolved the controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force earlier this year, in response to outrage over Stand Your Ground and Voter ID, former Task Force Chair the National Rifle Association is just as involved as ever. The NRA's booth was the largest and most prominent in the exhibit hall and Chuck Cunningham, the NRA's Political Director, was schmoozing it up with legislators. Saturday afternoon the NRA even hosted a trap shoot for legislators and lobbyists to wine, dine, and relax together.
Perhaps the most absurd item on ALEC's agenda last week was a seminar entitled "Can Tobacco Cure Smoking?" The seminar was led by Dr. Brad Rodu, whose chair at the University of Louisville is primarily funded by US Smokeless Tobacco, a prominent ALEC member.
ALEC's pay-to-play Task Forces met to consider a variety of legislation, and the prices for admittance were advertised right in the program. You see, legislators pay $50/year for ALEC membership, including sitting on whichever Task Force sounds appealing. But private sector members have a stiffer pay scale. In addition to the $7,000-$25,000+ corporations pay for membership and various "sponsorship" fees, there's also the several thousand dollar premium for purchasing a membership on a Task Force, a surcharge for getting your legislation into the right hands.
In essence, ALEC is like a fancy political fundraiser. The low dollar tickets may get you in the door but only the high-rollers get in the VIP reception with the nice wine and the photo op. Except at ALEC, the perks aren't just the nice wine (that seems to be available to everyone). Corporations are paying tens of thousands of dollars to get legislation increasing their bottom lines introduced and passed around the country under the guise of grassroots activism. And make no mistake, they wouldn't stick with it unless they were getting a return on that investment.