UPDATED: ALEC the focus of incorrect campaign arguments

Candidates in the 26th Legislative District state Senate race have both made comments publicly about state Rep. Jan Angel’s ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

You might not be surprised to know that both Angel, the Republican, and state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, the Democrat, have said things that are factually wrong at worst or unprovable at best.

In the Eggs & Issues debate on Sept. 3 Schlicher said a bill Angel sponsored that would have required drug testing for welfare recipients was a bill originally written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, often referred to in shorthand as ALEC.

ALEC is unquestionably conservative in its orientation, as is Angel. The organization can call itself “non partisan” without smirking, because it does have Democrats who take part. But most of the legislation it favors leans rightward. Angel leans to the right, so it shouldn’t be a shock that she serves as ALEC’s co-chair in this Washington.

The organization does write model bills. So do the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments. So do lobbyists, political party staff members and lawyers representing organizations that want to see legislation. Legislators and their staffs write bills, too. I have no way of knowing what percentage of legislation is written by actual elected officials, but if you were thinking it was the vast majority, you are probably way off.

What scares those on the left about ALEC is that it is funded mostly by the likes of executives from Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil and much of its model legislation serves those companies’ interests.

ALEC has been fighting against the Affordable Care Act and counts as members of its Private Enterprise Council executives from GlaxoSmithKline and PhRMA, companies that contributed to Angel’s state Senate campaign. Also backing Angel’s campaign and serving on the council is Altria Client Services, the parent company to Philip Morris and two other tobacco companies.

Sclicher contended initially that the drug testing for welfare recipients bill was an ALEC model. I’ve scoured the web and can’t find proof. There are articles that make the same claim, but they don’t substantiate it. And I’ve found news pieces in which legislators deny the link. The organization has written several bills dealing with welfare and others for drug tests, but I can’t find the organization’s fingerprints on either of Angel’s drug testing for welfare recipients bills. As you will read later, though, this doesn’t mean her bills were not someone’s model bill.

Angel, in her letter to the editor defending her affiliation with ALEC, made what to many would seem to be a solid point about model bills. “If a bill gets through committees, passes the House and the Senate and is signed by the governor, perhaps it is a good bill!” she wrote.

“Good” might not be the right word for many people, but if a bill ends up getting signed by the governor then you can at least say it reflects the values of the people elected to represent its citizens, no matter who wrote it. “Good” depends on your position in relation to those values.

Angel wrote in her defense, “Mr. Bullock accuses me of sponsoring model bills, which is absolutely not true. My bill on drug testing for welfare benefits was written by me and my staff, and I can prove that.”

There’s ample evidence that if Angel and her staff wrote either of the two drug test for welfare recipients laws, they probably at least borrowed language from bills in other states.

In 2012 Angel sponsored a bill, HB 2424, that would require drug tests for all welfare applicants. The applicants would have had to pay for their drug tests. By that year at least 27 other states had proposed similar legislation. I did not search legislation from all 27 states, but it didn’t take much searching to find four — Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama — that used virtually identical language throughout their bills as Angel did in hers.

In 2013 Angel proposed a new bill, HB 1190, one that would require suspicion of drug usage before a test would be required. The language in that bill contained similar language to legislation in Utah that had passed prior to Angel’s legislation introduction.

Another part of Angel’s letter refuting the ALEC allegations stated that to her knowledge only two ALEC bills were proposed in the most recent legislative session, one of them being SB 5802, a bill requested by Gov. Jay Inslee. I contacted the governor’s office to see if that was true. I received the following response from David Postman, Inslee’s spokesman.

“That bill actually had nothing to do with ALEC. I asked the governor’s energy advisory — who did a lot of work on the bill — and he said he had never seen the ALEC bill. When he went to look at it at my request, he said that the ALEC bill is a very different approach to the issue. Among other things, the ALEC bill would study ‘benefits’ of climate change and calls for creation of an interstate research commission. They are both studies and both about climate change. But our bill was drafted with input from a variety of people and the staff’s experience in previous five-corner efforts here. We ended up with what we thought was a good bill. We were glad it got bipartisan support, though many of Rep. Angel’s Republican colleagues opposed it in the House.”

Angel voted for Inslee’s bill.

UPDATE: This post has generated responses that merit inclusion here.

First, Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center responded to the statement from the governor’s office. The short version is that some of the governor’s bill did probably originate with an ALEC bill. Here is Myers’ response:

The statement from the Governor’s office is both incorrect and misleading, requiring people to believe in an extremely unlikely coincidence.

First, his description of the ALEC bill is incorrect. It does not look at “benefits” of climate change, nor does it set up an interstate commission. The “Environmental Priorities Act” examines the costs and benefits of environmental policy, prioritizing those which provide the greatest benefit for each dollar.

Similarly, at the center of the Governor’s climate bill, his signature legislation this year, is a study of environmental approaches that examines the “effectiveness” of climate policies measuring “the cost per ton of emission reduction.” This mirrors exactly ALEC’s bill, which the Washington Policy Center suggested to the Governor.

In a piece I wrote to the Governor in January, we recommended that his bill mirror ALEC’s Environmental Priorities Act, which we noted “is a way to make sure we aren’t spending huge sums of money on trendy, but ineffective, environmental policies that starve needed funding for projects with significant potential to help the environment.” Like the Governor, we emphasized the need for effectiveness and ensuring we measure based on how much it costs to reduce one ton of carbon. It was confirmed to us that the
Governor’s office read the piece. When the Governor released his bill later that month, this idea was specifically included. The inclusion of that language is why WPC testified in favor of the bill.

It is unlikely the inclusion of the language we suggested is a coincidence. Although the Governor wrote a book on climate policy, nowhere in the more than 200 pages of his book did he mention this particular approach. His bill was the first time this concept appeared. It is possible the Governor’s office did not know the language came from ALEC legislation, but that does not change the fact that the approach is the same.

Perhaps, however, it is merely a happy coincidence that the exact same metric and approach suggested by ALEC was used by the Governor in his bill. This would mean that Gov. Inslee and ALEC independently came up with the same idea. You would think that such a thing would be celebrated as a bi-partisan agreement on climate policy. Instead, the Governor won’t take “yes” for an answer and choose partisanship over agreement.

If climate policy is as serious as the Governor says, we should not let political games get in the way of good policy and good ideas should be praised, no matter what the source.

Todd Myers
Environmental Director | Washington Policy Center

It seems the governor’s office is not referring to the ALEC model legislation that Angel would have been referencing. The model bill the governor’s office referred to is the one listed on the ALEC website as model climate change legislation. That bill does call for a study that calls for an “Interstate Commission on Climate Change,” charged with studying the effects of climate change, stipulating that “These influences may be beneficial or deleterious, and the Commission will specifically address both hypothetical eventualities in an evenhanded manner.”

The ALEC bill Myers is referring to is the Environmental Priorities Act.

Second, Angel said at the Eggs & Issues she has never sponsored an ALEC model bill. I haven’t found evidence otherwise. But Collin Jergens from Fuse Washington, the organization behind some of the ads against Angel, pointed to one bill that she co-sponsored, a bill that was an ALEC model. Co-sponsoring means your name is not the first on a list of sponsors, that the bill probably didn’t get to the Legislature through your office. I say “probably,” because legislators do sometimes hand off legislation from their office to other legislators.

The bill Jergens referenced was HB 2772 in 2010 and has the identical language as ALEC’s Climate Accountability Act. Angel is a co-sponsor.

Jergens provided a list of Washington bills that he described as “ALEC bills that have been introduced.” The one bill Jan Angel was the prime sponsor of was HB 2268. That bill would have required public school students to take a course in financial literacy in order to graduate. There were at least three Democrats who co-sponsored the bill from 2012 and it got a hearing in the House Committee on Education. While the intent of the bill seems to match the ALEC model, the language of the bill is not the same.

2 thoughts on “UPDATED: ALEC the focus of incorrect campaign arguments

  1. As ineffective as Jan has been in her current role as a Representative, it doesn’t make sense to give her a leg up to an even more important position. My vote goes to the Senator, Nathan Schlicher.

  2. Good article, Steve.

    Having worked with members of the Legislature for eight years on education issues, I agree with your analysis that legislators get their bill language from a wide variety of sources.

    The campaign against Angel using anti-ALEC smear tactics is disingenuous at best. Unions, government entities, private citizens, advocacy PACs, and lobbyists of all persuasions provide “model legislation” language when they are moving an idea forward. It would be silly not to do so because, if you are advocating for change in the law, you would naturally provide your idea of the rewrite. Common sense.

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