Brien: Lawmakers' Break With ALEC Is A Misunderstanding
Woonsocket Rep. says organization is misunderstood.
Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien (Dist. 50, Woonsocket), recently named a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), said two legislators' departure from the RI chapter is a result of a misunderstanding of the organization.
On April 24, RIFuture.org reported Brien had been named to ALEC's board. The news coincided with ALEC recieving attention for authoring the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida, which is being debated in the Trayvon Martin shooting case.
The Stand Your Ground law and efforts like it are a small part of ALEC's operations, Brien said. He said the organization is a bipartisan group that puts lawmakers together with businesses to come up with ideas (ultimately, legislation) "That will foster a free-market society."
ALEC has recently recieved criticism from Common Cause, the New York Times reports. Common Cause attests the organization's practices amount to lobbying, violating its tax-exempt status.
On May 1, Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) asked to have his name removed from the list of state legislators enrolled as members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Providence Journal has reported that state Sen. Walter Felag is also quitting the group.
In a press release, Tassoni notes ALEC is under attack by "a number of national liberal organizations, which have accused the organization of being a corporate lobbying group masquerading as a public charity."
The release continues: "Critics say it is a front for corporations, allowing powerful interests to hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Corporate representatives sit on the various ALEC task forces and have equal votes with legislators to approve “model” bills.
Tassoni said he is supportive of organizations – such as the National Conference on State Legislatures – that facilitate the legislative process through meetings and conferences and a robust exchange of ideas. “ALEC, it seems, is not about an exchange of ideas but rather about pushing the self-serving ideas of corporations and rich, powerful interests. I have no desire to be associated with that kind of organization.”
Brien, who said he had a lot of respect for Tassoni, defended ALEC's cooperation with corporations, saying there is nothing sinister about the partnerships. "The fact that left-wing groups have turned the word corporation into a four-letter word shows you how far left they've gone," he said.
Brien said his co-chair of the RI chapter of ALEC, Senator Frank Maher, leads the RI Senators affiliated with ALEC. No house members of ALEC, the group he leads, have left, he said. He said he wished the senators had spoken to him first. "It's unfortunate that they've chose to do so, but that's their right."
He said legislators citing the attacks on ALEC when leaving the group are examples of organizations bullying people to change their minds. Stories painting ALEC as a hyper conservative organization are false, he said.
"It's just not true," Brien said.