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Washington Post: Legislators call on General Assembly to halt use of taxpayer funds for ALEC conferences Print

BY Anita Kumar

Created:  Wednesday, April 18, 2012 12:00PM

The Virginia Progressive Caucus on Wednesday called on their colleagues in the General Assembly to stop using state money to send legislators to conferences hosted by a conservative group that has been under fire in recent weeks.

The American Legislative Exchange Council touts itself as a pro-business, free-market organization, and its members include legislators and private companies. Corporate members pay fees, which give them a say on legislative issues.

Several corporations have dropped their support of ALEC following scrutiny of "Stand Your Ground" laws after the slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. The group had lobbied for similar laws in other states.

"ALEC provides an empire of powerful corporate interests a Petri dish--the state of Virginia--to test their far-right ideas," Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said.

At least 115 current or former legislators have ties to ALEC, either by sponsoring bills, attending conferences or paying membership dues, according to a study by ProgressVA, a liberal advocacy group.

The state has spent $232,000 during the past decade to send legislators, primarily members of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, to ALEC conferences and meetings.

"Virginians should be outraged their hard-earned tax dollars have been spent sending legislators to ALEC conferences,'' Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) said. "I'm embarrassed that we as legislators and stewards of taxpayer dollars haven't recognized this budget item and questioned its inclusion."

Earlier this week, ProgressVA launched a campaign with the help of former Rep. Tom Perriello, president of Center for American Progress Action, urging Virginia legislators to cut ties with ALEC.

ProgressVA had used data from a national report to identify more than 60 Virginia bills that ALEC helped author. Those bills included a measure calling for companies that hire illegal immigrants to be shut down, and another that would give businesses tax credits to fund private school tuition for needy students. Virtually all of the bills were introduced by Republicans.

The list of also includes one championed by House Speaker Bill Howell for several years that would have helped protect a Fortune 500 company, Philadelphia-based Crown Cork & Seal, from asbestos lawsuits. It was one of the few bills Howell publicly supported, and it died in a tight vote.

Last week, Howell (R-Stafford), a former national chairman of ALEC defended the group, arguing that it has become a victim of intimidation and extortion.