LINCOLN — A Nebraska state senator on Wednesday criticized the national legislative group ALEC for taking “radical” stands on social issues, but she says the group hasn't had much success in Nebraska.
On a national press conference call, State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said she was most disturbed that ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, had strayed from its focus on pro-business tax policies to push extreme positions on social issues such as gun control, immigration and voter rights.
“There's really been a radical shift in the policies that ALEC now pursues,” said Conrad, one of four Democrats in the Nebraska Legislature who quit the group in April 2012.
ALEC is an organization of corporate members and state legislators who push legislation on limited government, free markets and states' rights.
But over the past two years it has lost several corporate sponsors, including McDonald's and Walmart, and up to 20 percent of its legislative members.
Conrad was one of four current and former state lawmakers from across the country to speak on the call sponsored by the Madison, Wis.-based Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group that tracks activities of groups like ALEC.
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who is ALEC's Nebraska chairman, said that he has not seen ALEC push radical views in Nebraska, and that the criticism of the organization comes from groups that oppose ALEC's pro-business, limited-government views.
Smith, who owns a small garage-door business, said government works best when there's a partnership between business and government.
“My business' success depends on reasonable legislation from government,” said Smith, who was attending an ALEC convention in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
ALEC has been criticized by government watchdog groups for creating model bills fashioned by national corporations and then giving them to state legislators to pass in their states.
Groups such as Common Cause Nebraska and Bold Nebraska have said that lawmakers should be talking to Nebraska constituents instead and that ALEC has influenced legislation in this state pertaining to the Keystone XL pipeline and to a proposed requirement that voters present identification before casting a ballot.
Bold Nebraska, in a report on its website, said that ALEC's membership among state senators has dropped from 16 to as few as five currently. But Smith said there are 10 state lawmakers who are active members.
Earlier this year, the Center for Media and Democracy filed an ethics complaint against Smith, alleging that he failed to properly report all his expenses from an ALEC-sponsored trip a year ago to Canada's tar-sands oil region.
Smith said Wednesday that he is still working with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to resolve the complaint. He said he personally paid for the bulk of the trip and had understood that he did not have to report the cost of a plane trip within Canada that was financed by the Alberta provincial government.