by John Weckerle
In our most recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) article, we indicated that we had sent an e-mail to our local State Representative, Jim Smith, and Senator, James White, containing several questions inquiring into whether they had ties to ALEC and, if so, what those ties involved. Not surprisingly, we received a response from Mr. Smith the following day, and are providing his answers verbatim here:
- Are you a current or former member of ALEC? “No, I’m not now or a former member of ALEC. I will go further to say that I will never be a member.”
- Have you attended any ALEC-sponsored meetings or events? If so, when, how many and what was the focus of the meeting (s) or event(s)? “I told you years ago (probably 5 or 6) that I attended a dinner during the legislative session that was sponsored by ALEC. I remember numerous legislators from both sides of the aisle being present and don’t recall any particular legislation being discussed. That was the only ALEC-sponsored event that I’ve ever attended.”
- Have you participated in any of ALEC’s task force activities? “No, I’ve never attended any ALEC task force activities.”
- Have you introduced, sponsored, co-sponsored, voted for, or otherwise supported legislation resulting from ALEC’s activities? “I’ve never introduced, sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation that resulted from ALEC activities. I can’t say that I’ve never voted for any that ALEC supported because my limited understanding of ALEC is that they support some things that fiscal conservatives may vote for. But, I’ve never been asked by anyone to vote for a particular bill on behalf of ALEC.”
- Have you received campaign contributions or other support from ALEC, its members, or its supporters? “I’ve never received a campaign contribution from ALEC. However, I’m sure that some businesses that are members of ALEC may have contributed to my campaigns. However, none of those contributors have ever asked me to support a particular ALEC-endorsed legislation.”
We appreciate the forthrightness in Mr. Smith’s response, as well as the brevity, as these articles go a bit long as it is. In terms of brevity, however, Mr. Smith has nothing on Mr. White who, like his predecessor and ALEC member Sue Wilson Beffort in 2012, provided no response at all to our questions. You just can’t get any more brief than that.
Having known Mr. Smith for years, we take him at his word with respect to a direct relationship with ALEC. He does raise some interesting points, though, in his responses to the last two questions. Mr. White’s non-responses may not indicate anything, although we’ll note that one out of two State Senators who did not respond to our ALEC questions was listed as an ALEC member – perhaps not a statistically significant sample, but it certainly gives us pause for thought. With that in mind, we ask the question – just how much interest are ALEC and its allies taking in our legislators, whether they themselves are interested or not?
In researching this article, we reviewed dozens of sources (in addition to those used in our previous article) in an attempt to track down information on ALEC member status of contributors :
- ALEC Corporations – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Trade Groups – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Law Firms – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Non-Profits – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Governmental Groups – Sourcewatch
- List of Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council – Wikipedia
- FollowTheMoney.org – The National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP)
We began by using the NIMSP database to gather information on the legislators’ campaign contributions beginning in 2010. We copied the information into series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and sorted it in a variety of ways to get a feel for patterns in the contributions, noting a substantial number of donations to both candidates from fossil energy and electricity interests, lobbyists, political action committees, and other candidates. We then used the sources above and dozens of others to assess which contributors could be reasonably reliably linked to ALEC. These are color coded in two spreadsheets, one for Mr. Smith and one for Mr. White, with yellow denoting corporate contributors listed in one or more sources as affiliated with ALEC, and salmon-color denoting corporate contributors that claim to have discontinued their relationship with ALEC but were members at the time the contribution was made. Legislators associated with ALEC were colored yellow. Note that these are just the contributors that were listed in the sources we reviewed as directly linked to ALEC, or linked to ALEC through their national organizations; we cannot state as an absolute fact that any of them is a member, except for those listed on ALEC’s web site as listed in last week’s article. We caution our readers, however, that the list may be incomplete, and that there is a substantial similarity between the purported ALEC members and many of the other contributors on the two lists of contributors. We did not count the contributions of members’ spouses, although there were quite a few of those. As the spreadsheets show: of the $107,813 in contributions listed for Mr. Smith, $26,225 came from ALEC contributors; of the $136,954 listed for Mr. White, $22,400 came from ALEC supporters. We again take Mr. Smith at his word, and have received none from Mr. White, but regardless of either gentleman’s interest in ALEC, ALEC appears very interested in them – as do people doing business in the same areas as the ALEC-related entities. Mr. White, for example, received $15,500 from the Oil and Gas general industry sector, including $7,250 from major multinational producers, the overwhelming majority of which came from out-of-state contributors. Similarly, Mr. Smith received $15,300 from the Oil and Gas sector, again nearly all of which came from outside the state, with $5,150 coming from the major multinationals. Mr. Smith and Mr. White received $6,850 and $4,125 from the Lobbyists & Public Relations business sector, respectively (we did not investigate the source of the money due in part to the sheer number of contributions and in part to difficulty using the NM Secretary of State’s web site, which appears to be having some problems running queries). Mr. White received 51 contributions valued at $38,100 from outside the state (out of a total of 317), with Mr. Smith receiving 70 out-of-state contributions valued at $29,475 out of 334 total contributions. Mr. Smith fared better with the tobacco industry, collecting $2,050 to Mr. White’s $850, but trailed Mr. White in the Beer, Wine & Liquor sector – $1,600 to $2,248. Oddly, between the two legislators, we found only one $250 contribution from the Agriculture broad industry sector. Both gentlemen were also generously supported by the Gas & Electric Utilities sector, received contributions from the National Rifle Association, and were supported by Big Pharma, including Pfizer (both), Merck (Mr. Smith), and Abbott Laboratories (Mr. White) – all ALEC members.
Mr. Smith has received a total of $4,375 from ALEC-related New Mexico politicians, somewhat behind Mr. White’s $6,050. In terms of their own contributions to other candidates affilliated with ALEC, Mr Smith has made a total of two contributions to two identified candidates, Nora Lee Espinoza and Janice Arnold-Jones, totaling $400. Mr. White has made six contributions to three such candidates, totaling $2,150.
There are a number of reasons that ALEC members – and those who perhaps share their interests – would invest in our local legislators. Perhaps they are members of ALEC, or perhaps not. Whether they are seeking to directly influence them, supporting candidates who may be generally more friendly to their agendas and therefore more likely to vote for legislation favorable to their industry, or just seeking to maintain or expand the influence of a given political party, the fact remains that these entities are likely to be most concerned with their own interests and far less with those of New Mexicans. Mr. Smith has been up front about his non-involvement with ALEC. Mr. White, on the other hand, apparently chose to follow the lead of his predecessor, ALEC member Sue Wilson-Beffort, and provide no response to our inquiry – and we suspect that this is likely somewhere in the ALEC member playbook, as it were. While we can make no statement of fact on the issue, it is hard to escape the impression that Mr. White is up to his armpits in ALEC. Absent any statement on his part, we see no reason to think otherwise.
Given ALEC’s history of developing and disseminating self-serving legislation, we should be cautious, and vigilant, in knowing what we can about our legislators, the sources of their campaign funding, and how this may affect the future of our State. The denizens of New Mexico Central take a dim view of corporations and out-of-state politicians writing our laws for us, ESPECIALLY without the disclosure requirements that apply to lobbyists, and those who feel the same may wish to take a hard look at those who have been elected to serve them – as opposed to serving those who serve themselves.
The question then arises: how does one take that hard look? In our next ALEC-related article, we will provide a step-by-step description of how we gathered the information we needed to assess the issue. It took a long time to figure out – but once known, the process doesn’t take long.