Meet the new head of ALEC, the free-market group of state legislators

The free-market group that has become a boogeyman of the left is getting a leadership change.

As we reported yesterday, former Visa executive Lisa B. Nelson is joining the American Legislative Exchange Council as its incoming chief executive, replacing Ron Scheberle, who has been heading the organization since January 2012 and been involved in other capacities for more than two decades.

Nelson joins ALEC ahead of its annual meeting in Dallas at the end of the month and after a stint in the spotlight over its support of “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws — which gained notoriety after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida — and other conservative policies, too.

The organization seeks to connect the public and private sector by providing lawmakers and corporate and nonprofit representatives with a forum in which to discuss and craft policy. It claims nearly 300 corporate and foundation members and more than 2,000 state legislator members, which would mean more than 1 in 4 state lawmakers. Since the controversy over its promotion of stand-your-ground policies, the group has refocused on economic issues.

Liberals continue to criticize the organization for what they argue is a too-cozy relationship between its corporate and lawmaker members. But ALEC and its lawmaker members argue that the organization is structured to insulate the process of creating model policies from corporate influence, and lawmakers argue that having private-sector representatives is useful in crafting policy to promote business growth. The group promotes free-market, limited-government policies.

We had a chance to talk to Nelson, who has just begun thinking about her role with the organization, for a few minutes Tuesday afternoon. What follows is an abridged, edited version of that conversation.

Q: Have you had any experience with ALEC in the past?

Lisa Nelson: Yeah, I’m well aware of the organization.

When I was working in Newt Gingrich’s office when he was speaker — I was the public liaison for him — one of the big areas of responsibility was to make sure that we had an open-door policy to all the governors, Republican and Democrat, as well as legislators. Newt always thought that the best ideas came from states and thought about them as the incubators for good ideas.

I’m very familiar with the organization through that process, and I personally have been involved with ALEC as a government relations executive working for AOL and Time-Warner and Visa, working with their task forces and working with their committees on trying to develop model policies that would be good for business and good for the Internet.

Q: When you were at each of those companies, where you a member of ALEC?

LN: The people on my staff were. I wasn’t directly engaged on a day-to-day basis. But my folks at the state-relations level were absolutely involved.

Q: What are your goals going into this?

LN: ALEC is a fantastic organization that has done great work over the years, working toward limited government, working toward creating opportunities for folks around the country and working toward driving model policies that would foster growth for small businesses, foster growth for any tax-paying entities.

So, as far as my goals, I want to continue to grow the organization. I think there’s room for growth kind of on both sides of the coin: the legislative side, in terms of building our base of legislators, as well as on the business side, making sure that new businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs and, of course, the active businesses now all have at least a voice in developing that model policy and thinking through what are the right ways to foster competition and growth in the country.

Q: Have you already begun in your role? What do you hope to achieve?

LN: You know, I really haven’t. I’ve got a business that I will be unwinding for the next kind of 30 days and making sure that clients that I’ve been working with and the people that I’ve been providing counsel to have a soft landing, so to speak, and make sure I have a little bit of a soft takeoff to make sure that I’m well brought up to speed.

I’m going to be using the next 30 days to do both of those things — to kind of unwind my current business, but also to get more acquainted with the staff, many of whom I haven’t met yet. And then working to develop a plan for the coming year.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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