Thirty five Virginia legislators — mostly Democrats, but some Republicans too — have announced that they are not members of a conservative group that has been under fire in recent weeks.
The legislators responded to requests from constituents and the liberal group, ProgressVA, which asked them to state whether or not they are associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC 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.
In the last several weeks, 16 corporations, four nonprofits and over 50 legislators 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.
Last month, the Virginia Progressive Caucus called on their colleagues in the General Assembly to stop using state money to send legislators to conferences hosted by ALEC.
At least 115 current or former legislators have had ties to ALEC, either by sponsoring bills, attending conferences or paying membership dues, according to a study by ProgressVA from last year.
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.
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 bills 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.
Howell (R-Stafford), a former national chairman of ALEC has defended the group, arguing that it has become a victim of intimidation and extortion.
The list of 35 legislators who are not members of ALEC and the 38 who are known members can be found here.
“We applaud these 35 legislators for putting their constituents first,” ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl said. “Unfortunately, a majority of Virginia’s legislators still refuse to respond to requests from constituents to disclose their ties to ALEC. Delegates and Senators are the people’s representatives. They should be putting our interests first — not corporate lobbyists.”