The relationship between South Carolina lawmakers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative special interest group with a great deal of corporate-funded influence in the General Assembly, is facing criticism in primary races across the Palmetto State.
In recent weeks, public outcry over ALEC’s extreme policies such as voter suppression measures and “Stand Your Ground” laws have led many to denounce the organization’s ability to pull strings in state legislatures across the country. South Carolina Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) canceled his ALEC membership last week after a call by Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) for all state lawmakers to leave the group. Brown has also filed a bill that would end ALEC’s exemption from state lobbying restrictions — a special exemption added nearly a decade ago by ALEC members in the General Assembly.
Nationally, at least 14 of ALEC’s corporate sponsors have abandoned the group and its extremist agenda. Good government group Common Cause has also filed a lawsuit challenging ALEC’s tax-exempt status, arguing that ALEC is simply an elaborate lobbying organization.
As ALEC’s notoriety has increased, some State House candidates who are running against ALEC members have begun questioning their opponents’ affiliations with the group.
Preston Brittain, Vick’s opponent in the Democratic primary for South Carolina’s 7th congressional district, called Vick’s public resignation from ALEC “too little, too late.” This week, the Democratic candidate for House District 78 brought ALEC into her race against Republican Rep. Joan Brady. Richland County attorney Beth Bernstein publicly asked Brady to divulge the number of ALEC-funded trips she’s taken as a member of the group’s Communication and Technology Task Force, as well renounce her ALEC membership.
“ALEC is an organization that disguises itself as nonprofit when, in reality, it acts as a stealth special-interest lobbyist group with a socially conservative agenda,” Bernstein said in a press release. “My opponent is a member of this organization and it is important for the public to know about their elected representatives’ affiliations with right-wing organizations.”
ALEC’s detractors say the group represents money in politics at its worst, trading corporate favors such as expensive trips and meals for favorable laws passed by its members. In addition, critics say the one-size-fits-all legislation ALEC produces doesn’t have the best interests of South Carolina families at heart — and neither do the lawmakers that produce it to get a free meal and a plane ticket.
“Ms. Brady’s affiliation with this organization is just one symptom of what’s wrong with state government,” commented Bernstein. “When lawmakers forget about home, like Ms. Brady has done, it’s time for change.”
While it’s unknown whether Brady’s ALEC affiliation will become a significant issue in the fall election, ethics reports show Bernstein holds a large fundraising advantage over the Republican incumbent. Bernstein, who raised over $25,000 in the first week after she announced her candidacy, reported $35,784 in cash on hand this month. That’s well over twice as much as the campaign funds raised by Brady, who reported $15,878 in cash on hand.