A national conservative coalition is an unsavory nexus of corporate interests and elected officials, according to a forum held Wednesday by several members of the New York state Senate Democratic conference.
The discussion centered on the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which in recent months has come under criticism for propagating state-by-state campaigns for legislation such as the controversial "stand your ground" bill that played a role in the recent killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-Manhattan, said that bill seemed to have been written on ALEC's template.
The session was not a hearing: Republican lawmakers turned down Squadron's request for the more formal designation. ALEC's New York co-chair is Sen. Owen Johnson, R-Long Island. The Assembly's Republican leader, Brian Kolb, is another member of ALEC.
"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a lobbyist," said Sen. Bill Perkins, D-Manhattan.
"There's nothing wrong with being a lobbying organization," said Sue Lerner of Common Cause, a registered lobbying group whose national office is contesting ALEC's current tax status with the Internal Revenue Service.
The problem, she said, is that ALEC claims to be a charitable organization when its main mission is to lobby for specific pieces of legislation.
"Why are they not willing to stand by their work product?" she asked.
Tim Judson of Progressive States Network -- which he said is a counterweight to ALEC -- said that participation in ALEC's efforts was becoming "a vital litmus test, much like taking the (Grover) Norquist pledge" -- a reference to the Taxpayers Protection Pledge, which obligates a candidate or public official to abjure tax increases, no matter what.
Ethics compliance consultant David Grandeau, the former executive director of the defunct state Temporary Commission on Lobbying, spent much of his testimony criticizing the new state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which oversees lobbying.
Grandeau, whose clients include the Port Authority and the pro-Cuomo lobbying group Committee to Save New York, suggested that those who believe ALEC violates lobbying rules should file a complaint with JCOPE.
Lerner said Common Cause was planning to file that sort of complaint in the days ahead.
Grandeau upbraided JCOPE for failing to adequately define a range of lobbying behaviors, making it impossible for him to say for sure whether ALEC was a lobbying group or not.
Grandeau eventually said that if ALEC had spent more than $5,000 advocating for legislation in New York this year, it would fall into the definition of a lobbying organization.
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