Rhode Islanders taxpayers are funding legislators’ memberships in ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, said House spokesman Larry Berman. He said the state paid $800 in January for eight new members (more than 20 percent of the legislature are members) that Rep. Jon Brien, a conservative Democrat from Woonsocket who was recently put on the group’s national board of directors, recently signed up.
“A payment is made annually,” Berman said.
Brien said he doesn’t have an issue with taxpayers funding legislators’ membership in the group that pairs corporate interests with state lawmakers.
“Why is this any different than paying for a membership to the NCSL,” Brien said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, according to it website, “is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states. NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”
According to ALEC’s website, the group “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.”
Two of the new ALEC members said they didn’t sign up for ALEC. Rep John Edwards, a moderate Democrat from Portsmouth, said Brien signed him up and Rep. Sam Azzinaro, of Westerly, said he didn’t know he was a member of ALEC, even though he was on a list provided by Brien. Brien said he would provide their membership forms that will show otherwise.
John Marion, of Common Cause Rhode Island, said taxpayers shouldn’t be funding ALEC memberships.
“There is no reason the General Assembly should paying for these memberships in the first place, and paying for people who may not even want to have joined is almost comical,” he said. “Clearly there need to be better controls in place for these sorts of requests from legislators.”