Why Is non-ALEC Member Joe Straus Hosting An ALEC Party?

Typically praised for his political moderation, Speaker of the Texas House and San Antonio-based Republican Rep. Joe Straus may be treading into ultra-conservative (and corporatist) waters.

via Joe Straus web site

According to a letter obtained by the Texas Observer, Straus and fellow Republicans state Sen. Kelly Hancock, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg and Rep. Phil King are hosting an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) welcome party this April. The event offers sponsorship opportunities that range from $5,000 to $50,000 and guarantees “networking” access.

The shadowy interest group pairs elected officials with corporations—like Walmart, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries—to craft so-called “model legislation” for lawmakers to take back to their statehouses with the goal of affecting public policy. Texas’ anti-sanctuary cities bill and Voter ID law are credited as ALEC-inspired model legislation, according to a report by Progress Texas.

While the organization boasts more than 300 corporate and 2,000 legislative members the number has since diminished. A trail of legislators bolted the group when ALEC came under intense criticism for having a hand in developing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” which played a significant role in the Trayvon Martin case.

Some Texas legislators fled, too— but not all. Leading the pack of those still in the corporate bill mill game is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who ranks as ALEC’s single largest recipient of donations in the nation. Perry received more than $2 million from ALEC corporations between 2004 and 2011. So it’s no wonder that ALEC is planning their annual conference in Dallas this July, and that the April kickoff event in Austin is being hosted by ALEC-backed legislators—yet Straus isn't one of them.

King received $163,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC corporate members from 2004-2011, he and Hancock both serve as ALEC task force members and in 2013, Laubenberg was named ALEC Texas State Chair.

While Straus gave some indication to his approval of ALEC with a nod to Laubenberg’s appointment as state chair last year, calling her, “commitment to advancing free-market and limited government policies in the Texas Legislature” an “asset” to ALEC, he, strangely holds no overt ties (financial or otherwise) to the group, who have managed to wrangle in several Texas Democrats.

So why would a non-ALEC member host an ALEC event?

"As the presiding officer of the Texas House, Speaker Straus is pleased to support a Texas gathering of state legislators from across the country,” said Straus spokesperson Jason Embry in an emailed statement to the Current. “He provided similar support for the National Conference of State Legislatures when its members met in Texas."

(But it’s worth noting, NCSL is a primarily research based NGO that rarely, if ever, writes model legislation. Its primary source of funding does not come from corporations and all legislative members are automatically members of the organization.)

Philip Martin with Progress Texas says Straus’ role in hosting ALEC could simply be perfunctory. However, it may also be a “troubling” signal that he’s willing to side with “discredited, conservative voices” to appeal to right-wing legislators, who will cast a ballot in the January speaker's race against Tea Party-supported state Rep. Scott Turner.

“He could be fulfilling his normal duties of speaker, like welcoming people to the state,” says Martin. “Or he could be buffing up his conservative credentials in the face of a likely challenge to his speakership.”

The true test, says Martin, will be watching if the Speaker backs the corporate front group’s expected draft bills in the next legislative session.

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