First it was Seven Days, and now it’s VTDigger, reporting on State Rep. Bob Helm’s hidden-camera appearance in a TV report about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the organization that spreads conservative policy ideas and provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers nationwide.
Helm was attending an ALEC conference when he was buttonholed by someone he didn’t know was a TV reporter. He told her he was “the state [bleep], the state chair of ALEC,” and acknowledged that lobbyists had helped pay the freight for him and numerous other lawmakers.
The reporting raises questions of ethics and influence-peddling; but to this Political Observer, the most interesting aspect is the growing influence of ALEC in Vermont Republican circles.
Helm boasted to VTDigger that “he has ‘revved up’ the ALEC chapter in Vermont and has boosted the number of members to 20, up from four just a few years ago.”
I’d love to see that membership list. I’ve heard, for instance, that Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, who tries very hard to position himself as a moderate, is an ALEC member. That may or may not be true, but Wright did push very hard in this year’s session for a bill banning teacher strikes — an idea that’s been promoted by ALEC in other states.
But the bigger point is, 20 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a substantial fraction of the Republican legislative caucus.
There are only 60 Republicans in the Legislature; fully one-third are members of ALEC, according to Helm. That’s a very strong right-wing presence, and it sparks a couple of thoughts:
— It illustrates the problem that Phil Scott and his allies will have in broadening the VTGOP beyond its base. There are quite a few influential Republicans who don’t want to broaden the party. I’ve been getting hints of a persistent division in the ranks between what I’d call the Jack Lindley contingent (keep the VTGOP pure) and the Phil Scott/David Sunderland group (reach out to moderates and independents).
That isn’t a surprise. But if we can assume that ALEC members would tend to be in the Lindley camp, that’s a lot for Scott and company to overcome.
— This is another tangible sign that the big-money forces of national conservatism are targeting Vermont in a substantial way. In the closing weeks of last fall’s election, a national Republican PAC dumped nearly $300,000 into legislative districts where the VTGOP hoped to pick up seats. That’s a huge amount of money in Vermont terms, but a drop in the bucket for the big boys.
And it did have an impact. The Republicans gained more ground than expected. Hard to tell whether that was correlation or causation; Governor Shumlin’s weakness was probably the Dems’ biggest albatross. But still, it was a strong signal that Vermont is on the national conservative radar. The Democrats are optimistic about 2016, since it’ll be a Presidential year with Pat Leahy expected to top the state ticket; but they are worried about a possible flood tide of conservative money.
And it wouldn’t take much to be a player in Vermont. When the Koch brothers alone are planning to spend $900 million on the 2016 campaign, surely they and their friends can spare a million or so for little old Vermont.
The growing influence of ALEC, as revealed by its state bleepin’ chair, is another strong piece of evidence that big-money conservatism will not be content to give little ol’ liberal Vermont a pass.