The Good Senator from ALEC

An unknown number of Vermont Republican state lawmakers are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organization that promotes model legislation for statehouses across the country.  The most recent estimate came from State Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), ALEC’s state chair, who figured there were about 20 Vermont lawmakers on the ALEC rolls.

Which is about one-third of all Republicans in the Statehouse.

But of all those 20-odd people, there’s one who has benefited from ALEC’s largesse more than any other Vermonter. And you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is.

Kevin Mullin, Republican from Rutland, not especially known for being a hardliner. Indeed, like a beige house with beige trim, his blandness is his most distinguishing characteristic. Well, that and being Norm McAllister’s clueless roomie.

(The Rutland area seems to be a hive of ALEC activity. In addition to Mullin and Helm, Sen. Peg Flory is also on the ALEC list, as are a couple of former Rutland-area lawmakers. Is it something in the water?)

We can’t tell exactly how much Mullin has dipped his snout into the ALEC trough because for the past several years, the group has refused to release information about its members, its “scholarships” and free travel to ALEC meetings and conferences, usually held at top-flight hotels and resorts.

See, it became too embarrassing to its beneficiaries.

But the figures are still out there for 2009 and before. And boy howdy, has Sen. Mullin cashed in.

I should pause here for an overview of ALEC, lest I be accused of mindless dog-whistling.

ALEC gets virtually all its money from big corporations and super-rich donors. Corporate donors get to sit in on the writing of  “model legislation” which is then shared with member lawmakers. Sourcewatch:

Under ALEC’s published by-laws, legislators who are ALEC “state chairmen” have a “duty” to get the model bills introduced in their state legislatures.  However, when ALEC legislation is introduced in state houses, it is under the name of the sponsoring legislator rather than ALEC itself, with no mention that the bill was pre-voted on by corporations through ALEC or even connecting the bill to ALEC.  The task forces obscure how “corporations [get] access and influence for which they’d otherwise be publicly scrutinized.”

The model legislation includes such delights as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that made George Zimmerman a household name, and Arizona’s infamous SB1070, the so-called “Show Your Papers” law. Other efforts include privatizing public schools, barring schools from teaching about climate change, limits on union organizing and reproductive rights, and creating barriers to voting.

This gets down to the remarkably picayune level. An ALEC-approved bill changed how Wisconsin taxed chewing tobacco — by weight rather than price. This bill originated with tobacco giant Altria, whose premium chaws would enjoy a lower tax burden as a result. This is the level at which ALEC’s paymasters are seeking to reshape our state law books.

Mullin was the chair until sometime between now and 2011. Helm boasted, in an infamous 2015 hidden-camera video, that he was “the state [bleep] chair.” ALEC’s website confirms that he still is.

According to Sourcewatch, Mullin received more than $8,000 in ALEC “scholarships” between 2006 and 2008. He was on a list of “ALEC Frequent Flyers,” state lawmakers who racked up thousands in ALEC-funded travel expenses.

Other Vermont beneficiaries in those years, according to Sourcewatch: Rep. Bob Helm ($1,233.44), then-Sen. Hull Maynard ($997.08), then-Rep. and now VTGOP Chair David Sunderland ($417.90), and Sen. Peg Flory ($230.70).

Yeah, they’re all from the Rutland area. Hmm.

Mullin reaped even greater rewards from a steady stream of corporate donations that came his way thanks to his ALEC connections. From 2004 to 2010, he received $47,000 from out-of-state corporations involved in ALEC. Most Senate campaigns run in the low five figures, so Mullin got a huge boost from his ALEC connections. (Not so much, now that he’s no longer the Vermont chair. He’s received virtually no out-of-state money this year, and his total fundraising is less than $9,000.)

ALEC could hae made a better choice than the feckless Mullin. In a 2011 story by VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, Mullin acknowledged that ALEC membership in the Statehouse had fallen by at least half under his watch, and said “I should be recruiting and things like that.”

Things like that. You know, stuff. Also, et cetera.

The duties of ALEC state chairs includ “working to ensure introduction of model legislation.” Mullin wasn’t any more devoted to that mission than to growing membership.

Mullin said he didn’t use ALEC language in his legislative proposals.

“They create model legislation, and I haven’t found a lot of that real helpful,” Mullin said.

What he did find “helpful” was ALEC’s promotion of the pro-business agenda.

“If you ever want to create jobs and boost the economy, you want to talk to people who do that,” Mullin said.

That’s the ticket. Ask business what they want and give it to them.

So, while Vermont has yet to enjoy legislative outrages like “Show Your Papers” or “Stand Your Ground,” the Republican caucus has learned pro-growth ideology from ALEC. Maybe this is why the putatively “moderate” VTGOP is sounding more and more like the national party on taxes, regulation, and public sector spending.

Since ALEC has hidden its dealings from public scrutiny, we don’t know how much the organization is spending in Vermont these days. We do know that, by Bob Helm’s account, ALEC membership has rebounded under his watch. And House Minority Leader Don Turner’s aggressive advocacy of conservative dogma is right out of the ALEC playbook.

As is Phil Scott’s kid-glove version of the same ideology.

Turner’s caucus is too small to actually accomplish very much. But if they do ever regain a majority, expect to see something more like the ALEC agenda than like classic Jim Jeffords/Dick Snelling/Bob Stafford moderate Republicanism.


1 thought on “The Good Senator from ALEC

  1. Michelle Salvador

    I warn continuously about our legislators in ALEC. We need to keep shining the light how massive corporations are impacting our state policy. Don’t let them fool you as the ALEC right to work (for less) legislation hangs on the wall of the state house every year.


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