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The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes itself as “a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”

Affiliated with NCSL, is the NCSL Foundation which was created by NCSL as a  “nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that offers opportunities for businesses, national associations, nonprofit organizations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.”

While the descriptions sound benign, the access to legislators NCSL and the NCSL Foundation provide to fossil fuel interests and other corporate “sponsors” sounds a lot like lobbying. Sourcewatch defines lobbyists as those who do “work on the behalf of their clients or the groups they’re representing to convince the government or others involved in public policy development to make a decision that is beneficial to them.”

Nowhere in the descriptions of NCSL or the NCSL Foundation is the unique access to state legislators granted to corporate funders characterized as lobbying.

Cross-Posted from Checks and Balances Project

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes itself as “a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”

Affiliated with NCSL, is the NCSL Foundation which was created by NCSL as a  “nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that offers opportunities for businesses, national associations, nonprofit organizations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.”

While the descriptions sound benign, the access to legislators NCSL and the NCSL Foundation provide to fossil fuel interests and other corporate “sponsors” sounds a lot like lobbying. Sourcewatch defines lobbyists as those who do “work on the behalf of their clients or the groups they’re representing to convince the government or others involved in public policy development to make a decision that is beneficial to them.”

Nowhere in the descriptions of NCSL or the NCSL Foundation is the unique access to state legislators granted to corporate funders characterized as lobbying.

In fact, William Pound, NCSL’s Executive Director, said in an interview with Checks & Balances Project at NCSL’s 2012 Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., that legislators are being educated, not lobbied.

However, this access has been called “stealth lobbying” by Steve Horn and Sarah Blaskey in a recent Truthout piece.

According to the NCSL Foundation website, there are many ways for fossil fuel interests to “educate” state legislators. They include:

-Opportunity to participate in the annual standing committee new officer orientation session

-Regular forums with NCSL officers and NCSL standing committee officers
Opportunity to suggest topics to standing committee officers

-Opportunity to attend NCSL Executive Committee subcommittee meetings

-Invitations to attend receptions and dinners with legislative leaders at yearly NCSL leadership meetings

In addition, with legislators from 40 out of the 50 states earning an average of $35,326 for their work and an average staff of 3.1 per member (or 1.2 staff in some states),[1] it raises questions of how much time and resources they have to research issues versus relying on positions posted by corporate sponsors or NCSL papers which corporate sponsors have had input on, according to Pound.

Given the role of Michael Behm as the Vice President of the NCSL Foundation and a Senior Vice President for Stateside Associates, a lobbying firm focused on lobbying state-centric groups like NCSL and the Council of State Governments (CSG), the partnerships being enabled by NCSL between legislators and fossil fuel interests should not be surprising.[2] This is especially true, given that many of Stateside Associates’ clients are also NCSL Foundation’s sponsors.

According to the current list of sponsors on the NCSL Foundation website (dated 1/31/12), fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil and America’s Natural Gas Alliance contributed $142,500, an increase from FY 2011 (July 2010-June 2011) when fossil fuel companies donated $100,000[3].

Perhaps the increase in contributions from fossil fuel interests, coupled with their ability to  “review” NCSL policy papers, explains the change in positions on hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) between 2010 and 2012. A 2010 policy paper provided a relatively balanced look at the costs, financial and environmental, associated with fracking. However, a June 2012 paper raises and dismisses the potentially devastating costs that fracking poses to states and the environment.

NCSL’s activities sound suspiciously like those of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is now facing a lawsuit under the Tax Whistleblower Act with the Internal Revenue Service. Common Cause filed the lawsuitafter accusing ALEC, legally a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, of “massive[ly] underreporting” the amount of lobbying it was undertaking.

While 501(c)(3)’s can engage in some lobbying, it cannot be the majority of its activity. According to Mother Jones, “The suit alleges that ALEC exists primarily to give corporate members the ability to ‘lobby state legislators and to deduct the costs of such efforts as charitable contributions.’ “

Checks and Balances will continue monitoring NCSL and other like-minded organizations that interact with legislators for purported “educational” purposes that could possibly be masking stealth lobbying activities.

[1] From NCSL website: http://www.ncsl.org/...

[2] Horn and Blaskey write in their Truthout piece about how Behm and his other Stateside Associates colleagues take over organizations such as NCSL to influence state legislators on behalf of corporate interests.

[3] No figures were listed in the FY 2011 annual report. Therefore current sponsorship level amounts were applied to derive the $117,500 number.

Originally posted to Steve Horn on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 11:13 AM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Sorry, Truthout. ALEC is evil. NCSL is above board (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LakeSuperior

    All of the points made in this diary seem to be based on little more than suspicions about lobbying and education activities. The fact is that both organizations are doing these activities. These activities are important public services whether you agree with the agenda or not. Most lobbying firms are above board and comply with reporting requirements.

    The differences between ALEC and NCSL (and most others) is stunning.

    You've cited Sourcewatch for some of this information.
    I suggest that everyone read this excellent comparison of ALEC and NCSL pulished by Sourcewatch. You should notice that the diarist's conclusions do not seem to reflect what the cited source is actually saying.

    Personally, I feel strongly that lobbying has goteen out of hand and that the reporting requirements don't tell us what they're actually doing. That's a different subject, imo.

    Yes, there are many outfits that claim to educate the public and legislators. Some have agendas that I find distasteful. Some, such as advocates for the poor, women's rights, mental health, etc. I appreciate. Most are above board. ALEC is a gross exception to these organizations.

    NCSL doesn't write and vote on boilerplate legislation in secret. They bring groups together to contribute ideas that are in the public interest.

    NCSL is not funded by corporations. NCSL publishes all sources of funds and identifies all donors. ALEC is funded by secret donors and far right wing think tanks and foundations. ALEC was founded by Paul Weyrich and Fred Koch, the same folks that founded the Heritage Foundation.

    NCSL does not base ideas primarily on corporate propaganda or corporate interests in the interest of profits.

    NCSL does not claim that lobbying is education. They do educate legislators. They do report lobbying activities. ALEC does not.

    NCSL does not give vacations and parties to legislators and their families like ALEC does.

    All of ALEC's boilerplate bills are restricted from public access, although many of them have found their way out of ALEC and are published online. ALEC Exposed is a sourcewatch sister website that has posted ALEC's secret bills online.

    All of NCSL's proposals are publicly avalable and comments and suggestions are solicited from anyone.

    I can go on and on.

    There are several hundred organizations that legitimately educate elected officials and thousands of organizations that do lobbying and report the activity to the public.

    ALEC stands alone as the only one that eclusively promotes right wing corporate sponsored legislation in secret meetings and reports no lobbying activity and literally bribes legislators and their families under the lie that they are a "public charity".

    NCSL and the others are legitimate public educators who promote the public interest, not the corporate right wing agenda.

    "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 01:07:58 PM PST

  •  Don't Forget the Federalist Society (0+ / 0-)

    The Federalist Society has a recruitment network at law
    schools around the country, they do travel junkets for judges and officials at both state and federal level, and they have a pernicious policy influence on constitutional and federal jurisdiction issues, and on health and safety.   They are intellectual arm of Scalia SC influence arm of power elite.

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