Keystone Progress lauds lawmakers for leaving right-wing ALEC. Some are puzzled by the praise.

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HARRISBURG -- A liberal advocacy group is cheering a handful of state lawmakers for disassociating themselves from a conservative policy group, though some of the legislators being congratulated were surprised to find themselves on the list.

Keystone Progress is circulating a list of 18 state legislators -- including 10 Democrats -- who they say are no longer involved with the American Legislative Exchange Council. That right-leaning organization, also known as ALEC, has been the subject of criticism over its corporate donors and closed-door process for drafting model legislation.

Following a prominent shooting in Florida that sparked discussion on the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which ALEC has supported, pressure reignited from liberal groups for corporate and legislative members to end their involvement with the organization and its policy proposals.

"We are thrilled that so many Pennsylvania legislators have decided to quit ALEC," said Keystone Progress executive director Michael Morrill in a recent statement. "They have courageously decided to stand with the people instead of the corporate lobbyists."

Not exactly, according to several of those listed as having severed their membership ties.

Only one of the lawmakers reached by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to discuss the list said his disaffiliation was related to the group's policies. Several others said they have not been active in the group for years, and at least one disputes a record indicating that he was a member.

State campaign finance reports from 2001 show a dues payment to ALEC from the campaign coffers of Democratic Rep. Harry Readshaw of Carrick. No interactions since then are publicly recorded, and Mr. Readshaw says he did not know he was affiliated with the group until he received emails urging him to quit.

"I have quit something that I never belonged to," he said. "I had no idea what they were talking about."

Democratic Rep. Nick Kotik of Robinson said he joined the group to hear more business perspectives but lacked the time to attend conferences. He called ALEC to sever his official ties in April, after receiving hundreds of form letters blasting his membership.

One of the six Republicans on the Keystone Progress list, state Sen. John Pippy of Moon, traveled to ALEC conferences beginning in 2004, according to state reimbursement records. He was last involved with the group in 2006, when the National Guardsman served on a committee that discussed security policy.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, also was on the list, though a caucus spokesman said Mr. Turzai let his membership lapse several years ago because of time constraints.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin defended the group, arguing that lawmakers help draft ALEC's model legislation and that any bills introduced based on those models can be amended by other legislators.

Mr. Morrill responded that no public funds should be directed to a partisan organization, and ALEC should be more straightforward about its efforts to lobby lawmakers.

ALEC spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss said the criticism "is coming from extreme liberal front groups who are trying to silence the open exchange of ideas and debate on public policy because it does not fit their big-government agenda. ALEC legislators will continue to provide free-market solutions to the problems facing their states."

One legislator who recently withdrew, Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, said that while the group is drawing more scrutiny from lawmakers, he's skeptical that scratching a few names from its membership rolls will change what legislation is being introduced in Pennsylvania.

"I think a lot of the Republican members would put some of that legislation in whether there was ALEC or not," said Mr. Markosek. "Conservative members are going to put up conservative legislation. I think we've given them too much credit."

electionspa - state

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254. First Published May 28, 2012 12:00 AM


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