Virginia House Speaker William Howell (R), a former national chairman of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), helped kill a bill to end state taxpayer subsidies to the group. ALEC, a group which promotes conservative “model legislation” to state lawmakers, was the driving force behind many state Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws, in addition to bills keeping workers’ wages low while reducing taxes for the wealthy. The proposal to stop subsidizing ALEC, which had passed the Virginia Senate unanimously, died on a voice vote in the Howell-chaired House Rules Committee.
Senate Bill 500, authored by Sen. Donald McEachin (D), would have changed Virginia’s code to prohibit “compensation to legislators for attending conferences for which the agenda and materials are not available to the public.” It passed the Senate 40 to 0 last month, with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans voting for the ban. In the past, Virginia taxpayers have spent more than $230,000 on compensation for ALEC conferences.
Though Howell claims to be an advocate for “fiscally responsible state budgets,” he has fiercely defended state payments to reimburse legislators who attend ALEC events. The organization’s national chairman in 2009, Howell has complained of the “intimidation” and “extortion” by opponents of ALEC who are seeking to pressure companies to stop funding the group.
In a statement, ProgressVA executive director Anna Scholl blasted the unrecorded committee vote to kill the bill. “It’s simply outrageous that Speaker Howell refuses to shut down his taxpayer-funded slush fund for closed door meetings with out-of-state lobbyists,” she noted, adding that while legislators should be “free to join whatever organization they like,” they should not be “entitled to taxpayer funding for private meetings with corporate lobbyists.” More than 50 of ALEC’s model bills have been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly in recent years.