By Roy L Hales
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) hold on South Carolina is weakening. The controversial lobbying organization has been so firmly entrenched that there is a special provision for it in the state’s lobbying law. According to Section 2-17-90: “No public official or public employee may accept lodging, transportation, entertainment, food, meals, beverages, or an invitation to a function paid for by a lobbyist’s principal.” One of the exceptions, listed as 1b, is “American Legislative Exchange Council conventions and conferences.” Sourcewatch compiled a “partial list” of 15 South Carolina Assemblymen and 7 state senators with past or extant ties to ALEC. This may be changing. The state’s House of Representatives just passed a solar energy bill that could be summed up as Solar Goes Forward & ALEC Backwards, in South Carolina.
“This is truly a big deal, a giant step in moving South Carolina forward in renewable energy,’’ said state Rep. Robert Brown, D-Charleston.
“Senate Bill 1189 is a significant step forward in providing customers with more renewable energy choices,” Duke Energy states on its website. “The bill provides consumers and producers of electricity with reasonable choices, fair rates and a foothold for solar energy as an ever-expanding part of South Carolina’s energy future. We will continue to work with South Carolina stakeholders on this important legislation.”
“In its current form, S.B. 1189 does not allow utilities to rate base rooftop solar systems. Even though that poison pill was removed, the bill is in no way model legislation,” said Susan Glick, a spokesperson from the Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC).
Though rooftop solar owners can sell electricity to the grid, the familiar conflict about rates is looming.
On a positive side, more than a dozen organizations came together to agree on a compromise solution that is expected to:
- allow third party leasing
- increase the cap on non-residential solar from 1 kilowatt to 1 megawatt
- let South Carolina’s solar capacity grow from 7megawatts to 300 megawatts
The degree to which this is a compromise is shown by the fact that five of the twenty senators who sponsored this bill have known ties to ALEC. One is the organization’s state chairman and another formerly occupied that office.
According to South Carolina’s leading newspaper, the State, “South Carolina historically has been among the states least interested in solar power because of concerns by power companies. The State newspaper chronicled solar’s obstacles in South Carolina in a series of stories in 2012. Lawmakers began working on legislation to improve the solar energy environment in early 2013.”
The Senate passed this bill by a 37-0 vote, on April 29.
The Assembly made some amendments, then passed it 86-0 – with 30 abstentions! – and has sent the revised version back to the senate.
A blogger from the Huffington Post pointed out South Carolina is not the only state where ALEC has a special status:
Colorado law also declares that ALEC is a “joint governmental agency” of the state. It explicitly authorizes Colorado General Assembly lawmakers to have their ALEC fees paid for by the group when members are “selected by the president of the senate or the speaker of the house of representatives to represent the interests of Colorado at American Legislative Exchange Council functions … necessary expenses of such members for travel, board and lodging related to such attendance may be paid from appropriations made to the legislative department of state government.”
The South’s oldest newspaper, Post & Courier, says:
“ALEC has Democratic members, including a few in South Carolina, but its bills most often line up with the GOP agenda. The extent of ALEC’s influence in the Palmetto State is difficult to nail down, as there is no complete or definitive public tracking of just how many of its model bills have been introduced or passed here in some form over the years. But the group’s bills are materializing at the Statehouse.
“It’s rare for state legislators to publicly admit that a bill they sponsor is actually the work of ALEC, but the similarities between the group’s model bills and some introduced here are undeniable. Whole sections of some, with a few words changed, match ALEC models.”
“I am disgusted that this group has been specifically exempted from ethics laws in the state of South Carolina,” said Brown in a statement. “I am appalled but not surprised that an extremist group such as ALEC wields such influence in the South Carolina General Assembly.”
Brown is calling on his fellow legislators, “”Your support for this organization is harmful to your constituents and folks all across the United States and I urge you to withdraw your membership today.”
State Rep. Ted Vick has done so, saying, “ALEC has become too partisan and too extreme. I believe we need more bipartisanship, statesmanship, and less divisive political rhetoric.”
This issue is not unique to South Carolina. On its website, ALEC claims nearly 2,000 US state legislators are members.
(Image at top of page: South Carolina State Senate chamber – Billy Hawthorn, CC by SA 3.0, en Wikipedia)