The Center of the American Experiment received a letter last week from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. We are normally thrilled to hear from any elected official, given the fact that we are a policy organization.
Our excitement quickly turned to indignation upon reading Durbin’s letter.
The senator, you see, is on a witch hunt. His target is the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as “ALEC.” There has been a steady drumbeat against ALEC for several years now from various points on the left-wing spectrum. For example, the Center for Media and Democracy has a massive website dedicated to intimidating corporate donors in hopes of defunding ALEC.
ALEC is a nonprofit organization devoted to limited government, free markets and federalism. It provides model legislation — mostly on economic issues — to legislators and free-market-policy organizations like American Experiment — and to anyone else who goes to its website. It has been around for more than 30 years, and its members are state legislators from all over the country.
ALEC is avowedly conservative in its orientation. We have a great deal of respect for ALEC and find its model legislation to be of the highest quality.
Back to the letter: Sen. Durbin is holding a hearing next month on state “stand your ground” laws, which modify the legal standard for self-defense, and which some on the left have blamed for the Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida.
The U.S. Senate has no jurisdiction over state criminal laws; Durbin’s hearing is pure grandstanding. But that is not enough for the senator. He is now attempting to intimidate ALEC’s supporters as part of his “hearing.”
This is where it gets unsettling — especially in this age of politically motivated IRS audits. Durbin said in his letter that certain unidentified “public documents” tied us to funding ALEC, and that as a result he was “seeking clarification” on two questions:
1) Has the Center of the American Experiment served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?
2) Does our organization support the “stand your ground” legislation that was adopted as a national model and promoted by ALEC?
The answers to those questions are irrelevant to Durbin’s hearing, which in turn is irrelevant to the business of the Senate. Durbin has evidently decided to use the power of his office to join the left’s campaign to defund ALEC.
There is a difference, however, between private organizations organizing boycotts or protests and public officials using their power to intimidate people who express views with which those officials disagree.
The irony here is that Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on “The Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.” The Constitution protects the right to speak and associate without fear of intimidation from government officials. And unlike state criminal law, violations of constitutional rights do fall within the committee’s jurisdiction.
Durbin should be ashamed of himself for the naked abuse of power evidenced by his letter. We call on U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who serves on the subcommittee, to join us in denouncing Durbin’s thinly veiled threat and abuse of his office.
Mitch Pearlstein is president and Kim Crockett is the chief operating officer of the Center of the American Experiment.