SAN DIEGO — More than 1,000 protesters aligned with organized labor and social justice organizations demonstrated Wednesday in downtown San Diego against an organization that they contend allows corporate lobbyists to cozy up to lawmakers.
The organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is meeting this week at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
A spokesperson for ALEC, which bills itself as the nation’s largest nonpartisan voluntary membership organization of state legislators, could not be reached for comment.
The council is governed by state legislators who comprised the board of directors and is advised by the Private Enterprise Advisory Council, a group of private, foundation and think tank members. On its website, the group touts limited government, free markets and federalism.
“They feel if they can get unions out of the way, they’ll have absolute control of the country,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President, Tefere Gebre.
Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, called ALEC a group of extremists and, at a news conference before the peaceful demonstration, demanded that Mayor Kevin Faulconer not make a speech at the conference.
ALEC member Bill Seitz, a Republican state legislator from Ohio, told FOX 5 that lobbyists are a key element in this planning conference where “we meet to exchange ideas about the best ways to advance free markets, limited government and federalism.”
As for the anti-union charge, Seitz said he led the charge in helping defeat anti-union legislation in Ohio four years ago and that he has been honored as legislator of the year in his state by the Police, Fire and Teachers union in 2011 and 2012.
Common Cause President Miles Rapoport characterized the conference as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy.”
Faulconer was going to make welcoming remarks of about five minutes each to state legislators, and a group of city and county officials from around the country, mayoral spokesman Matt Awbrey said.
Republican presidential hopefuls Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, and Mike Huckabee, the ex-Arkansas governor, are scheduled to speak at the conference on Thursday.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, canceled a scheduled Friday appearance.