Bob Helm: Good public policy comes from sharing ideas

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rep. Bob Helm, represents the Rutland-3 district in the Vermont House of Representatives. He lives in Castleton.

The Green Mountain State is home to some of America’s most thoughtful and hardworking people. Vermonters deserve good policy that addresses the issues closest to them, and there is no better way to find good policy solutions than by sharing ideas with others. One way to do this is through membership at ALEC.

The American Legislative Exchange Council provides a forum where legislators, business leaders and policy experts can come together to share ideas about state policy from a limited government, free market perspective. ALEC legislative members have the opportunity to meet with other state lawmakers from across the country, discover what ideas are working in other states and learn from others’ mistakes so they aren’t repeated.

ALEC members also work with the business and policy communities to learn how state policies can help increase jobs and opportunities for all Americans, including those in Vermont. ALEC is a valuable educational resource, and Vermonters should know that good policy discussions are taking place that can help our state’s economy.

Sharing good policy ideas is smart and resourceful, and ALEC members come together to provide each other the information and resources they need to make informed policy decisions.


Take, for example, ALEC’s annual Rich States, Poor States report that ranks states’ economic competitiveness based on 15 tax policy variables. The states that rank highest often have low-tax policies to attract businesses and people to their state. Vermont is currently ranked last in the state economic index and our lawmakers could learn from this report to develop a more attractive business climate and help secure the financial stability we all want. At ALEC meetings, Vermont legislators can work with their counterparts from Maine to California to find ways to make our state more competitive.

Constituents expect policymakers to be well-informed when they cast a vote. ALEC memberships provide valuable policy education and the common-sense sharing of ideas. People go on the Internet to find solutions to fix their sink or their car. Students use tutors to help them succeed in school. Teachers attend conferences and workshops to learn how to be better educators. Sharing good policy ideas is smart and resourceful, and ALEC members come together to provide each other the information and resources they need to make informed policy decisions. The best part is, all of ALEC’s resources are online, so even if you’re not a member, you can easily see what good ideas are taking place in the states.

Independent thinking is integral to the democratic process, and Vermont’s motto is a good reminder of this fact. Freedom and Unity can be achieved through thoughtful discussion and debate, and using all available people and resources to solve state policy solutions is a smart idea. Good policy is not created in a vacuum, and by using the tools ALEC has to offer, Vermont state legislators are better equipped to address the issues Vermonters care most about.


  1. Walter Carpenter :

    “free market perspective. ”

    Exactly what is a free market in ALEC terms? One which is funded by the Koch brothers?

    • Paul Richards :

      George Soros? He is the real root of many evils! Our government is one big puppet that he controls. One big reason why we have what we have.

      • Walter Carpenter :

        “Our government is one big puppet that he controls. One big reason why we have what we have.”

        I suppose that the Koch brothers, who finance so much of the GOP on the national level now, who help finance these super pacs, and think tanks like the Cato institute and the heritage foundation, are not the reason “why we have what we have now.”

        • Paul Richards :

          The fact is that big money is a big part of our politics and may be forever. Obviously we have differing opinions of what is good and bad for this country and that’s fine by me but it’s like the pot calling the kettle black when the left viciously attacks the Koch brothers for their actions and give Soros a pass just because he leans their way. He’s got a lot of skeletons in his closet. A few examples; A large part of Soros’ multibillion-dollar fortune has come from manipulating currencies. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused him of bringing down the nation’s currency through his trading activities, and in Thailand he was called an “economic war criminal.” Known as “The Man who Broke the Bank of England,” Soros initiated a British financial crisis by dumping 10 billion sterling, forcing the devaluation of the currency and gaining a billion-dollar profit.
          He would like to curtail American sovereignty: Soros would like nothing better than for America to become subservient to international bodies. He wants more power for groups such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, even while saying the U.S. role in the IMF should be “downsized.” In 1998, he wrote: “Insofar as there are collective interests that transcend state boundaries, the sovereignty of states must be subordinated to international law and international institutions.”
          Soros has repeatedly said that he sees himself as a messianic figure. Who but a megalomaniac would make these comments? “I admit that I have always harbored an exaggerated view of my self-importance—to put it bluntly, I fancied myself as some kind of god” or “I carried some rather potent messianic fantasies with me from childhood, which I felt I had to control, otherwise I might end up in the loony bin.” If only the loony bin were an option. As it is, one of the wealthiest men in the world is using his billions to impose a radical agenda on America.
          I know he is the goose laying the golden eggs for the left but IMHO this is a very dangerous man with Billions and Billions of dollars who is doing nothing but harm overall to this country.
          As far as the amount of money they have donated it should be noted that in federal elections between 1989 and 2014. Koch Industries — privately owned by the Evil Koch Bros — is on the list, to be sure, but doesn’t appear until the 59th slot, with $18 million in donations, 90 percent of which went to Republicans.

          So who occupies the 58 spots ahead of the Evil Koch Bros? Six of the top 10 are … wait for it … unions. They gave more than $278 million, with most of it going to Democrats.
          These are familiar names: AFSCME ($60.6 million), NEA ($53.5 million), IBEW ($44.4 million), UAW ($41.6 million), Carpenters & Joiners ($39.2 million) and SEIU ($38.3 million).

          In other words, the six biggest union donors in American politics gave 15 times more to mostly Democrats than the Evil Koch Bros.

          To be fair, the Koch brothers also contribute tens of millions of dollars to the GOP cause indirectly through their independent committees Americans for Prosperity and others. Also to be fair, unions spent a half a billion dollars in such indirect spending in the 2012 election cycle alone.

          What isn’t arguable is that unions are by far the biggest contributors to politicians and public unions top the list. I guess there’s a distinction to be made between “good” union money and “evil” Koch brothers cash – but only if you’re a partisan hack.

          Money in politics is everywhere but if I had to pick a horse to ride, I’m riding the one that supports American exceptionalism, sovereignty and the principals of our founding fathers rather than the one that wants to tear those down and sell us out to the UN.
          If it wasn’t for the Koch brothers and others like them, our one party government would not have the resources to fund their failed programs. What we have is a mess all the way around. Not surprising given what constitutes good leaders in this country today. IMHO rock stars with no experience and relative knowledge don’t make good leaders. Especially those who also want to “fundamentally transform America”. We are sadly seeing the results of that now.

          • Paula Schramm :

            Why is it that George Soros is the only “megalomanic” billionaire that is trotted out when wanting to attack lefties ? There seem to be legions of them on the right – who are busy buying their politician mouth-pieces & media, and pulling the country so far off-course to the right that “liberal” is a dirty word, union is a mark of shame, and “socialist” amounts to a minion of the very devil.
            At least Soros supports efforts to have more “small d” democracy in our country, rather than allowing the richest unfettered ability to buy the government & the legislation they want – including privatizing municipalities and the commons, ( and everything else they can get their hands on) and suppressing the right to vote.

          • Paula Schramm :

            BTW – unions are groups that represent the interests of many people through a democratic process.

            Corporate CEO’s are definitely not democratically chosen, unless it is a worker-owned corporation. And billionaires like the Koch brothers & Sheldon Adelson are only representing their own interests.

            To compare the amounts of money given by each to influence political policies as if it’s all the same thing is telling in itself.

    • John Ryan :

      Well, some of the “good ideas” that ALEC works for:

      Stand your ground laws
      Anti-union “right to work” laws
      School privatization
      Anti-environmental laws
      SB 1070 (Arizona’s “show your papers” laws…

      and so on. There’s a wealth of information about the “good public policy” that Rep. Helm wants to bring to Vermont over at, and I just did a bit on this over at Green Mountain Daily, too.

      Helm, along with fellow Rutland Republicans, Peg Flory and Kevin Mullin, are the three ALEC members in the VT statehouse. Three too many.

  2. Paul Donovan :

    A study published by Governing Magazine here: found “…there’s no notable correlation between state’s Business Tax Climate Index scores and their unemployment rates. Plotting the most recent state employment-to-population ratios and Tax Foundation scores further reveals no relationship…”. Vermont was even mentioned: “Vermont’s business tax climate similarly rates poorly in the report. With its above-average income taxes and higher property tax rates, the state ranks 45th nationally. Jobs data, though, paints a different picture: Its August jobless rate was fifth lowest and the employment-to-population ratio was a similarly-impressive sixth highest of any state.” You can inf total state and local business tax estimates, by State for FY 2012 here:

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “there’s no notable correlation between state’s Business Tax Climate Index scores and their unemployment rates.”

      Thanks, Paul, for putting that up.

  3. Kathy Leonard :

    JD Ryan has a clear view of what Bob Helm may have in mind for Vermont..

    • John Ryan :

      I think they’re trying the same thing that Campaign for Vermont does… basically try to pass off a far-right, very Republican organization as “reasonable and common sense.”

      Not if I can help it. Thanks, Kathy.

    • John Ryan :

      They’re using the exact same tactics as that other far-right group, “Campaign for Vermont”. Use language couched in “reasonable common sense” to obscure an agenda that is anything but that. We can’t let this happen here. That may fly in Oklahoma or Texas, but it shouldn’t happen, here.

  4. Lee Russ :

    From the Center for Media & Democracy report by Mary Bottari, April 14, 2014:

    “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is slated to roll out its annual “Rich States, Poor States” publication this week. The document, whose lead author is economist Arthur Laffer, is sold to the press as an objective, academic measure of state economic performance, but should instead be viewed more as a lobby scorecard ranking states on the adoption of extreme ALEC policies that have little or nothing to do with economic outcomes. This year, leaked documents revealed that the report is directly funded by the Kochs, on top of longstanding Koch support for ALEC itself.

    “Until recently, little information was available about the funders of Rich States, Poor States, but tucked in a cache of ALEC internal documents obtained by the Guardian in December was a spreadsheet that showed for the first time that Rich States, Poor States is funded by the Kochs’ Claude Lambe Foundation, as well as the Searle Freedom Trust.

    “A spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector confirmed the Koch funding to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
    …”ALEC brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to vote on “model” legislation behind closed doors which are then introduced by ALEC legislators across the country. ALEC is almost entirely funded by industry, including Koch Industries, which has long served on the ALEC board along with Altria/Phllip Morris and Exxon Mobil. ALEC task force meetings where model bills are discussed are closed to the press and the public, as Dana Milbank from the Washington Post reports. Under fire for its role in promoting extreme policies including anti-union bills, voter suppression bills, “Stand Your Ground” laws and more, ALEC has lost 70 corporate sponsors in the last few years, including some of the nation’s largest firms including General Electric, General Motors, Amazon, Wal-Mart and more. ALEC’s funding has dropped by one-third, it has lost some 400 legislators, and is the subject of an IRS complaint for illegal lobbying activity.”

    Did you catch that “closed to the public” idea? ALEC loves to share ideas as long as the ordinary people don’t know what those ideas are. And, Rep. Helm, they don’t bring “policy experts” to the table, they bring “extremely conservative policy experts” to the table; they leave out any expert who might have different ideas.

    Those wonderful stand your ground laws came out of this marvelous, secretive process by which ALEC produces its damage.

    The Rich States, Poor States report has as much value as a raincoat in the desert. The 2013 version portrayed Georgia as having the 8th best economic outlook; Mississippi was 10th. The bottom 3? Illinois, New York and Vermont.

    Take a trip to Georgia and Mississippi, Rep. Helm. Still love Rich States, Poor States?

  5. Mary Alice Bisbee :

    I am also under the impression that Senator Bill Doyle thinks highly of ALEC, which disturbs me greatly. Big business wines and dines our very conservative elected officials and fills them full of very jaded ideas! The money in politics this year after the Supreme Court’s decisions that money does not equal power is a very poor omen for our future.

    • John Ryan :

      Mary, I’d be surprised if Doyle, being a Republican of the old-school-not-crazy variety, was working with ALEC. As I pointed out above in the comments, and in my article at GMD, there are only three ALEC members in the VT leg, Flory, Helm, and Mullin, all Repubs from Rutland.

  6. John Fairbanks :

    ALEC: we just want to offer our perspective, said the Spider to the Fly.

  7. Ron Pulcer :

    Rep. Helm,

    Regarding your opening paragraph: “The Green Mountain State is home to some of America’s most thoughtful and hardworking people. Vermonters deserve good policy that addresses the issues closest to them, and there is no better way to find good policy solutions than by sharing ideas with others. One way to do this is through membership at ALEC.”

    Yes, Vermonters are thoughtful and hardworking folks, I agree. I also agree that Vermont citizens deserve “good policy”. So, to what extent do you rely on ideas generated at ALEC events or ALEC model legislation, in comparison to ideas generated by citizens at public forums or town hall meetings?

    I searched the VT Legislative website and see that you are primary sponsor of two bills, and a sponsor or co-sponsor on several bills, some with partisan sponsors and others with bi-partisan sponsors.

    Rep. Helm as primary sponsor

    Rep. Helm as sponsor or co-sponsor

    Which of these proposed bills, listed from the above web links, contain ALEC-inspired ideas or concepts?

    If ALEC is a valuable resource for state legislators, and in turn, beneficial for represented citizens, please let us know where ALEC ideas have entered the debate or the VT Legislative Bill Tracking System?

    I think some examples of “we got this idea from ALEC, and now we are debating this idea, or passed this bill containing the idea”, would be more helpful for citizens to see your point. I know I am interested in seeing how ALEC generated ideas are actually turned into “good policy”.

    I also noticed that you are now the ALEC State Chairmen for Vermont, a position previously held by Senator Kevin Mullin. This was not mentioned in your op-ed, but I think Vermont citizens should be aware of this news.

    Please let us know which other Vermont Legislators are participating in ALEC? (Since this is beneficial for “good policy”, as you describe.) As voters, it is helpful to know such things about our representatives. In addition, if we know which Vermont Representatives and Senators are members of ALEC, then we can ask them about the ideas and concepts they have gleaned from ALEC events and model legislation.

    The list of ALEC legislators is not available from the website. Is it possible that you could ask the folks at ALEC to post this information for us? Also, Campaign For Vermont has talked about “transparency”. So I think since you brought up ALEC, that transparency about Vermont ALEC membership would be helpful to citizens.

    Given that the 2014 election season will be getting underway, it would be nice for Vermonters to ask their legislators about their ideas for proposed bills for 2015-16. That includes ALEC legislators, since voters should be able to learn more about ideas, whether they originate from ALEC model legislation, or from citizens, through various communication channels (public forum, email, telephone).

    More information and answers to these questions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

    Ron Pulcer
    Rutland Town, VT

    • Lee Russ :

      It’s worth knowing that ALEC’s bylaws specify that the duties of State Chairmen include “working to ensure introduction of model legislation.” [ALEC bylaws section 10.03]

  8. Walter Carpenter :

    “So I think since you brought up ALEC, that transparency about Vermont ALEC”

    Thanks for this, Ron. I like the idea about transparency for alec sponsored legislation since they like to operate in secrecy. Who funds them? Who many laws or sponsored bills have been influenced by ALEC? We want to know. We want transparency:)

  9. John Fairbanks :

    It is likewise worth asking how many representatives with opposing points of view are invited to ALEC’s “forum.” ALEC is a vehicle for wealthy, conservative people to push their agendas (largely, cut taxes and regulation, attack unions, and similar items that have long been the agenda of big business) through the political and policy-making process. Hey, they’re entitled to do that, but let’s not pretend they actually exist to provide a forum for vigorous public debate.

  10. John Fairbanks :
  11. John Fairbanks :



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