WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday strongly defended the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, telling attendees of the group's policy summit that they can't let criticism get them down.
"I first came to ALEC over a decade ago. When I was serving in the Bush administration, I'd been privileged to work with ALEC in the federal government," Cruz said. "I've been privileged to work with ALEC when I was back in Texas with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, leading the 10th Amendment Center, and I'm proud to stand with ALEC today."
The group has faced extra scrutiny since the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Authorities initially refused to arrest neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman -- Martin's admitted killer -- citing Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Zimmerman was eventually found not guilty in the murder.
In October, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) convened a hearing on ALEC's role in pushing Stand Your Ground laws across the country.
"I was just at the Capitol and I was asked to pass along an inquiry from Sen. Durbin: 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of ALEC?'" Cruz joked at the event.
"I'll tell you this," he said. "My advice to ALEC is very, very simple: Stand your ground."
Cruz also bristled at Durbin's ALEC inquiries at the time, saying they amounted to an "inappropriate government intrusion."
Still, all the controversy has taken a toll on ALEC. On Tuesday, the Guardian published internal group documents that showed "the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income."
There was a significant corporate presence at the policy summit this week, despite the defections. AT&T, Chevron, PhRMA and Time Warner Cable were all sponsors of the event and took part in meetings to shape model legislation that were blocked to the press.
One piece of legislation being considered is what ALEC is calling a "soft repeal" of the 17th Amendment, which established the direct election of U.S. senators. Before the amendment was adopted in 1913, state legislatures chose senators.
Although he didn't comment specifically on the ALEC proposal, Cruz had unkind words for the 17th Amendment in his speech on Thursday.
"Prior to the 17th Amendment, the state legislatures' ability and authority to select senators was a powerful check on the federal government coming and intruding on the prerogatives of the state," he said. "Because if you have the ability to hire and fire me, I'm a lot less likely to break into your house and steal your television. So there's no doubt that was a major step toward the explosion of federal power and the undermining of the authority of the states at the local level."
He also said he would back a balanced budget amendment and an amendment that would give state legislatures more power in changing the U.S. Constitution.
Cruz basked in the criticism the Affordable Care Act has received in recent weeks, saying he felt vindicated for pushing for the law's full repeal. That push led to a 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October, which was widely acknowledged by members of both parties to have been a bad idea. Cruz, however, seems to feel just fine about it.
"Boy, it's amazing how things can change in a few weeks in politics," he said. "Just a few weeks ago, people in Washington were saying, why on earth are you guys fighting so hard against Obamacare? Now, nobody's saying that. Over and over again, you run into people who say, now I understand what this was all about."
Corporate Sponsors of the ALEC summit, as listed in the program:
Citizens for Self-Governance
State Policy Network
VICE CHAIR LEVEL
Edison Electric Institute
Canadian National Railway Company
American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy
Time Warner Cable
Right On Crime
Charles Koch Institute