Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MCCL's legislative vote scoring explained

Many people recently have had questions about MCCL's legislative vote scoring. With the completion of our most recent (2011) Legislative Accountability Rating (LAR), this seems an opportune time to explain our scoring system, including why we score votes and how we decide which votes to score.

MCCL has been using the LAR since at least 1981. Its purpose is simple—to compile an easy-to-decipher record of how each legislator voted on issues of importance to the pro-life movement in order to hold legislators accountable for their votes. The audience for the LAR is MCCL members, the pro-life individuals who generously give to MCCL because they believe that LIFE is the most important issue.

MCCL has consistently scored various life-related issues including abortion and end-of-life legislation, as well as issues that affect the ability of MCCL to be successful, such as campaign finance changes.

We recognize that in order to successfully pass legislation into law, it is important to follow the entire legislative process. Therefore, in addition to scoring final passage votes, we also score committee votes, amendments and procedural votes. Before each scored vote, MCCL lobbyists make every effort to inform legislators of their intent to score the vote and, of course, to provide an explanation of why the vote is important to pro-lifers. Because we can't always anticipate what will be happening, it isn't always possible to reach every legislator prior to a vote, but we have always prided ourselves on being forthcoming with legislators about these important issues.

Success in the legislative process also demands strategic thinking and strategic action on the part of legislators. For this reason, MCCL has at times scored votes on legislation that does not include pro-life language, but, with sufficient legislative gumption, could be used as a fitting vehicle for pro-life legislation. An example of this occurred in 1998, when MCCL asked legislators to vote against a conference committee report, resulting in the bill being sent back to committee where abortion reporting requirement language was added that became law. This law has since been used to ascertain accurate abortion numbers and the circumstances which lead to abortion—information that was used to show the need for the hugely successful and life-saving Positive Alternatives grant program.

Holding legislators accountable, even in difficult circumstances, can prove to be life-saving for the unborn and vulnerable.

At times, legislators become frustrated at the high standard reflected in the LAR. As a single-issue organization, MCCL has the luxury of looking at legislation through just one lens—a luxury that elected officials do not possess. The standard that MCCL holds is one that our members insist on—it is why they are MCCL members—and that standard is to always prioritize life. Thus, in order for legislators to have a 100% pro-life score on the LAR, they must make life their number-one priority on every vote they cast.

A mark of less than 100% does not mean that a lawmaker is not pro-life, but it does mean that he or she took one or more votes that did make life the first priority.

Our LAR doesn't play "gotcha" politics with legislators or political parties. It is an honest look at who voted with the unborn and other vulnerable human beings as their top priority at every opportunity. The pro-life movement has had many friends who haven't achieved the perfect 100% standard at times—friends who, because of their efforts, have saved the lives of many.

But when they don't achieve 100%, we don't provide excuses and we are deeply disappointed. These individuals remain our friends, but when life isn't the top priority, lives are lost, and the consequences are deadly serious.

We look forward to the opportunity to work with them again to pass life-saving, pro-life legislation and hold out hope that the next time they are asked to make life the #1 priority, they will.