Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ALEC is also (unfortunately) in the Buckeye State!

From John Curry, October 16, 2012
Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Posted by Paul Adair on Oct. 15, 2012
The American Legislative Exchange Council has been in the news quite a bit lately. ALEC is an organization which brings together corporations and state legislators from around the country. The group writes template legislation favoring its corporate members. The legislators then push versions of these bills, often word for word, through their state legislatures, turning them into laws. Although ALEC is for all intents and purposes a lobbying organization, it calls itself a 501(c)(3) “educational” organization, allowing corporate contributions to be tax deductible. As such, it is theoretically prohibited from engaging in political activities.
Typical ALEC- authored bills advocate prison privatization, school profitization, and telecom deregulation. In addition to business-advocacy laws, many ALEC-written bills have recently been pushed through statehouses which have nothing to do with the interests of member corporations. These include voter suppression laws and the so-called “stand your ground “ law in Florida that resulted in the murder of 17 year-old Trevon Martin. Wanting nothing to do with the radical ALEC social agenda, 41 companies have left the organization, including such household names as Coca-Cola, GM, McDonald's, MillerCoors, Wal-Mart, Merck, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, and Kraft Foods.
Wisconsin's strong ALEC connection goes back a long way. As a state legislator and governor, Tommy Thompson was an early ALEC supporter. At a 2002 ALEC conference, he stated, “ Myself, I always loved going to these meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I'd take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them up a bit, and declare that 'It's mine.' ”
According to Center for Media and Democracy's Sourcewatch, at least 13 current Wisconsin State Senators and 36 State Assembly officials have ALEC ties. Most of the Republican leadership of the Assembly and State Senate are members. So are our own elected officials, Senator Alberta Darling and Rep. Dan Knodl.
ALEC and its Wisconsin legislator members have been very active in our state for years. However, at the start of 2011, when the Republicans were temporarily in control of both houses and the governorship, ALEC had the keys to our state. The Wisconsin 2011-12 legislative session saw at least 32 bills and budget items that were based on ALEC model bills. Scott Walker is one of ALEC's best investments. As governor, he pushed at least six ALEC bills into consideration and signed many more.
Each year, ALEC holds several meetings in posh luxury hotels. Their next outing will be held November 28-30 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Of course, many state legislators cannot afford travel and lodging expenses for such extravagant lobbying education events. To accommodate these poor lawmakers, ALEC has set-up a “scholarship fund” to pick-up their travel and entertainment tab.
According to documents obtained by DB Press/CMD through the Wisconsin open records law, the Wisconsin ALEC “scholarship fund” in 2008 alone totaled $48,000 in corporate contributions and paid-out over $39,000 to Wisconsin legislators. The money goes from corporations directly into the “scholarship” account, where it is disbursed by the state ALEC Chairs. In addition to these expense payouts, there is always plenty of free food, liquor, and other freebies at the events.
Our state prides itself in clean government. Wisconsin law prohibiting gifts from lobbyists are some of the strongest in the country. According to WI Statute 19.45 (3): No person may offer or give to a state public official, directly or indirectly, ...anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence the state public official's vote... Similarly, Statute 13.625 states: No lobbyist may: (b) Furnish to any ... elective state official ... 1. Lodging. 2. Transportation. 3. Food, meals, beverages, money or any other thing of pecuniary value ....
According to state law, "Lobbying" is defined as “the practice of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action by oral or written communication with any elective state official....” Based on what ALEC is doing, they certainly sound like a lobbying organization. However, the ALEC lobbying educational organization and its Wisconsin members do not seem to believe that they are subject to these laws.
In March 2012, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board, saying that the ALEC “scholarship fund” indeed violates state lobbying laws. They also state that the free meals, drinks, and other benefits (such as free sporting event tickets) given at ALEC retreats violate state law. The GAB has yet to rule on this complaint.
Many of our state legislators are violating the Wisconsin spirit, if not the rules, of governmental transparency and ethics by their involvement with ALEC. They should avoid any question of impropriety in their dealings with lobbyists. The wholesale purchase of our elected officials by corporations and special interest groups needs to come to an end.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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