Buying Influence: how the American Legislative Exchange Council uses corporate-funded “scholarships” to send lawmakers on trips with corporate lobbyists

DBA Press, Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Common Cause release report detailing national ALEC ‘scholarship fund’ spending

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“Buying Influence: how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) uses corporate-funded ‘scholarships’ to send lawmakers on trips with corporate lobbyists,” authored by CMD Executive Director Lisa Graves, offers a detailed accounting of where these ALEC “scholarship” funds come from, how they benefit their legislative recipients and how the use of such funds benefit ALEC’s private sector/special interest members.

The report offers, for the first time, a comprehensive nationwide overview of ALEC “scholarship” spending, revealing an estimated $4 million in travel, rooming at swank resorts and gourmet dining events, handed out since 2006 to state lawmakers by lobbyists representing many of the nation’s largest corporations/special interests. These corporations/special interest groups comprise the bulk of ALEC’s private sector membership. And, thanks to various legal loopholes, these gifts handed out under the ALEC banner have largely been hidden from public disclosure.

ALEC bills itself as the nation’s largest “bipartisan” legislative membership organization, claiming roughly a third of the nation’s state lawmakers as members. Aside from the organization’s claims of bipartisanship, the vast majority of these legislative members are Republicans.

ALEC is a unique organization in that these legislative members are paired with private sector members (representatives of an unknown number of the nation’s leading corporations and ‘think tanks’) on various “task forces” which develop, or adopt, “model legislation” at a number of conferences held annually at resorts nationwide. These pieces of “model legislation” are then passed on to other ALEC member lawmakers for introduction in their home assemblies.

The ALEC “scholarship fund” finances lawmaker trips to these events. “Scholarship” funds are solicited in each state from corporate donors and lobbyists by both lawmakers and lobbyists (read more on the mechanics of the ALEC “scholarship fund” here and here). As shown by numerous documents uncovered by DBA Press and CMD, legislative leaders are often aware of the sources of the cash that finance these trips, while disclosure of the true sources of these gifts is seldom, if ever, made available to the public.

The report is derived primarily from data obtained by DBA Press through public records requests submitted to the offices of ALEC member lawmakers in Arizona, Florida and Ohio (view these and other ALEC records here). Additional data discussed in the report was unearthed though public records requests submitted by CMD and Common Cause in Ohio and Wisconsin.

While the bulk of this data was derived from the offices of ALEC-member lawmakers in these four states, the scope of the report is not limited to an examination of lobbyist-funded junkets in these states alone; records obtained by DBA Press from the office of Florida ALEC private sector chair, Representative Jimmy Patronis, give a detailed nationwide accounting of ALEC scholarship activity (including donors and recipients) from 2006 through 2008. Discussion of ALEC scholarship fund activity from 2009 to 2012 is based on an aggregation of data collected by DBA Press, CMD and Common Cause through the use public records requests submitted in multiple states.

In addition to discussing the flagrantly undemocratic acquisition of influence sought by ALEC member corporations through the use of these “scholarships,” “Buying Influence” discusses difficulties posed by ALEC member lawmakers who have sought to keep further records relating to ALEC activity out of public sight.

The report also discusses attempts to reform, or to at least impose greater transparency, on the activities of ALEC and its corporate sponsors in Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Read more about the report, CMD and Common Cause, here.

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