DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy are pleased to announce the release of the “ALEC centralized source materials archive.” This archive contains well over 10,000 pages of documents gathered from the offices of ALEC public sector chairs and other ALEC member lawmakers in several states over the past several years.
All of the materials contained in the archive were obtained through public records requests submitted to the offices of these lawmakers. Such materials include: documents listing ALEC donor corporations, documents listing ALEC member lawmakers, pieces of ALEC ‘model legislation,’ ALEC ‘scholarship fund’ disbursements to lawmakers– and much more…
A quick note here, for those of you new to this particular area of muckraking: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt not-for-profit organization that bills itself as being the nation’s largest “bipartisan” public-private legislative partnership. As such, ALEC consists of more than 2,000 state lawmakers and more than 300 of the nation’s leading corporations, lobby firms and ‘think tanks.’
The primary function of ALEC is to produce and disseminate “model legislation” for introduction in state legislatures. This model legislation is the product of ALEC’s nine task forces, focused on the fields of: 1.) civil justice, 2.) commerce, insurance and economic development, 3.) communications and technology, 4.) education, 5.) energy, environment and agriculture, 6.) health and human services, 7.) international relations, 8.) public safety and elections, and 9.) tax and fiscal policy.
ALEC also serves as an intermediary for model legislation drafted by member think tanks, trade associations and other member entities. These bills may not have passed through a task force and been adopted as an official piece of ALEC model legislation, but they are eagerly and freely distributed to thousands of ALEC member lawmakers each year at ALEC events– like candy.
Over the years, ALEC model legislation has followed two primary bents: those pieces that are ideologically motivated and those that are motivated by profit.
Predictably enough, profit-motivated pieces of model legislation drafted by ALEC member corporations and lobby firms (and/or think tanks funded by corporate interests) have sought four primary ends: a decreased tax burden, deregulation, privatization of public services and tort reform.
The ideologically-driven pieces of ALEC model legislation tend to follow a less cogent pattern. Some of these bills are aimed at limiting reproductive rights for women, while other bills follow a more xenophobic logic– such bills have included model legislation distributed at ALEC events intended to outlaw Sharia law in state court systems, and the ALEC “Voter ID Act,” which critics say is intended to limit the voting rights of minority groups and the poor.
And, occasionally ALEC produces a piece of model legislation that is a hybrid of both the profit and ideological motives. One example of such a product is the “No More Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act,” a piece of model legislation based on a version of Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigrant bill, SB 1070. Given the ALEC involvement of for-profit immigrant detention center operators such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation, as well as the involvement of immigration reform true believer Kris Kobach (Immigration Law Reform Institute counsel and current Kansas Secretary of State) in the drafting of the Arizona language, this bill was something of a perfect storm.
Like any good lobbying organization (though it is important to note here that ALEC vehemently claims it does not engage in lobbying), ALEC keeps some honey in the pot to attract lawmakers. The honey in the ALEC pot is what is known as the ALEC “scholarship fund.” The ALEC scholarship fund reimburses member lawmakers for food, lodging and travel expenses to ALEC events. There are three primary ALEC events each year: the “Spring Task Force Summit,” the “Annual Meeting,” and the “States and Nation Policy Summit.” All of these events– invariably– are held at swank resorts and feature such items as golf tournaments, trap shooting events, numerous gourmet dining events and ‘hospitality suites’– as well as other seasonal or special items like ‘holiday galas’ and ‘cigar receptions.’
Each state has its own scholarship fund. Generally, the funds for each state’s fund are raised by the office of the state public sector chair (generally a ranking lawmaker such as the majority whip) and the private sector chair (a lobbyist representing a major ALEC member corporation or lobby/law firm).
Regardless of whether you are a citizen whose state legislature is mulling over a packet of particularly disturbing legislation, or an activist concerned with immigrants’ or women’s rights, the overarching problem with ALEC is one of transparency. Simply put, as things stand now, there is no requirement in any state that calls for ALEC members to disclose the true sources of funds they receive through ALEC, or any reliable way of determining whether a piece of legislation introduced in a public body originated with an ALEC private sector member.
Similarly, ALEC has consistently refused to make any full list of its legislative members or private sector members/donors public. Furthermore, ALEC does not make its model legislation available to the general public– which of course is ironic, as the general public has to live with the consequences of this legislative product after it is enacted into law.
So, that is ALEC in a 700-word nutshell.
In October of 2010, DBA Press submitted the first of a long and as-yet-unended chain of public records requests to ALEC member lawmakers (most of these requests were submitted to the offices of state public sector chairs). While the strategies behind these requests have shifted somewhat over the years– some requests seeking drafting materials behind specific bills, some requests seeking all records pertaining to ALEC, some requests seeking all records pertaining to the state’s ALEC private sector chairs, some requests a permutation of all of the above– the intent has always been the same: to make public what ALEC and its members work so hard to keep private.
The ALEC public records road has been an interesting one. Records returned from the offices of ALEC public sector chairs in Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have lifted the veil on much of ALEC’s interaction with these lawmakers and their staff. These records have also shown the extremely close-knit relationship cultivated through ALEC between the offices of these lawmakers and scores of lobbyists– who, in turn, represent hundreds of corporate special interests.
Such materials returned to DBA Press per these requests have included detailed records of state scholarship fund activity (records of donations and records of lawmaker disbursements), lists of donors to state-specific ALEC events, pieces of model legislation (and discussions surrounding such legislation), lists of legislative ALEC members– and an unending sea of think tank propaganda.
If read through, page by page, as a whole, these archives show the absolute immersion of ALEC member lawmakers in a world wholly pieced together of slanted think tank reports, exclusive flights in corporate jets and near constant dinner and dancing opportunities with lobbyist friends.
If you are a constituent who feels that your representatives live in a world entirely severed from reality, this archive will bear your sentiment out.
If you are a constituent who feels that your representatives will listen if you raise an issue– if you believe our representative democracy has survived the constant pressure of monied interests intact– you might not want to read through these archives. They may break your heart– the pages upon pages of unanswered angry constituent letters in the Florida and Wisconsin archives that go unanswered or that are answered only with a generic form letter, while nearly every email from an ALEC employee, lobbyist or think tank luminary is quickly and enthusiastically answered by an actual human (be it a staffer, lawmaker, or both). The records contained in these archives might make you mad.
Another truly illuminating aspect of this ALEC public records request road has been found in information not provided.
It is important to note that all of this information– nearly everything we know about what actually is said between lawmakers and lobbyists, as these communications pertain to ALEC– was obtained through public records law. Often a state’s public records law is codified only in a few paragraphs or sentences– one slender, fragile legal citation. Without this single tool, we would be operating almost entirely in the dark, or at the mercy of the fickle, and sometimes dubious, whims of “inside sources” or “whistle blowers.”
That being said, a particularly disturbing fact is that the legislatures of roughly half the states in the nation have passed legislation, legislative rules, or constitutional amendments exempting legislative records (either partially or entirely) from public records laws. And, furthermore, numerous court rulings have established common law exemptions for records (both legislative and executive) which can be classified as being part of the “deliberative process”– simply said: records of communications between lawmakers and lobbyists. Often these deliberative process exemptions not only cover lawmaker-lobbyist records, but also extend to records of communications between lawmakers and other lawmakers, or members of other branches of government. So, after a public records request has been run through some of these more stringent filters, all that is available to a citizen is a carbon copy of a legislative spam box.
For example: materials returned per public records requests to the office of Arizona House Majority Whip and ALEC public sector chair, Debbie Lesko, seeking copies of records as they pertain to ALEC private sector chair and Salt River Project lobbyist, Russell Smoldon, have had untold numbers of pages withheld due to “deliberative process” exemptions. These records, of course, are the ones that would actually show Smoldon advocating for or against pieces of legislation– that might show Smoldon lobbying on behalf of ALEC initiatives. So, as it stands now, we know that such documents exist, but, overshadowing this fact is the fact that we, the public, can’t see them.
Other examples of legislative records exemptions were found in the Indiana General Assembly.
Public records requests submitted to several members of the Indiana House and Senate were denied based on a statutory exemption to Indiana public records law through which lawmakers had written themselves out of public oversight by exempting records relating to “the work product of individual members and the partisan staffs of the General Assembly.”
There were two interesting points to this specific refusal: 1.) it was just plain amazing that legislators would exempt all of their work product from public view, and 2.) both the Indiana House and Senate exempted materials relating to ALEC as legislative “work product.” Last I checked, ALEC is a private entity– not a legislative body.
And yet another legislative public records request refusal came from the office of Kansas Senator and ALEC public sector chair, Ray Merrick.
After several conversations with both Merrick and Kansas Senate majority offices, Merrick told DBA Press that he would not be turning over any records as they pertained to ALEC simply because Senate counsel advised him that he didn’t have to, since all matters ALEC are private business– not state business. Further inquiry, said Merrick, should be directed to ALEC.
For the record, it should be stated here that ALEC– seemingly as a general rule– no longer returns phone calls or emails from DBA Press.
I was once told by a newspaper editor (a man who laughably labeled himself a public interest “watchdog” in a regular editorial column) that if something is of the status quo– no matter how corrupt that status quo might be– that it isn’t newsworthy… that things of the status quo are “not a story.”
I do not agree with this assessment. If the status quo is corrupt– and in this case endemically corrupt– then the status quo itself becomes the story.
It is this reaction to the status quo that encapsulates the drive to do what we do. This is why we have published these thousands of pages of the status quo– so you can see for yourself, so you can judge for yourself– straight from the horse’s mouth– whether or not this is newsworthy.
You are a citizen. You are the rightful employer of these lawmakers. You are the best judge of this situation. And remember this: the status quo exists in a state of inertia. It will continue to move or remain static until some intervening force alters its state. Historically that intervening force has been an educated public– that force is you.
Articles (in chronological order):
– “Brownskins and Greenbacks: ALEC, the for-profit prison industry and Arizona’s SB 1070:” June, 2010. Details involvement of the private prison industry and ALEC in the dissemination of model legislation based on Arizona’a controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, as well as the private prison industry’s influence in Arizona. Such items of influence include the role of both Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s campaign manager and director of communications as private prison industry lobbyists.
– “Legislative Laundry: investigative report on the mechanics of the ALEC scholarship fund:” January, 2011. Details the mechanics of the ALEC “scholarship fund” and the American Friends Service Committee call for an Arizona Attorney General/Secretary of State investigation into the mechanics of the fund in Arizona.
– “Publicopoly: ALEC and the bid to make private all that is public:” July, 2011. Details the role of ALEC in disseminating model legislation aimed at weakening the political power of public employee unions, with the aim to dismantle and privatize the public sector. The article focuses largely on the web of influence that advanced such legislation in Florida– the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the James Madison Institute make notable appearances. Similar issues are discussed as they played out in Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana and Ohio over the course of 2011.
This article contains audio of interviews conducted with ALEC personnel, lawmakers and lobbyists.
– “Inside ALEC: naked contempt for the press and public in Scottsdale:” January, 2012. Details the contrasting worlds of opulence and public unrest as ALEC member lawmakers caroused with lobbyists during the 2012 ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. Constituents were pepper sprayed and arrested. Lawmakers– including Arizona Governor Jan Brewer– thumbed their noses. DBA Press founder, Beau Hodai, is evicted from the resort by Phoenix police officers moonlighting as ALEC security.
– “ALEC Accountability Act set for introduction in Arizona:” January, 2012. Arizona Representative Steve Farley announces the introduction of the “ALEC Accountability Act of 2012″ in the Arizona House of Representin.’ Among its provisions, the bill called for greater transparency in lawmaker reporting of ALEC “scholarship funds,” and greater disclosure of the source of those funds. This article also details the grid of ALEC-member lobby firms at work in Phoenix, the corporations they represent and the political campaigns they orchestrate.
– “Quid pro Status Quo: ALEC and State-Sanctioned Corruption in Ohio:” May, 2012. “Quid pro Status Quo” details the apparent use of Ohio’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislative “scholarship fund” as a vehicle for unreported lobbyist gifts to Ohio lawmakers.
The report consists of two parts. The first part, “Legislative Service With a Smile,” examines an instance where the fund appears to have been used in the facilitation of a “quid pro quo” arrangement between a lobbyist and members of the Ohio General Assembly.
The second part, “Lessons from a Baseball Game,” examines apparent widespread criminal violations of Ohio legislative gifting law related to a Time Warner Cable-sponsored baseball game party held in conjunction with an ALEC conference in April, 2011.
– Tutorial: “How to write and submit an effective public records request” (FORTHCOMING).
– ALEC Exposed: project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Contains information pertaining to ALEC private and public sector members, as well as over 800 pieces of ALEC ‘model legislation.’