News report: ALEC – The Backroom Where Laws Are Born (VIDEO)

I know many of you who read this blog are aware of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on how laws are made across this country, but a recent report by Brendan Keefe of 11Alive News in Atlanta takes a pretty eye-opening look at how ALEC operates.

The Georgia Legislature has a message for voters: don’t ask us about our meetings with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors.

The 11Alive Investigators tracked lawmakers to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, where we observed state legislators and lobbyists mingling in the hotel bar the night before they gathered in private rooms to decide what new laws would best serve the corporations.

The meetings were part of the Spring Task Force Summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Here’s Brendan Keefe’s report for 11Alive News.

While Keefe’s report focused on ALEC’s influence over how laws are made in Georgia, ALEC has a tremendous amount of influence in Wisconsin as well, with Republicans here submitting some ALEC legislation word-for-word.

To see just how insidious ALEC is among Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, check out SourceWatch’s list of Wisconsin Republicans currently or formerly involved with ALEC.

Political Cartoon: Alec Walker Courtesy Of Dan Burr

Here’s an original political cartoon poking a bit of fun at Governor Walker. Thank you Dan E Burr:

Alec Walker

copyright 2014 by Dan E Burr.

Disclaimer: I have been friends with Mr. Burr since 1969 when we worked together in a factory in Waukesha…he in the paint room and I unloaded lumber from boxcars.

Vincent Synowicz: the ALEC candidate

There should be absolutely no doubt by now that the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Wisconsin is strong.

As if to prove that point, last week Republican Assembly candidate Vincent Synowicz issued a press release last week promising to copy and paste a piece of ALEC-written legislation on “day one” of his term in office.

That is why on day one as the next state representative of the 8th Assembly District, I will offer a plan to establish a state-wide system of Education Savings Accounts.

The fact that an 18-year old neophyte Republican candidate is promising to implement ALEC-written legislation on “day one” of his term in office underscores just how insidious ALEC’s influence is in Wisconsin, and it’s yet another reason why those of us on the left need to work hard to get back majorities in both the Assembly and the State Senate.

Discuss ALEC, Its Effect On Wages & The Local Economy

From my email inbox:

Discuss ALEC, It’s Effect On Wages & The Local Economy
Wauwatosa Library
Thursday, September 5, 2013
6:15pm until 8:25pm

Watch Bill Moyers’ Documentary “UNITED STATES OF ALEC” and discuss ALEC’s effects on society, specifically ‘Living Wages” and the economy.
Discussion leaders – Rev Willie Brisco President, MICAH & Dana Schultz, 9to5 Milwaukee Chapter Organizer.

Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause file suit against 5 Republican lawmakers

Earlier today the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Common Cause (CC) filed suit against five Republican lawmakers, alleging those five Republicans failed to provide ALEC-related records sought under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law.

Here’s the press release issued by CMD and CC.

The Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause filed suit today against five Wisconsin legislators who also are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over their failure to provide ALEC-related records sought under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law.

Click to download the complaint and exhibits.

CMD and Common Cause submitted open records requests on September 11, 2012, to all known members of ALEC in the Wisconsin Legislature asking for ALEC-related emails. The request covered correspondence on official legislative email accounts, as well as  “personal” email accounts that some members maintain on services like Gmail or Yahoo. The suit alleges those accounts are subject to the Open Records Law when used for official governmental business, such as correspondence related to the “model” legislation approved by ALEC member corporations and state legislators at ALEC meetings.

According to CMD and Common Cause, evidence strongly suggests that the legislators have shifted their ALEC correspondence to web-based “personal” email accounts to evade open records requests.  For example:

  • The one record released in response to an open records request to Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) includes an email to ALEC from his assistant stating: “Please send ALL ALEC material to the Representative’s PERSONAL e-mail at [redacted] from now on. Please do not send his State account (@legis.wi.gov) any more updates. He will keep up through his personal account.” (capitalization in original) 
  • In an ALEC Education Task Force document obtained through a different open records request, Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) provides his only e-mail contact as his personal “@charter.net” e-mail address, but not his official legislative e-mail address. 

Records custodians for Reps. Thiesfeldt and August asserted to CMD and Common Cause that they provided all records required by law. But they have repeatedly refused to confirm that they searched the members’ personal email accounts, even after being showed the legal basis for why such records are covered by Wisconsin Open Records Law. Representatives Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) Tom Larson (R-Colfax), and Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) were similarly evasive. Their responses are explained in more detail below. 

“These legislators are disregarding Wisconsin’s long tradition of transparent and open government, and violating both the letter and the intent of the state’s Open Records Law,” says CMD Staff Counsel Brendan Fischer, who filed the complaint. “As the Wisconsin Supreme Court has observed, ‘If Wisconsin were not known as the Dairy State it could be known, and rightfully so, as the Sunshine State. All branches of Wisconsin government have, over many years, kept a strong commitment to transparent government.’ Legislators cannot evade Wisconsin’s sunshine laws and traditions simply by re-routing official government e-mails from a legislative account to a Gmail account.”

Common Cause Staff Counsel Nick Surgey added, “Wisconsin’s open records law says that if an email message deals with the public’s business, the public has a right to see it – there’s no distinction between emails stored in state email accounts and those stored in personal accounts. But these members seem to think they’re above the law.” 

“There’s a pattern emerging here,” Surgey added. “With ALEC under increasing scrutiny, members appear to be looking for ways to hide their involvement. Open records requests in some states that last year yielded thousands of pages of ALEC-related records often now produce only dozens — but we know ALEC is as active as ever.”

Information that has been released through past open records requests show corporations making donations to fund flights and hotel rooms for Wisconsin legislators who attend ALEC meetings. CMD contends that this violates state ethics laws and it has filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board. 

CMD has also found that other Wisconsin legislators are exploiting a loophole in the Open Records Law by routinely deleting emails relating to their correspondence with ALEC; that activity is documented here. ALEC has also apparently helped lawmakers evade Wisconsin’s transparency-in-government laws by sending some communications via online links which expire within 72 hours. The links go to Internet drop boxes where legislators can access ALEC documents but generally expire before they can be obtained by reporters and citizens seeking those documents under state open records law.

Aides to legislators named as Defendants in the lawsuit had these responses when asked directly to confirm – with a simple yes or no  — that they searched personal email accounts for records responsive to open records requests:

  • Rep. August’s staffer replied, “Our office has no records.” When asked again to confirm a search of personal email accounts he repeated, “Our office has no records.” When asked a third time, he said, “Please consider this request completed.”
  • Rep Thiesfeldt’s staffer evaded the question by conducting a search of a staffer’s official email account. When asked again to confirm a search of the legislators’ personal emails he stated that Rep. Thiesfeldt “has no records.” When asked again to confirm that he searched personal email accounts, he replied, “I have complied with your request.” 
  • Rep. Knodl’s staffer stated, “The search included all records pertaining to your request,” and, when asked again to directly confirm a search of personal email accounts, stated, “The search included all records pertaining to your request.” He failed to respond to additional requests for confirmation.
  • Rep. Larson’s staffer stated, “We have thoroughly searched our records and have complied with the open records request.” When asked again to directly confirm, yes or no, whether a personal email search was conducted, he again stated, “We have complied with the open records request,” and did not reply to further requests for confirmation.
  • Rep. Strachota’s staffer claimed that the office had no ALEC-related correspondence because, “The representative does this on her own personal time.” Told that official emails sent on personal email accounts are subject to the Open Records Law, she asserted that, “This office has nothing pertaining to ALEC from the dates in which you have requested,” after which point she stopped replying.

Complete correspondence available in the exhibits filed with the complaint.

Today’s lawsuit was filed with the Dane County Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over compliance with the legal requirements of Wisconsin sunshine laws.  

The Center for Media and Democracy launched its award-winning ALEC Exposed project in July 2011 and has continued to investigate the shadowy organization for the past year. In April, Common Cause submitted more than 4,000 pages of ALEC records to the IRS as part of a “whistleblower” complaint charging the group with violating federal tax laws that put limits on lobbying by tax-exempt organizations. The work by CMD and Common Cause on exposing ALEC is being featured on Bill Moyers’ PBS program Moyers & Company, airing on public television stations in Wisconsin and other states. 

The case has been assigned to Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson.

While the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause have filed suit against five specific Republican lawmakers, I’m willing to bet the practice of using “personal” email accounts to avoid open records scrutiny is widespread among Republican elected officials, and quite certainly some of their Democratic counterparts as well.

New group ALICE to counter ALEC’s influence

From my email inbox comes this very cool announcement.

This afternoon, the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE) announced the launch of its groundbreaking new website. ALICE is a one-stop, web-based, public library of progressive law on a wide range of issues in state and local policy.

ALICE Director Joel Rogers explained that “ALICE is an open, public, transparent resource that relies on the knowledge and goodwill of a network of professors, students, activists, researchers and others. The website we are launching today provides a starting place for activists, policymakers and others interested in progressive model law. We hope that others will join us in the important work of building a one-stop shop of progressive best practices.”

ALICE might be understood as a partial antidote to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-backed group that has for nearly 40 years provided model state law and connection to corporate lobbyists to its nearly 2,000 state legislator members.

Like ALEC, ALICE is a values-based nonprofit that offers model legislation over a broad range of state and local issues. But it’s easily distinguished from its counterpart. ALICE aims to promote, not destroy, economic fairness, environmental sustainability, and effective democratic government. Its model laws are public, not secret. They’re written by public interest advocates and volunteers, not paid corporate lobbyists. They cover local, not just state, policy. They include law originating from the executive branch and directly from citizens, as well as from legislative bodies. And ALICE only provides such model law and written supports for its persuasive communication.

As Rogers said, “ALICE is not a corporate-funded juggernaut – nor do we aspire to be one. Unlike ALEC, we don’t plan to subsidize junkets for state legislators. As we get underway, we aim simply to supply a small, if vital, piece of a broader infrastructure: progressive model and exemplary laws that everyone should know about.”

For further information please visit our website at www.alicelaw.org, or contact us at 608.890.4879.

ALICE (American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange), is a project of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), a nonprofit think-and-do tank, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that promotes “high road” solutions to social problems.

Martin Bashir Interviews Koch Industries General Counsel Mark Holden

MSNBC’s Martin Bashir interviews Koch Industries General Counsel Mark Holden about the Koch Brothers and their political activities including ALEC, Scott Walker, etc. Among the questions he’s asked is one about the fake Charles Koch call to Governor Walker and what Scott Walker expected to have to give the Koch brothers. The questions about Walker start at 6:17, well worth listening to.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

ALEC exposed in Wisconsin

Yesterday the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a new report that details the exclusive network of corporate lobbyists and special interest groups that exert influence over the Wisconsin legislature through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“This report reveals details of the extraordinary influence of ALEC and its agenda on the Wisconsin legislature and our laws over the past 16 months,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “This corporate-backed agenda undermines the rights of Wisconsin families while advancing the agenda of huge corporations and special interest groups.”

The report released by the Center for Media and Democracy contains a number of key findings about ALEC’s deep connections to Wisconsin’s legislature:

  • 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin’s 2011-2012 legislative session;
  • 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, two were vetoed;
  • More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;
  • More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period to his state campaign account;
  • At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and
  • At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).

In conjunction with the release of their report, CMD and Common Cause in Wisconsin are asking Wisconsin’s Attorney General to look into ALEC’s lobbying activities.

“It is time for the Attorney General to determine that ALEC is primarily a corporate lobbying group masquerading as a charity,” said Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck. “ALEC’s corporate members fund the organization to access and influence state legislators, and it is unacceptable to get a tax deduction for doing so.”

Why won’t Scott Walker just tell the truth?

Last week video surfaced of Republican Gov. Scott Walker explaining in 2011 to billionaire campaign donor Diane Hendricks how he was going to “divide and conquer” labor unions in Wisconsin in order to turn Wisconsin into a “right to work” state, which would drive down wages for all workers in the state while benefiting businesses.

On Friday, Gov. Walker was asked whether he plans to pursue “right to work” legislation in Wisconsin, and he said he had no intention of pursuing legislation to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, adding that he would do “everything in my power to keep it from making it to my desk.”

Considering far-right extremist agenda Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature pushed through during the last session, does anyone really believe Gov. Walker wouldn’t sign a “right to work” bill into law in Wisconsin if given the opportunity? Considering Walker promised a big campaign donor that he’d turn Wisconsin into a “right to work” state, I’m finding it hard to believe he’s suddenly had a change of heart, especially given the fact that the donor Walker made that statement to has given Walker’s campaign over $500,000. That’s a lot of money, and I’m willing to bet Diane Hendricks, who wants to see Wisconsin turned into a “right to work” state, expects a return on her hefty investment.

Roys campaign attacks Mark Pocan on accepting corporate PAC money

Earlier today Democratic State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, who running to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldin in Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional district, issued a statement calling on all the candidates in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary to reject “the corrupting influence of corporate money” and to refuse contributions from corporate PACs.

Here’s what the Roys campaign had to say in their press release:

“The voters of the 2nd District deserve candidates who will stand up to the tremendous influence of corporate money in politics – and lead by example on refusing to accept corporate PAC money,” said Roys’ campaign manager Rick Coelho. “In this district, no candidate needs corporate PAC dollars to win. Kelda understands that the public’s confidence in the judgment of their representatives has been undermined by corporate influence. She has ‘walked the walk,’ running a truly clean campaign by refusing corporate PAC money from day one.”

As noted by Rep. Roys’ campaign, four out of five candidates in the 2nd District primary have joined her pledge to reject corporate PAC money, with Democratic State Rep. Mark Pocan as the lone holdout. To date, Rep. Pocan’s campaign has accepted at least $17,000 in corporate PAC contributions, and among those contributions from corporate PACs were at least four corporations that are current or former members of the American Legislative Exchange Council: Miller Coors, UPS, Eli Lilly, and General Electric.