The Center for Media and Democracy (creators of ALEC Exposed) and Common Cause announced today that they’ve filed suit 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.” ALEC has attracted a great deal of attention nationally, especially in Wisconsin, because of their work with Scott Walker in bringing model corporate-conservative legislation to the state.
The lawsuit follows several September 11, 2012 open records requests to all known members of ALEC in the Wisconsin Legislature, asking for ALEC-related emails. As noted here at D&T, Wisconsin legislators were deleting ALEC-related emails from their inboxes.
These legislators have also allegedly been shifting ALEC emails to personal email accounts, which aren’t technically official government email addresses. Even so, CMD and Common Cause argue, according to the press release, that “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.”
The lawsuit cites several pieces of evidence suggesting personal email address are being used to cloak the corporate-legislative relationship.
One piece of evidence involves an email released via the open records request, involving Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt’s (R-Fond du Lac) assistant’s email to ALEC, 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.”
CMD and Common Cause also obtained an ALEC Education Task Force document in which Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) provides a personal “@charter.net” e-mail address, but not his official legislative e-mail address. That’s totally not evasive, right?
According to the CMD press release:
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.”
Well, this is the government the Republicans want, is it not? A govermment bought and paid for by corporate interests. One in which politicians and corporate executives can move back and forth between the private and public sector, making money, then making sure that other motherfuckers make money, too. It’s all rather like the mafia’s involvement in government.
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.”
CMD has also filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board over documents obtained that show corporations donating funds for legislators’ flights and hotel accommodations when attending ALEC summits.
As if all of this weren’t shady enough, CMD has also discovered evidence that ALEC has been helping lawmakers evade Wisconsin’s transparency-in-government laws “by sending some communications via online links which expire within 72 hours.” This is the equivalent of receiving a letter and burning it after reading. Once these 72-hour internet drop boxes expire with the ALEC information inside, they cannot be obtained by state open records law.
If corporate executives and legislators think it’s best for states and the country to become a super-private entity composed of hundreds of corporations functioning as tentacles, then perhaps they should do this out in the open for all to see. That is, if the argument is superior to the idea of social democracy, then the argument should be able to win on its own merits, out in the open, without the elites operating from the shadows.
Instead, ALEC and its bought legislators know their special interest argument isn’t superior, observing the one fundamental rule of civilization: to get anything done in this world, you’ve got to pay somebody.