This week the Center for Media & Democracy issued a press release noting that five Wisconsin state legislators “have agreed to turn over any correspondence and documents with or related to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and held on their personal email accounts; the action settles a lawsuit brought by the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause.”
As I noted several months ago, the Wisconsin legislators had used personal email accounts to avoid having to disclose communications in their public email accounts—communications requested by CMD and Common Cause on September 11. Two months ago CMD’s PR Watch reported that Wisconsin legislators were deleting ALEC-related emails. In response, CMD and Common Cause launched an open records lawsuit against ALEC’s Wisconsin legislators in early October for “their failure to provide ALEC-related records sought under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law.”
For the uninitiated, ALEC is the bane of the common man’s existence. ALEC functions as corporate America’s mainline to legislation. At summits they write “model bills” alongside GOP state legislators and governors. ALEC claims “no lobbying takes place” at their summits; but, as the saying goes, if it smells like a rat…
According to a report issued several days ago by CMD, “corporate backers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have funneled more than an estimated $4 million in gifts to state legislators for travel, hotel rooms, and meals at posh resorts since 2006, according to estimates based on internal ALEC records.”
The corporate lobby front group is also facing an Internal Revenue Service review of claims that it violated federal law by posing as a charity.
The report titled “Buying Influence” was undertaken by CMD, Common Cause, and DBA Press. It reads:
[H]undreds of “scholarships” provided to lawmakers by ALEC were actually expense-paid junkets to resorts where ALEC hosted meetings to advance its pro-corporate legislative agenda. The report reflects ALEC’s complete record of travel-related payments to lawmakers from 2006 through 2008, when the group was spending about $600,000 annually on the trips, and partial data for the years since then, a period when ALEC has increased its membership by several hundred legislators.
“ALEC has created a scheme to funnel money from corporations to pay for legislators’ trips, amounting to a million dollar-plus slush fund that leaves constituents in the dark about who is really footing the bills for their representatives,” the report said.
ALEC spends an average of just over $600,000 per year on the scholarship program, underwriting trips for hundreds of state legislators a year across the country; some of the lawmakers received multiple checks in the years covered by the report. In eight states –- California, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming -– the three-year total of “scholarship” awards topped $100,000…
The pharmaceutical industry, through its trade association PhRMA, is the largest known corporate supporter of the scholarship program; PhRMA contributed $356,075 in 2010 alone, the report said.
The GOP legislators who attend these ALEC summits fail to report to their constituents that they receive these gifts. And since ALEC is registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt group, ALEC’s corporate members can pay for the ALEC junkets and then claim the expense as a tax deduction, “effectively shifting the cost to taxpayers,” as the report notes.
“We now know which corporations funded trips to posh resorts for hundreds of lawmakers to vote behind closed doors with lobbyists on proposals to change state laws,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD and ALECexposed.org. “It’s disgraceful for ALEC to act as a conduit for gifts to facilitate influence peddling that advances the lobbying agenda of special interests to the detriment of ordinary Americans.”
“The audacity of ALEC and its corporate sponsors continues to amaze,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “They have the right to lobby for laws they believe will make their businesses more profitable, but when that lobbying includes expense-paid weekends at posh resorts, concealed from but subsidized by the taxpayers through a cynical manipulation of the tax code, they go too far.”
Common Cause and CMD are now urging that “the existing state gift limits or bans should be applied to ALEC travel scholarships or modified to ensure that they do,” and are calling for ALEC slush fund expenditures to be publicly disclosed.
CMD and Common Cause seem to have ALEC on the defensive with their reports and open records lawsuits. But if there is one thing we know about the corporate influence in politics, it’s that the shape-shifting to cloak corporate-political relationships never ends.
Kudos to CMD and Common Cause for fighting the good fight for us all.