“Lobbyists Evading The Law”: Minnesota Elections Board To Investigate ALEC
Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate whether the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) should be registered as a lobbyist in the state, according to a letter sent to Common Cause-Minnesota. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has also asked Wisconsin’s ethics board to investigate ALEC’s activities, and this month the Wisconsin Attorney General referred a joint complaint about ALEC’s lobbying — by CMD and Common Cause-Wisconsin — to the state ethics board.
Response to Common Cause’s Complaint in Minnesota
Common Cause-Minnesota filed two requests for investigation in recent months presenting evidence that ALEC lobbies state lawmakers to pass “model legislation” voted on by corporations and legislators at ALEC meetings. The Board has responded to the first complaint, which alleged that despite participating in lobbying, ALEC has failed to register as a lobbying organization. The Board says it “will investigate.”
“Corporations can no longer hide behind ALEC as they try to influence state law behind closed doors,” said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause-Minnesota. “This investigation should expose how ALEC has attempted to avoid laws that regulate lobbyists in Minnesota,” Dean said.
ALEC has come under increased scrutiny in recent months for its role in promoting as a national “model” the Stand Your Ground/Shoot First law cited in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, as well as other bills that make it more difficult for American citizens to vote, for workers to organize and bargain, and for regulatory agencies to protect the environment and health.
Common Cause-Minnesota filed a second complaint with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that, because of ALEC’s substantial lobbying, it is in violation of state laws limiting such activities by charities. To date, Common Cause has filed similar requests for investigation in 37 other states.
On May 17, Common Cause-Wisconsin and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a similar letter with Wisconsin’s Attorney General requesting an investigation into whether ALEC’s lobbying activities violate its charitable status, which was referred in part to the state ethics board. The letter was filed as part of a larger report detailing how ALEC facilitates corporate influence in the state, and counting more than 32 bills or budget provisions introduced in the 2011-2012 session reflecting ALEC model legislation. That report, “ALEC Exposed in Wisconsin: The Hijacking of State,” can be viewed here.
GAB Investigation in Wisconsin
Earlier this year, CMD requested that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) determine that ALEC’s so-called “scholarship program” violates state ethics and lobbying laws.
In a complaint filed March 23, CMD described how the program allows global corporations to pay for ALEC member legislators’ travel to resorts for ALEC meetings, which would appear to violate Wisconsin laws prohibiting elected officials from accepting anything of value — even a cup of coffee — from corporations that employ lobbyists in the state. CMD also noted that while at ALEC meetings, legislators are offered invitations to corporate-sponsored receptions and given additional gifts like free tickets to the party box at a major league baseball game. CMD named all known Wisconsin ALEC members in the request because complete records about which lawmakers accepted these gifts in recent years are not publicly available.
ALEC subsequently disclosed that in 2010, it had asked the GAB to sanction these corporate-funded gifts, but offered a description of the so-called “scholarship” program contradicted by ALEC’s own bylaws, by ALEC’s filings with the IRS, and by other documents. CMD documented these contradictory claims in another letter filed in April.
Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), who is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and IT Task Force, sought to distance himself from the program, declaring that he had never received an ALEC “scholarship” and asking that he be dropped from the complaint. CMD applauded Senator Wanggaard’s acknowledgement through his actions that receiving corporate-funded flights and hotel rooms could compromise a legislator’s official judgment.
The Wisconsin GAB has acknowledged receipt of CMD’s complaint but is prohibited by law from commenting on the status of an investigation.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, May 30, 2012