Today, 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 influence 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.”
Six weeks ago, corporate members of ALEC started jumping ship when it became known that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” — linked to the Trayvon Martin shooting — spread to over two dozen states via ALEC. So far, 14 corporate members and 45 legislators from other states have quit the organization.
“We document how global corporations are buying influence with Wisconsin legislators through potentially illegal gifts called ALEC ‘scholarships,’” said CMD Law Fellow Brendan Fischer, the report’s author. “ALEC’s corporate members are not only giving Wisconsin legislators thousands of dollars of campaign contributions, they are also buying flights and hotel rooms. These gifts undermine Wisconsin’s reputation for clean government and the strict ethics rules designed to protect the voices of Wisconsin residents in our state’s democracy.”
CMD asked the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in March to determine whether ALEC member legislators receiving gifts of flights and hotel rooms from ALEC’s corporate members violates state ethics and lobbying laws. Now, 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.”
Here are some of the key findings from the new report:
- 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, and 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 for 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).
ALEC describes itself as the largest “independent member association of state legislators” in the country, but over 98 percent of its nearly $7 million in annual revenue comes from corporations and sources other than legislative dues, which are $50 a year. Representatives from America’s largest corporations, including Koch Industries, Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Reynolds, and Altria/Phillip Morris fund ALEC and sit on its private sector governing board.
By: Sara Jerving, PR Watch, Center For Media and Democracy, May 17, 2012
After Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican in his first months in office, announced early this year that he wanted to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers, relations between political parties in his newly red State Capitol fell into a long, deep frost.
But after six months of bruising partisan fights, Mr. Walker seemed to issue an utterly different message this month. He said he wanted to meet with Democrats and to find shared agenda items — an invitation that has been met with polite acceptance and deep skepticism.
“My thought is, you start out with small things, you build trust, you move forward, you keep working on things and you try and pick as many things that are things that people can clearly work together on,” Mr. Walker, who may face a recall election next year, said in an interview.
In the months after a flurry of Republican wins of governors’ offices and state legislatures in 2010, perhaps nowhere was the partisan rancor more pronounced than in the nation’s middle — places like Wisconsin and Ohio, where fights over labor unions exploded. But now, at least in those states, there are signs that the same Republicans see a need to show, at least publicly, a desire to play well with others.
In both states, critics dismiss the moves as desperate attempts to shore up sinking popularity ratings or disingenuous, tardy strategies to appear agreeable after already ramming through their agendas.
“It’s all P.R. — none of it is substantive,” Mark Miller, the Democrats’ minority leader in the Wisconsin State Senate, said earlier this month, before Mr. Walker held what some described as a “cordial” meeting with the Democratic leaders last week.
Whatever the true substance of the offers, the recent tones in Ohio and Wisconsin do appear to show one thing: With threats of recalls and bill repeals, with public dismay in recent months over the partisan stalemate in Washington on the debt ceiling, and with battleground-state presidential politics looming in 2012, governing with majorities has turned out in some states to be more complicated than it may have first appeared.
Across the nation, partisan relations in statehouses where Republicans made significant gains last fall have varied widely, and in many cases there are no signs of softening messages — or even the need for such a thing. But leaders in other states, including some that are expected to consider limits to unions in the months ahead, are closely watching what unfolds now in Ohio and Wisconsin, the states that became the unexpected battle zones for an earlier season of discontent.
In Columbus, Democrats and union leaders were enraged this year when Gov. John R. Kasich, another first-term Republican governor, and the Republicans who now control both chambers of the legislature pushed through — mostly along partisan lines— a law that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.
Republicans in Ohio advocated for the measure as the logical response to shrunken budgets in towns, cities and counties. But union leaders and Democrats — and a group calling itself We Are Ohio — spent months collecting more than 900,000 valid signatures (hundreds of thousands more than needed) to put the law to a vote in a statewide referendum in November. A campaign, which is expected to draw significant interest and spending from political groups in Ohio and nationwide, is likely to begin in earnest soon.
Last week, Mr. Kasich and Republican leaders sent a letter to the union organizers, calling for a meeting to discuss a compromise. The leaders said they still believed in the law they had passed, and a spokesman for Mr. Kasich would not say precisely what areas the Republicans were willing to give in on. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together,” the letter read.
“We ought to get to the table and we ought to talk about it,” Mr. Kasich told reporters on Friday, meeting with them in a room full of empty seats and placards for the absent organizers, although the organizers said they had turned down the invitation. “Is it too late?” Mr. Kasich asked. “It’s never too late.”
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said the new invitation did not mark any shift in Mr. Kasich’s approach; the governor had sought to talk to labor groups during the legislative fight, Mr. Nichols said, and some representatives had engaged in private discussions over the issue again in June before the unions ended those talks, he said. “He, more than most, has a long history of working across party lines,” Mr. Nichols said.
But critics balked at the notion that any real talks had been offered before or that any true, concrete compromises — not just photo opportunities for a public fatigued by partisan rancor — were being offered now.
“If they’re honestly coming forward for a compromise, repeal the bill and then we’ll talk,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, explaining why representatives for the group had declined to meet with Mr. Kasich on Friday. “If they wanted to get along, they probably should have tried to during the legislative process instead of locking people out.”
In Wisconsin, partisan relations — and that state’s fight over limits to collective bargaining — have proved still uglier.
In the weeks after Mr. Walker proposed the limits in February, state lawmakers, newly dominated by Republicans in the Capitol, split in two. The minority Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block a vote on the measure. The Republicans issued the lawmaking equivalent of warrants against them, and at one point, threatened that the Democrats had to collect their paychecks in person — or not get them at all. And, as protesters screamed outside his closed office door, Mr. Walker firmly defended the bargaining cuts and said his administration was “certainly looking at all legal options” against the other party.
But after a summer of expensive, brutal recall election efforts against nine state senators — Democrats for having fled the state, and Republicans for having supported the bargaining cuts — Mr. Walker seemed to be sounding a different, softer note. He said he had called Democratic leaders in the Legislature even before the polls closed in some of this month’s recalls, which, in the end, maintained the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, though by a slimmer margin of 17 to 16 in the Senate.
Democrats in the state had harsh theories about what was behind Mr. Walker’s sudden wish to get along. Some said he had already accomplished a stunningly partisan agenda, including the bargaining cuts, an austere budget, a voter identification law, a concealed-firearms provision and a redistricting map that favored Republicans, and was now hoping to appear to be reaching out. Others said he feared a different recall election effort — against him — next year, as well as creating a drag in the state on any Republican presidential ticket.
“This is totally phony — a totally unbelievable act of desperation,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “It will fade away and return soon enough to the scorched-earth method that has marked his career.”
Reflecting on the start of his term, Mr. Walker said that he wished he had spent more time “building a case” with the public for why collective bargaining cuts could shore up budgets, but that he remained a firm supporter of the cuts themselves — a fact that seems certain to complicate any effort for bipartisanship now.
“I’m not thinking that just because we snap our fingers that suddenly everybody’s going to run out and work together and it’s all going to work perfectly,” the governor said.
By: Monica Davey, The New York Times, August 21, 2011
The last two Wisconsin recalls ended in victory for two incumbent Democrats, leaving the Republicans with a 17-to-16 majority in the State Senate.
The Democrats prevailed handily last night — State Sen. Bob Wirch won in southeastern Wisconsin with 58 percent of the vote and Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin won in the northern part of the state with 55 percent.
The bottom line: Two Republicans were recalled from the Senate, while not one Democrat lost a recall race. Republican had hoped there would be a backlash against Democratic senators who left the state to prevent a quorum during the battles earlier this year over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to strip away the collective-bargaining rights of public employee unions. That backlash did not materialize.
What’s clear is that the fight has moved public opinion the Democrats’ way, but not as fast or as dramatically as the Democrats had hoped. Wisconsin’s premier progressive political writer, John Nichols, noted that Walker’s opponents “have prevailed in the majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.”
Nichols acknowledged that the Democrats’ majority in these races was narrow — roughly 243,000 votes to 239,000 — but he added that “Walker won these districts in 2010, and . . . Republican Senate candidates easily won six of them in 2008.”
So will there be a recall campaign against Walker? My hunch is yes, but Walker seems to be trying to blunt this prospect by sounding uncharacteristically moderate. And at least one moderate Republican in the State Senate could give Democrats the ability to block any further legislation that veers too far right. This could lower the political temperature and that, paradoxically, could help Walker slip by a recall.
But anybody who thinks that the country is still in the same mood as it was in November 2010 should consult these results. In Wisconsin, there was a backlash against a right-wing that overreached. National polls suggest the same thing is happening to conservatives in the House of Representatives. Wisconsin is not a right-wing state, and this is not a right-wing country. That’s the message of recall summer.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011
State Rep. Robin Vos said he wants to “recall the recalls.”
The Rochester Republican and chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said Wednesday he is drafting an amendment to the state constitution to require those pushing to recall state officials to state their reasons for doing so.
“No longer should taxpayer dollars be wasted on unnecessary recall elections that were triggered by a vote that some special interest group didn’t like.” Vos said in a statement. “It undermines our democracy and wastes precious taxpayer dollars that are needed elsewhere.”
His comments came a day after Democrats won two seats in the state Senate, one shy of what they would have needed to take control of the chamber. Four other Republicans held onto their seats in a set of recall elections for state lawmakers unparalleled in the country’s history.
Vos said his proposed constitutional amendment would require those trying to recall a state official to state a reason they are doing so when they file paperwork with the state. Such a statement is already required for recalling local officials.
Vos said he wants the proposal to be the first piece of legislation passed this fall. If passed, it would need to be approved again by the Legislature in 2013 or 2014 and then by voters in a referendum.
By: Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 10, 2011
The history of the American labor movement is crowded with losing battles and crushing disappointments. The men and women who have fought for workers’ rights, often against tremendously long odds, have all too often suffered defeat and humiliation, only finding consolation in the idea that their efforts perhaps succeed in awakening a bit of public sympathy for their plight, inching their larger cause forward in unseen ways.
Yesterday unions and Democrats fell just short of victory in Wisconsin, winning two of six races to recall GOP state senators, in a battle that had unexpectedly emerged as ground zero in a national class war, partly over the fate of organized labor. There’s no way to sugar-coat it: Unions and Dems failed in their objective as they defined it, which was to take back the state senate, put the brakes on Scott Walker’s agenda, and let the nation know that elected officials daring to roll back public employee bargaining rights would face dire electoral consequences.
But nonetheless, what they failed to accomplish does not diminish what they did successfully accomplish. The fact that all these recall elections happened at all was itself a genuine achievement. The sudden explosion of demonstrations in opposition to Walker’s proposals, followed by activists pulling off the collection of many thousands of recall signatures in record time, represented an undiluted organizing triumph. At a time of nonstop media doting over the Tea Party, it was a reminder that spontaneous grassroots eruptions of sympathy and support for a targeted constituency are still possible and can still be channeled effectively into a genuine populist movement on the left. At a time when organized labor is struggling badly and GOP governors earn national media adulation by talking “tough” about cracking down on greedy public employees, what happened in Wisconsin, as John Nichols put it, amounted to “one of the largest pro-labor demonstrations in American history,” one that carried echoes of the “era of Populist and Progressive reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
What’s more, no matter how many times conservatives falsely assert that labor and Dems subverted the popular will by fighting Walker’s proposals, in reality precisely the opposite happened.
By staging a fight that drew national attention, labor and Wisconisn Dems revealed an unexpected level of national sympathy for public employees, and, yes, for unions and their basic right to exist. This alone was an important achievement, flummoxing pundits who had confidently predicted that public employeees would make easy public scapegoats for the national conservative movement in dire economic times.
Even if Dems fell short of their objective in Wisconsin, what happened was, in fact, a referendum on Walkerism — one that conservatives lost in the mind of the broader public. Nate Silver Tweeted last night: “Dems would be silly to not proceed with the Walker recall based on tonight. The results project to a toss-up if you extrapolate out statewide.” I don’t think Dems will go through with it, but Silver’s larger point is intact: Walkerism triggered a strong public backlash that can’t be dismissed and will remain a factor. As Markos Moulitsas noted, the Wisconsin battle enabled Dems to hone a class-based message about GOP overreach that is showing some success in winning back white working class voters, with potential ramifications for 2012. The national outpouring of financial support for the Dem recall candidates showed that there’s a national liberal/Dem constituency that can be activated by Dems who don’t flinch from taking the fight to opponents with unabashedly bare-knuckled populism.
Will the national support for public employees in polls slow the drive of conservatives and GOP governors to roll back bargaining rights nationally? Probably not. Conservatives will point to yesterday’s events, with some justification, as proof that governors might not suffer direct electoral consequences in response to radical union-busting policies. But what Wisconsin showed us is that the broader public simply isn’t on their side. Let’s hope national Dems take heart.
The events in Wisconsin were a blow to organized labor. But the simple fact is that labor and Dems came within a hair of realizing an objective that was dismissed at the outset of this fight as a delusional lefty pipe dream. Wisconsin won’t chasten the left; Wisconsin will embolden it. And those who poured untold amounts of time and energy into the Wisconsin effort shouldn’t regret their efforts for a second.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line-The Washington Post, August 10, 2011