(Editor's note: The Center is deeply grateful for all the research into ALEC politicians underway, especially by Daily KOS bloggers, and we are offering the tips today in light of the many questions people have asked about how to help with this research.) The Center for Media and Democracy recently unveiled a trove of "model" bills voted on behind closed doors by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Many of these bills and provisions have been introduced in state houses across the country without any mention of the ALEC connection and have become legally binding. In addition to the analysis of the more than 800 pieces legislation on "ALECexposed," CMD released a list of lawmakers from across the U.S. who serve as ALEC "Chairmen" in each state.
According to ALEC's 2007 bylaws, chairmen have a "duty" to work to ensure the introduction of model legislation in their state. They also have a duty to raise so-called scholarship funds with the "Private Enterprise State Chairman" to send state legislators to ALEC meetings. ALEC keeps its full list of legislative members and Private Enterprise State Chairmen hidden from the public, obscuring key information about this marriage between right-wing lawmakers and corporate lobbyists in advancing ALEC's agenda. The Center for Media and Democracy has been helping tell the story of some of these connections and lift the veil on their origins and their operations, but some of the truths about ALEC can only be uncovered with your help.
How Can You Find Out Which Legislators in Your State are ALEC Members?
Together we need to figure out who all the ALEC legislators are. First, check our page on ALEC politicians to see which lawmakers have already been linked to ALEC.
If they're not listed there, look through your legislators' homepages on your state legislature's website. Here's an example of a legislator who has openly disclosed his ALEC membership -- many legislators list their ALEC membership under the "Community Involvement," "Personal Information," or "Professional Affiliations" sections of their online homepage.
Legislators sometimes divulge their ALEC ties in their biographies printed in state legislative manuals, known as also Blue Books. These are generally published every two years, and can frequently be found in your local library or historical society. Occasionally a legislator's biography will contain information about their ALEC membership.
Sometimes a simple call or e-mail may be the best way to find out if your state legislator is an ALEC member. The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) maintains a website with information culled from the websites of all fifty state legislatures, including the contact details of state legislators. Your state legislature's home page will also provide the necessary information for getting in touch with your representative. If you live close enough to your state's capitol, you may be able to walk into your representative's office and ask him or her yourself. If none of these options work, you might consider an open records request to your legislator.
Submit a precise description of the records you are seeking to the appropriate office or agency. For example, ask for copies of official e-mails during a specific time period with the keywords "American Legislative Exchange Council" or ALEC. You can prepare your request using this fill-in-the blanks state open records request letter, provided by the Student Press Law Center, although the state may require you to pay a small filing fee. Be sure to note the deadline for returning your requested records and follow up by phone.
Do You Know Who ALEC's Corporate Partners are in Your State
After you identify whether your state representative or senator, or the leader of a key legislative committee affecting your rights, is a cog in ALEC's corporate bill factory, try and uncover which corporations are helping to pull the strings in your state. Other than listing the members of its corporate board and corporate co-chairs of ALEC task forces, ALEC keeps information about the corporations funding ALEC "scholarships" and other activities well-protected -- it does not appear to want the general public to know the identities of its state-based corporate money bags. Dig through legislation introduced or voted on by your ALEC State Chairman to try and pick out their corporate loyalties. Maybe your ALEC State Chairman promotes legislation to aid AT&T, Wal-Mart, State Farm or other members of of ALEC's Corporate Board.
Call, e-mail, and write the ALEC State Chairman in your state to ask who their Corporate Co-Chair is. If that doesn't work, check their campaign finance records, see if they are having big fundraisers before ALEC meetings or pursue another open records request for words associated with ALEC and with the companies you have identified as likely funders.
Are ALEC Members in Your State Using Taxpayer Money to Attend Meetings?
ALEC's Annual Meetings are lavish affairs. Many of the legislators who attend these conferences are brazen enough to use taxpayer money to pay for their airfare and posh lodgings. If you want to find out if ALEC members in your state are using public funds to attend meetings, you can file an open records request using your state's open records law. Ask the government official or entity in charge of approving travel in your state, as they will have the records of the documents. (In Wisconsin, for example, the Committee on Senate Organization is responsible for approving legislator travel expenses. The Chief Clerk's office also maintains records of individual Senator's per diem and travel voucher reimbursements). For example, you could ask for copies of the last 12 months' worth of travel expenditures for all senators or representatives, including any reimbursements and backup documentation. Again, you can prepare your request using this fill-in-the blanks state open records request letter, provided by the Student Press Law Center.
You can report back your findings on the web or through the Center for Media and Democracy's ALEC Exposed Community Portal. You can also post discoveries on our Facebook Page, or tweet information to @ALECexposed. And don't forget to include documentation so other journalists and researchers can help tell the story of ALEC, so send along those open records responses as well.