By The PRW Staff on May 22, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 22, 2012

CONTACT: Brendan Fischer, brendan@prwatch.org

Lawful Open Records Requests for Their ALEC-Related Records Have Been Disregarded for Months

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is calling on Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder to follow Wisconsin's open records law and release emails relating to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Fitzgerald is a long-time ALEC member and Suder is the ALEC Public Sector Co-Chair for Wisconsin, and both legislators are known to have received ALEC-related records in their office and email systems. Yet neither legislator has made these records available to the public, as is required by law.

In December, CMD filed open records requests with Speaker Fitzgerald, Majority Leader Suder, and other known ALEC legislative members. Based on records released by other legislators, Fitzgerald and Suder were included as recipients in emails sent from ALEC to member politicians, but the two refused to release those records in response to CMD's lawful requests.

Majority Leader Suder, the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin, insisted that he did not have a single record on any email system used for official business that mentions "ALEC" or the "American Legislative Exchange Council," despite having been an ALEC member for at least a decade, attending several ALEC meetings, co-chairing ALEC's controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force and subcommittees, and receiving thousands of dollars of corporate-funded ALEC "scholarships." ALEC recently disbanded the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in response to public outcry over its role in ratifying the "Stand Your Ground" law at issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting and its support for Voter ID legislation that makes it harder for American citizens to vote. Legislation similar to these ALEC "model" bills were signed into law last year by Governor Scott Walker. (The state's new voter restrictions have been blocked by two courts.)

Speaker Fitzgerald has been an ALEC member for many years, has received over $21,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC member corporations, and has received at least $1500 in corporate-funded ALEC "scholarships," but he has refused to even acknowledge CMD's request for ALEC-related records in his office.

On Thursday, CMD released its investigative report, "ALEC Exposed in Wisconsin: The Hijacking of a State," which identified 32 bills or budget provisions introduced in the 2011-2012 session that reflect ALEC model legislation, and finding that out of Wisconsin's 132 legislators, 49 are ALEC members. However, public knowledge of the full extent of ALEC's influence in Wisconsin is being thwarted by some of the state's highest ranking legislators refusing to comply with Wisconsin's transparency and disclosure laws.

CMD has also joined Common Cause in calling for the state Attorney General to investigate lobbying by ALEC. Additionally, CMD has asked the Government Accountability Board to rule that legislators receiving corporate-funded ALEC "scholarships" violates Wisconsin's strong ethics laws that bar lawmakers from accepting even a cup of coffee from a lobbyist or a corporation that employs lobbyists in the state.

ALEC has come under increased national scrutiny in recent months -- with articles in the country's leading newspapers exposing ALEC's influence -- resulting in dozens of corporate and legislative members of ALEC cutting ties with the organization. Fifteen private sector members of ALEC, including major brand names like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, and Procter & Gamble, and 54 state legislators across the nation (both Republicans and Democrats), have announced that they no longer want to be part of ALEC.

"We call upon the speaker and the majority leader of the Wisconsin Assembly to fully disclose their communications with ALEC, an out-of-state group that puts state legislators and corporate lobbyists behind closed doors to secretly vote as equals on templates to change our laws," said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, adding, "The people of Wisconsin have a right to know what Speaker Fitzgerald and Majority Leader Suder are hiding by failing to provide the public with access to communications to and from ALEC, especially given the significant role ALEC's legislative agenda has played in controversial changes to Wisconsin laws in the legislative session led by these men."

CMD's full report can be found at ALECexposed.org. The letter to the Attorney General can be found here (PDF).