By Brendan Fischer on May 01, 2013

What's on the agenda for this week's meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Oklahoma City?

Hard to say.

Despite ALEC trying to spin itself as a "transparent" organization, ALEC records have miraculously been disappearing from legislative offices and the organization is engaged in a dropbox dodge to avoid disclosure. But while ALEC legislators are meeting behind closed doors with corporate lobbyists, citizens will be rallying in the streets raising awareness about how ALEC's agenda favors large corporations at the expense of average Americans.

In the past, the Center for Media and Democracy had obtained advance agendas for ALEC meetings through open records requests to legislators in multiple states. But in recent months ALEC records have miraculously been disappearing from legislative offices.

WI Sen. Vukmir, an ALEC Board Member, has Zero ALEC Records

Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, for example, is on the ALEC National Board of Directors, and until recently chaired the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force (and was often quoted in ALEC press releases). She was previously the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin and in October wrote an op-ed defending ALEC in Wisconsin's largest newspaper.

But in response to an open records request for all ALEC-related records relating to the Oklahoma meeting, Sen. Vukmir's office replied they do "not have any documents that are responsive to your request."

Leah Vukmir email

ALEC has indeed sent materials to legislators relating to the Oklahoma meeting. In response to an identical request from CMD, a Texas legislator released an email from ALEC that included a link to the Health and Human Services Task Force agenda -- the same task force Sen. Vukmir used to lead, and by all available accounts, where she remains a member and would likely have received the same email.

Box.com invite Apr 2013And here is where ALEC's role in obfuscation becomes clear. ALEC does not send legislators proposed model bills and meeting agendas directly through email. ALEC is now sending its members a link, which expires within 72 hours, to an Internet drop box where they can access the relevant documents.

Although the Texas legislator did provide a scanned copy of the email invitation, she did not provide the contents of the folder available via the link (despite the request asking specifically for those materials). The drop box dodge may encourage less publicly-minded legislators to not release the records in response to an open records request.

This is not the first time that ALEC legislators have attempted to dodge open records requests. Last year, CMD filed a lawsuit against five Wisconsin legislators who had tried evading their responsibilities under the open records law by shifting their ALEC correspondence to a personal email account (like Gmail or Yahoo). When CMD prevailed in the lawsuit, as part of the settlement the legislators acknowledged they had failed to release ALEC-related emails and agreed to comply with the law.

Public Excluded from Inside ALEC Meetings, so the Party Moves Outside

The information made available through open records requests are the only way the public has a window into what happens inside ALEC meetings. ALEC has claimed to "foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way," and boasts of being an "open exchange of ideas," but average citizens are not allowed inside ALEC conferences (unless they are willing to spend several thousand dollars on membership dues). The press is also prohibited from attending the task force meetings where model bills are adopted.

But for this week's Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City, held at the Cox Convention Center on May 2nd and May 3rd, a coalition of good government groups and labor organizations are organizing a series of events for the public to make their voices heard.

"ALEC is Not OK," Say OK Labor Groups Protesting Anti-Worker Agenda

On Thursday, May 2nd, there will be a "March for the Middle Class and Working Family Rally" from 4pm to 8pm at the Coca-Cola Events Center (Coca-Cola is one of the more than 40 companies that has dropped their membership in ALEC). Participants will march to the Cox Convention Center, the location of the ALEC meeting (named after Cox Communications, an ALEC member), and hold a rally to include speeches from International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger and Oklahoma legislators. The evening will end with hot dogs prepared by the Oklahoma Building and Construction Trades and live music.

On Friday, May 3rd, there will be an Oklahoma Community Forum, which will start with a showing of the Bill Moyers documentary, "United States of ALEC" followed by a panel discussion. CMD's Research Director Nick Surgey will participate in the panel discussion, which will be followed by a Q&A session.

The Teamsters, long-time opponents of ALEC's anti-worker agenda, are asking people around the country to sign their petition committing to spread the word about ALEC to their family and friends on the days of their Spring Task Force Summit.

"Sign the petition today to say that you are committed to telling your union brothers and sisters, family, neighbors and friends about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and that you are also committed to joining the action against ALEC in Oklahoma City on May 2-3 or raising your voice against ALEC on Facebook and Twitter on those days," the petition reads. You can sign the petition here.

Stay tuned to PRwatch.org for more news out of the Oklahoma meeting.


Harriet Rowan contributed to this article.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

The greatest obscenity plaguing our culture is the abuse and control committed by the wealthiest 1% of the country. Granted, not all of them, but many do. Take for instance, the Koch brothers. They have no qualms about buying power, control, legislation and the like. They have no conscience, thus they are narcissistic creeps. Sociopaths! For they care for no one except themselves.

The other great cancer on our culture is the organization ALEC. They are so mean and anti anything that calls for human care for others. Far too many from state legislative bodies belong to this creepy group of "let them eat cake" representatives. Why do the people continue to elect these persons to their state houses? It is not transparent. Most of the new legislation in many states was negotiated among members of leaders of this organization before passage in state houses. CLANDESTINE is the true definition of their modus operandi.

Then there's the NRA, which has some good people on its membership rolls, but the leadership continues it's lies to the public about how this administration is going take guns from them. Though I do not own a gun, nor do I want to, I fully support those who can demonstrate responsibility. Hence, background checks, limits on automatic war rifles, and limits on magazines capacity. No ONE needs this kind of fire power!

CMD and its supporters should take photos of every state legislator that walks thru the Center doors and confront those legislators with their photos at their local town meetings and in Letters to the Editor of newspapers in their states. A little sunshine is good for their sold-out-to-the-enemy's souls!

I have withdrawn from corporations that support ALEC (State Farm, for example) after establishing, from them, that they do not plan on withdrawing their support of ALEC. If more people know which businesses are supporting a partisan organization that works against their best interests, perhaps they might be inclined not to do business with them. We need to highlight the corporations and businesses that are supporting ALEC so people can spend their money appropriately.

Dear Mr. Tribune:

As a woman who toiled 20 years as a journalist, I beg of you. Be the adult in the room. Do not let the bullies beat up the weaklings. Be the wise farmer. Do not sell your chicken coops to foxes. In your case, you are not selling just newspapers. You are selling out the American people.

Journalism doesn't pay anything, but I was never in it for the money. It was the love of the thing, and what I was taught about just how much journalists mattered to our way of life here in these United States of America.

There are too few un-manipulated journalists now. An army of trained journalists with years of unafraid experience is even more critical to defend and maintain our democracy than is the military. Journalists, unlike most politicians must refuse to be steered away from the public good by special interests. Money should not be an issue.

But the kind of journalist I am talking about is going extinct. 1.) because money is an issue, and 2.) because they are being hunted and targeted into extinction, by those who can overpaint the truth as being far too "liberal."

And most Americans nowadays have no clue as to why this matters. It matters because they no longer get what they need to know. They get what they want to know, and what they already agree with. There's no corner on the truth on the Internet. Little of the information bomb is crafted by the honest trade. Free speech is not the same as a free press. We have too much of the former and very little of the latter. That's why government can barely function now. Parallel universes are forming that damage us all.

Sell, and democracy as we know it rots some more. More sound government is flushed by those who want to do whatever they damn well please without anyone looking over their shoulder. Freedom for those in charge, yes. Freedom and justice for all, no. If it weren't for our fore-parents, government oversight, and unions, we too could be compelled to toil for $38 a month sewing the clothes we pay top dollar for in stores while buildings collapse all around us. Freedom for a few to to make a huge profit? Yes. Freedom for hundreds of dead garment workers? No. But some of us would do it …if we got hungry enough.

Real journalists are democracy's doctors. If you were ill, would you abandon yours for an untrained tobacco industry executive? One who stood to make money if his "medical advice" actually made you much sicker? That is the kind of "specialist" we are handing our democracy to. Where is the army that will defend us from that?

Who will remind us that we can be convinced to feel more outrage about a disability claim paid to an able-bodied depresso, than we feel about a bunch of billionaire bankers bilking the economy out of its riches and our retirees out of pensions in pyramid schemes. Which will go to jail? Who will put things in perspective when workers who make $200,000 per year believe they are over-taxed, while some billionaires bank offshore and pay nothing?

No, Mr. Tribune, please do not take us there. The regulations that would have stopped you selling us out were likely lobbied away by some industry trade groups. No good journalist on your payroll would have participated.

But on the other hand, the Koch brothers might have a shot at getting more of their position out there, as if they needed more help with that. The real value to the Koch Brothers, and the Grover Nordquists, and the ALECs, and the dwindling number of Americans scaling their own private piles of cash ever higher above us, is that such ownership moves us one step closer to driving the solid journalist, and in turn freedom and justice for all, one step closer to permanent extinction.

When you tell me we are safe from that, we can talk about global warming.

Fritzie Borgwardt
Going Extinct

When public employees hide or destroy public information they are stealing from taxpayers. Lawmakers craft the legislation that would prosecute public employees who do so. ALEC lobbies the lawmakers. We need to bring this to a higher power.

When I first heard that Coca-Cola was a member of ALEC, I wrote to Customer Relations and explained how disappointed I was.

I must not have been the only one, because before long, it was no longer a member.

Now I sit here happily at my keyboard, with a can of Diet Coke by my side.