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."
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.
And 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.