Posted by Brendan Fischer on June 07, 2013

ALEC Asserting Immunity From State Freedom of Information Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 7, 2013

CONTACT: Brendan Fischer, Brendan@prwatch.org

Wisconsin Senator Leah VukmirMADISON -- The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit Thursday against Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the treasurer of ALEC's national board, over her failure to disclose ALEC-related materials under Wisconsin's public records law -- possibly because ALEC told her to keep the documents secret.

CMD has discovered that ALEC has started stamping its materials with a disclaimer asserting "[b]ecause this is an internal ALEC document, ALEC believes it is not subject to disclosure under any state Freedom of Information or Public Records Act." There is no provision in Wisconsin law allowing private organizations to declare themselves immune from the state's sunshine-in-government statutes.

Sen. Vukmir, a member of the ALEC national Board of Directors, the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin and the ALEC "legislator of the year" for 2009, had previously released ALEC-related documents through public records requests, but her responses have recently dried-up. In response to a request from CMD, Sen. Vukmir claimed that she had no meeting agendas, model bills, or other documents relating to ALEC's most recent meeting, held in Oklahoma City May 2-3, which she attended. Legislators attend ALEC meetings in their official capacity, and have a duty under Wisconsin's public records law to disclose all records relating to official business.

"It seems difficult to believe that a legislator who is on the national board of ALEC, has been the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin, and who recently attended an ALEC meeting in Oklahoma City does not have a single record from that meeting in her custody," said CMD's General Counsel Brendan Fischer, who filed the lawsuit and who was on the ground in Oklahoma City during the ALEC meeting (although media was shut-out and CMD staff were specifically targeted for exclusion with a security "Face Sheet"). "Private organizations cannot simply declare themselves immune from state Freedom of Information laws," adding, "Wisconsin's proud traditions of open government are undermined by elected officials colluding with private organizations to keep the basic operations of government secret."

Additionally, Sen. Vukmir apparently sponsored a new "model bill" at the ALEC that was adopted by the organization, according to text messages obtained from a separate public records request, but Sen. Vukmir claimed she had zero documents relating to her proposal.

The suit seeks to clarify that as an elected official, Sen. Vukmir's duty is to the people of Wisconsin and the laws of Wisconsin, not to a special interest organization like ALEC. Though filed in Wisconsin, the suit has relevance in all 50 states, since ALEC has declared itself immune from every state's public records law.

ALEC has had significant influence over legislation and legislators in Wisconsin -- CMD tied 32 bills and budget provisions in the 2011-2012 session to ALEC -- but the organization operates in a notoriously secretive manner. It is only through open records requests that the public has been able to track ALEC's activities in the state, which perhaps is why the organization wants to avoid such levels of transparency.

The disclaimer is one mechanism used by ALEC to get around state open records laws. They have also distributed materials using the internet dropbox website Box.com, which has led to legislators attempting to evade open records requirements by sharing only the link to the dropbox rather than the contents.

This is despite ALEC claiming to support open and accountable government.

In March, ALEC spokesperson Bill Meierling told the press "we really believe in transparency" when it posted some of its model bills online, two years after CMD had already made the bills public at ALECexposed.org.

In 2002, ALEC wrote: "Transparency is a bulwark of constitutional republicanism: citizens cannot inform themselves on the issues of government if they cannot see what the government is doing. Thus, transparency serves as an important feedback mechanism by allowing the citizens to monitor and more accurately select their representatives."

In October, CMD and the national office of Common Cause filed a separate lawsuit against other ALEC legislators in Wisconsin who had tried evading their responsibilities under the public records law by shifting their correspondence with ALEC to a personal email account. CMD and Common Cause prevailed in the lawsuit, with the legislators acknowledging they have a duty to disclose such records to the public. CMD was awarded the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council "Citizen Openness" award for bringing the case.

Read CMD's complaint here.

Comments

Leah Vukmir is about herself, All the study's that prove medical marijuana works and is safer then pills and she just turns away and puts down people with cancer, spinal cord injury ect ect,, I am sure she wants them out of sight out of mind. I pray she gets cancer everyday.

FOI

Only one reason for this behavior

Brian, you are full of crap. She is a very dedicated NP and she cares about the people of WI. I have met her and she is not at all as you describe her. Boo hoo you can't have marijuana, get over it. There are other things for cancer pain. I know this for a fact. You PRAY That she gets cancer everyday? Do you really think that God listens to sick prayers like that? What kind of evil person are YOU? You sound like a self absorbed, whiny and bitter 5 year old. Grow up.

Anonymous,you are the gullible idiot who doesn't see that any legislator who is in ALEC's pocket is a danger to the constituents that put the individual in office. Furthermore, your comment about the medicinal efficacy of Cannabis shows just how truly clueless you are. As someone who has worked with people who were battling the ill effects of chemo and radiation I can vouch for the benefits of the herb. You are the vacuous type that the Tea Party likes to recruit. No brains and easy to indoctrinate.

All ALEC members, republicans, and some democrats are corrosive to our democracy. ALEC members well compensated by their corporate clients to push laws that favor their corporate interests. You, Mr. Anonymous, are full of crap; you must be republican. You should pray you don't get cancer for siding with that evil, cancerous, right wing hypocrites.

To the best of my knowledge there are NO Dem ALEC members. There were only one or two up till a few years ago, and the last one resigned and wanted no part of this very EVIL Right Wing lunatic organization, who sneaks pro corporate ANI CONSUMER legislation to the legislators to be passed in the secret of the night.

Americans all over the country have been seriously hurt from this. The Koch Bros. Herman Cain and a slew of right wingers are big shots with this terrible outfit for years.

They have written and sponsored much of the legislation that has supressed the vote everywhere.

Just think what happened after the 2010 election.

Those who didn't vote are paying the price dearly for it today.

As a result ALEC and the filth Scott Brown that governs Wisconsin have done grave damage to the state.

You miss or willfully dismiss the point: the woman is practicing within a highly secretive organization whose mission is to "circumvent representative government, certainly not to strengthen it. Then, blatantly lies, in effort to cover her tracks while earnestly pushing forward a vicious, extreme right-wing/corporate agenda, that is so far proved to be egregiously anti-citizen.
The fellow you replied to should be allowed the use of cannibus to ease suffering brought about by his condition. No politician regardless of party affiliation has the moral authortiy to block a form of treatment known to provide relief from the deleterious effects of an illness.

Furthermore, I hold my rights as a citizen dear and sacred, since without them I have no voice. I strongly suggest you re-assess the actions of ALEC members and whose position in society - they're "really" concerned for. I'm confident that after further review, you'd find it sure as heck -aint you.

ALEC is the instrument of Corporations and Wall Street and the right wing extremists of the Republican Party which should be registered as a lobby, but has escaped with the help of good lawyers.

Its secret agenda and brain washing of state legislators is detrimental to our nation, to the working class, and to democracy.

You are right on.

Thank You

To see just how out of touch Vukmir is search youtube for "Vukmir thefingerpointer"

Or just see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGhgePCGJWY

Vukmir is an embarrassment to Wisconsin.

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Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.