I can picture it now. Lavish vacations, drinking expensive wines, and dining at places a state legislator salary can rarely afford. Here in Wisconsin a State Assembly Representative makes just under $50,000 a year. For some of them this is just pocket change, while others actually live off of it. But for those, almost always Republican, state legislators who depend on their legislative income as a primary source of income, a free vacation sounds good, right? Yes, but there are strings attached that make this no ordinary “free” vacation. They also do this with timeshares. They give free vacations or parts of vacations to people so long as they agree to listen to a short presentation on timeshare ownership. Only this is not a short presentation. This is a vacation to meet with anyone who pays for exclusive legislator access. That’s right; Any corporation can write any bill and get an exclusive meeting with a legislator who may or may not introduce it. ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, then reimburses legislators for their trip through their “scholarship fund” estimated to be worth over a million dollars.
But not every legislator gets a scholarship. It seems to me that the legislators who get scholarships are the ones who adapt ALEC’s model bills. These are bills that every state can use and include the assault on collective bargaining, voter disenfranchisement bills, bills that privatize anything and everything, and whatever else the 1% wants. And they are very effective to the point that even the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation paid them to try to get prime legislation through. But ALEC works mostly in the shadows. They never have to disclose any information and hire guards to keep wandering public eyes out of their meetings. The only clue we get is from looking at campaign finance reports, which only goes so far and may not even be an option in some states. PACs, Super PACs, and lobbyists have to disclose certain information regarding gifts and money they give to lobbyists. While some of this is available to the general public, the majority of what ALEC does or what happens when the corporate to legislator matchmaking session begins, is kept secret. The fact that ALEC reimburses the campaign accounts that pay for these trips does not mean they are not buying the legislators out.
But this could soon change in some states, and could quickly spread to many more. In Arizona and Wisconsin, bills are being prepared to be introduced that increase the transparency of ALEC. In Arizona the bill will be introduced by Representative Steve Farley, in Wisconsin it is being circulated by Representative Mark Pocan, who is also running for congress. Farley states that voters may be less likely to vote for a candidate if they knew the candidate was receiving large corporate donations at one of these ALEC conventions. ALEC continues to claim they do no lobbying although they have never denied that they match lobbyists with legislators. There are currently no states that require ALEC to disclose scholarship recipients or sources of funding. The two bills look very similar and their purposes are as well. According to a statement by Mark Pocan on Facebook, his bill would “require ALEC and groups like ALEC that advocate “model legislation” to register with the state like any other lobbying organization, report their “scholarships” to legislators as well as require legislators to report their scholarships and ban legislative accounts from paying dues to their organization.” Mark Pocan has been a fierce critic of ALEC, spending some of his legislative break going to their conventions and reporting on them.
Both of these bills are great and a wonderful first step but the real problem is not as easy as simple disclosure. The real problem with politics is that bargaining is decided upon how much you give not earning your vote. A corporation does not live or breathe but a corporation can afford more money than you and I. A union does not live or breathe nor does a PAC or Conduit, but all three can afford and DO CONTRIBUTE more than you and I. Of course people are going to avail themselves to people who give more money. It is human nature. ALEC transparency is great but if we are to truly fix the system we will need campaign finance reform that removes all special interests left and right. If you don’t live and you don’t breathe you have no business in a legislators’ pockets. The average citizen cannot afford to take their legislators on a luxury vacation. The average citizen is lucky if they get to even have a vacation each year. I encourage everyone to share this article far and wide, on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else you can find. And contact your state legislators and ask them to draft an “ALEC Accountability Act”. Together we can make this happen in all fifty states. Together we can keep up the fight. One day longer! One day stronger!
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Note: Segway Jeremy Ryan has become a full-time member of the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Formerly a businessman, he gave up his business to join the fight for the middle class in the State of Wisconsin. Through videos and writings he has informed hundreds of thousands of people about what was going on at the Wisconsin State Capitol once the mainstream media had mostly abandoned the protests. His full-time activism is completely funded by the people. If you would like to help out please click here.