The ALEC 22 in the Oregon Lege

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Over the weekend, the Oregonian finally got around to reporting on the insidious influence of ALEC - the innocuously-named American Legislative Exchange Council. Despite sounding like a lovely little gathering of public-spirited legislators, it's actually a place where corporate lobbyists press the flesh with state legislators and they "work together" to spin up "model legislation" to be introduced back in the states.

Now, I'm not one who subscribes to the dark conspiracy theories about ALEC. The stuff that's right on the surface is bad enough. If legislators - left and right - want to exchange ideas between states, I'm all for it. But that the whole thing is underwritten by tobacco companies, oil companies, polluters, Wall Street banks, gun manufacturers, insurance companies, and more... and it's all considered a charitable activity, rather than lobbying, well that's what's so gross.

It certainly seems to me that the definition of lobbying should include anytime someone is being paid to talk to a legislator about legislation - whether it's happening in Salem, or at a conference center at some resort. I'd like to see some clarity about this from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

In any case, ALEC's Oregon co-chair shared with the Oregonian the list of the 22 Republicans that are members. It took a little public pressure, but the O's Michelle Cole has now revealed the list:

I haven't really studied the list closely yet, but it strikes me that a healthy number are rookie legislators (along with leadership). And of course, it's mostly from the House. Any other patterns that occur to you?

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    Katie Eyre. (Original typo? The O, or Whisnant - but she goes by Eyre now, not Eyre Brewer, and definitely not Byre Brewer).

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    The big news today is that Walmart has pulled out of ALEC. That's big because it means that corporations are recognizing ALEC can be a brand destroyer with their voter suppression and other related activities.

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    This is a test. Please ignore.

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      FYI, everyone. We're seeing a strange thing where posting a comment on this post (and only this post) delivers you to a "404 Not Found" error -- but your comment shows up anyway. Just come back here and refresh.

      Either we've got a very strange bug or the internet gremlins are big fans of ALEC. (I kid.) Continuing to investigate.

      Thanks to Bill Ryan for the heads up.

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    Patterns: 3 of 14 R senators, 19 of 30 R representatives (i.e. substantial majority of reps).

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    Kari, it goes beyond the corporations "underwriting" the legislators "exchanging ideas."

    ALEC involves long term coordination on policy/issue area commmittees that develop model legislation in which the corporate interests are directly involved in writing the legislation.

    I suppose also the talking points (it would be interesting to know if ALEC connects with the wide conservative "think tank" network that does so much of their ideological & message development, also "charitable).

    That's not conspiracy. It's organization and institutionalization. It's the legislative side of the worst elements of "public private partnership."

    Of course this isn't entirely on the R side at the national level, as the shameful willingness of the Obama administration to let the banks write their financial policies and the bank bailout shows. But at the state level the conservative commitment to "organized federalism" is impressive.

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      Yes, of course. I should have been more clear. When I said " the definition of lobbying should include anytime someone is being paid to talk to a legislator about legislation", I was (unsuccessfully) alluding to the practice at ALEC of corporate lobbyists working side-by-side with (directing?) the legislators as they develop model legislation.

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    Why am I not seeing any names or Facebook images on these comments? My own doesn't show up either even tho I'm logged in and can comment. Above this Comment box, it says "Hello,." instead of Hello, Alan.

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    Whoa, after hitting Post and refreshing a few times to get around various error messages, now the names and images are showing properly.

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    If I recall correctly, under the revised Oregon ethics and conflict of interest statutes, travel and entertainment provided by nonprofit corporations (like ALEC) are not considered gifts to public officials and so do not have to be disclosed. At the time these new laws were being proposed, I thought this curious, but examples like the National Council of State Legislators (NCSL) were give to explain this provision.

    However, I now understand better why this provision was inserted into the new laws, and I see just as much potential for lobbying and conflict of interest in some nonprofit corporations. How can we differentiate good nonprofits from those that are trying to get around lobbying and disclosure laws?

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      I don't think we should. Ain't nothing wrong with disclosing that, say, the Society for Orphans and Widows flew a legislator out to speak at their conference about their policy work.

      Those who have nothing to hide don't fear disclosure.

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    I would have to agree. The only reason not to disclose an expense would be because of a desire to hide it-which goes against the grain and spirit of everything that is the nonprofit sector. Each and every time something has come to light about questionable or inappropriate use of funds, it has been as a result of the misuse of either the definition of nonprofit or because of direct misuse of the organization (stealing, etc.). One way or the other, if a nonprofit organization is operating in the manner that it is supposed to act, as part of the sector, there should be no concerns about disclosure.

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    One other link:

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    Oregon ethics laws do allow legislators to accept trips from charitable groups, also known as 501 c 3 nonprofits, as a gift and they are reported to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission on the statements of economic interests filed by legislators. The reasoning behind this is that IRS rules limit the lobbying that can be done by these groups.

    The catch is that Common Cause has filed a complaint with the IRS Tax Whistleblower program due to evidence indicating that ALEC's lobbying exceeds the level allowed by the IRS.

    One of the harms to taxpayers identified in Common Cause’s complaint to the IRS is that “ALEC’s corporate members improperly deduct from their taxable income the dues and other contributions made to ALEC…In fact, because ALEC solicits very few contributions from individuals, its false claims of tax-exempt status appear driven by the desire of ALEC corporate members to deduct lobbying expenses as charitable contributions.”

    If this complaint is upheld, then it would mean that ALEC could no longer pay for trips by Oregon legislators and shouldn’t have been doing so in the past.

    All this info and more is in Common Cause Oregon's updated report on ALEC.

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