Blowing the Whistle on ALEC in Wisconsin

At a press conference in the ornate Assembly chamber in the Wisconsin state capitol building today, Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy told reporters how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has hijacked the state legislature in Wisconsin.

A new Center for Media and Democracy report details the use of ALEC "scholarships" that pay for state legislators to fly to resorts and be "wined and dined" with their families," as Graves put it, by corporations that hope to extract legislative favors in return for these junkets.

Graves and Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin used the term "money laundering" to describe the way corporations pay for individual legislators' "scholarships" to attend ALEC's luxury conferences, funneling the money through an "ALEC scholarship fund" so individual legislators can claim ignorance of which corporation is covering the expenses.

Graves and Heck called on Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen to investigate ALEC lobbying activities. Because the group is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, it is forbidden by law from engaging in lobbying.

"I know lobbying when I see it, and this is definitely lobbying," Graves said.

ALEC scholarships to state legislators "undermine Wisconsin's reputation for clean government and the strict ethics rules designed to protect the voices of Wisconsin residents in our state's democracy," said CMD law fellow Brendan Fischer, the who wrote the Center's ALEC report.

Heck pointed out that at least 49 out of 102 state legislators in Wisconsin are ALEC members.

When he first moved to Madison in 1988, Heck said, there was a scandal on the front page of state newspapers that involved five state legislators who accepted free Green Bay Packers tickets and train rides. Wisconsin legislators are forbidden by the state's strict ethics code from accepting a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.

"How can ALEC fly legislators and their families to resorts?" he asked, calling on the Government Accountability Board to look into the ALEC junkets.

Graves reeled off examples of boilerplate legislation drafted by ALEC's corporate members and sent home with state legislators at the group's conferences: legislation that would protect pharmaceutical companies from liability if their drugs kill people, and require a legislative supermajority for any tax increase.

"Often Wisconsin legislators don't even bother to change the names of these ALEC bills when they introduce them," Graves said.

Among the report's key findings:

• More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations in the past three election cycles.

• More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Scott Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period.

• 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin's 2011-2012 legislative session

These include:

the ALEC Castle Doctrine Act,

the ALEC Voter ID Act,

the ALEC Drug Liability Act,

the ALEC Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act,

the ALEC Joint and Several Liability Act,

the ALEC Punitive Damages and Standards Act,

the ALEC Product Liability Act.

For a detailed list of the Wisconsin bills and ALEC templates, the top recipients of ALEC corporate member donations, and a list of top ALEC donors to Wisconsin Legislators, check out the full report at:

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wis. Recall: Dubious polls/DNC foot-dragging."

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