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Apparently I was wrong. I’ve been writing for these past few weeks about ALEC and the access they have to influence legislation. But apparently, I’m just making a mountain out of a mole hill, or so they would have you believe according to their director of telecommunications and IT task force:
“If you don’t mind me, if I can address this from a broader issue, you’ve touched on another great example. We have clearly over 800 pieces of model legislation, and they’re all there. John, me, my other, the rest of the ALEC staff, even the ALEC board, we don’t know who’s reaching in and grabbing what. It’s a library service to members, should they choose to want to use it. … And they use it, and they don’t even tell us, and they may not go on the floor and say this is ALEC legislation, they have to go through, you know, what, the bill becomes theirs, so we have no idea.”
I don’t know how many people copy the book they check out from the library and submit as their own work to a book store, but that seems to be what they’re trying to sell here. That because someone takes their work and doesn’t tell them they did it, it’s ok. But according to Bloomberg, ALEC has much more knowledge of what is done with their work than they’d like to let on and it looks like they lied to Bloomberg to cover it up. Follow me below the fold for more.
Common Cause, an advocacy group for sunlight and government accountability, filed a whistleblower complaint to the IRS, arguing that ALEC lobbies for corporations and thus has violated its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a charity. In a response, a lawyer for ALEC said that the complaint “mostly ignores applicable law and distorts what it does not ignore.” As part of the complaint, however, Common Cause released a number of documents it pulled from state legislators through FOIA requests. If you’re interested in ALEC, they make great reading, particularly minutes of task force meetings for the past two years. These meetings are closed to the press and the public.
The document release includes an internal ALEC spreadsheet labeled “ALEC State Tracking: Good Legal Reform Bills.” The spreadsheet details every ALEC model bill on legal reform proposed in a state legislature for the 2011 legislative session: state, sponsor, current status-10 fields in total for each bill. The spreadsheet is color-coded to show whether the bill has been vetoed and whether there’s been any movement since the last report. And it not only tracks each bill’s number and name; it also includes a field titled “Related ALEC Model Bill.”
That document release flew directly in the face of what Bloomberg had been told about their knowledge, or lack of what was going. The reporter for Bloomberg questioned the direct contradiction to what he had been told previously, but was disappointed by the response from ALEC’s lawyers:
ALEC didn’t provide an answer to my question. Which leaves me to wonder why the council disavowed any staff knowledge of which of its model bills were moving where. If the council is tracking its bills, it has to get that information from somewhere. The most likely answer is it’s getting it from the state legislators-or by carefully watching the progress of its model bills in the states itself. Either way, it seems like the opposite of having “no idea.”
The opposite of no idea, as in ALEC flat out lied. While the reporter for Bloomberg continues to try to find out if ALEC told him the full story, Common Cause continues their pursuit and has brought their case to the NJ Attorney General:
Common Cause accuses ALEC, a conservative bill-writing organization, of tax fraud. It says that although ALEC is registered as a charity in New Jersey, it is “primarily a lobbying organization and may therefore be in violation of its tax-exempt status.”
“New Jerseyans shouldn’t have to subsidize ALEC’s agenda to limit voting rights, undermine our public schools, spread Stand Your Ground gun laws, and weaken laws protecting our environment,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause who is a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.
The letter comes at a time when New Jersey lawmakers and lobbying watchdogs are debating whether ALEC fits the description of a typical lobbyist. Edgar said Common Cause has “compelling evidence” proving that it does, citing 4,000 pages of internal ALEC documents leaked by a whistleblower.
Of course instead of responding to the allegations made, ALEC has decided to attack Common Cause as an “extreme liberal special interests” that is just trying to “distract from its small-government, pro-growth mission.” In the mean time, more continues to come out about ALEC and their involvement in passing legislation throughout states around the country. While question still remain, it’s becoming more clear that they aren’t merely a charity and are much more than just a library service.