OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Just a few weeks after making a much-ballyhooed move toward transparency, state legislators and corporate executives and lobbyists in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are gathering for a new round of closed-door meetings to endorse "model" legislation fashioned largely by business interests.
"ALEC appears to be reverting to business-as-usual," said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause's senior vice president for programs. "Almost all of its task force meetings in Oklahoma City this week will be off limits to the public and press. The legislators in attendance will have their travel, entertainment and lodging expenses picked up by corporate sponsors, who will refer to those payments as 'scholarships' and exploit the tax laws to deduct the expense on their 2013 tax returns.
"All this comes on the heels of ALEC's announcement in mid-March that it is committed to a 'participatory process where ideas are shared.' We see now that ALEC's interest in sharing ideas is exceedingly limited," said Hobert Flynn. "It's continuing to develop its legislative proposals in private, accepting input only from its corporate sponsors, and then lobbying for those proposals while masquerading as a charity."
ALEC has been identified as the force behind state laws and proposals that would privatize public schools and prisons, turning them over to for-profit operators. The group also has backed legislation to weaken clean air and clean water laws, limit collective bargaining rights for public and private workers, and make it harder for tens of thousands of college students, senior citizens, minorities and handicapped Americans to vote.
Common Cause has filed a "whistleblower" complaint against ALEC with the Internal Revenue Service, submitting several thousand pages of ALEC-produced "issue alerts," position papers, talking points and other materials crafted to advance the organization's "model" legislation. In repeated filings, under oath, to the IRS, ALEC has insisted that it does not lobby; it operates under a section of the tax code that allows its corporate backers to claim a tax deduction for their support of its work.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.