Arizona is a hotbed of activity from the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to a new report that contends the group wines and dines Arizona lawmakers, hoping they will introduce ALEC model legislation to benefit corporate interests.
A coalition of opponents of the council took to the Capitol lawn on April 4 to release a new 50-page report by the Center for Media and Democracy and other groups, titled “ALEC in Arizona: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona’s Legislature.”
The report focuses on the close ties between many Arizona lawmakers, corporations and ALEC, and it details the free trips, meals, and “scholarships” that lawmakers receive from ALEC and their affiliated corporate lobbyists.
But details in the report assert that ALEC’s grip on the Legislature may not be as strong as it once was.
According to the report, at least 35 of the 90 Arizona lawmakers – and all eight members of GOP leadership in both chambers – are either current or recent ALEC members. The report states that the actual number is likely higher, but ALEC doesn’t publicly disclose public official who are “members.”
The report states that “Arizona consistently has one of the highest concentrations of ALEC legislators of any state in the United States” and says that seven of eight members of the GOP leadership have accepted ALEC “scholarships” of free trips to ALEC conferences, with lavish accommodations and free food, drinks and parties.
Details in the report show that ALEC spending on scholarships is down, and ALEC bills haven’t skated through the Legislature without opposition.
The report states that the group spent more than $204,000 on scholarships for Arizona lawmakers from 2006 to 2011. But in 2001, the latest year figures were available, the group spent almost $12,000, down from $92,000 the year before. The lowest spending year on record was 2006, when the group spent less than $4,000 on scholarships for Arizona lawmakers.
Likewise, though the report outlines 18 bills introduced this session that are either ALEC model legislation or appear to be linked to ALEC model bills, only three of those 18 bills are still moving through the Legislature, and the rest have died in various committees, or were never even assigned to committees.
Those three bills that are still moving include SCR1015 which is a resolution supporting the Second Amendment, HB2617, which would expand the school tuition organization tax credits, and HB2494, which would allow charter schools to give enrollment preference to siblings of students who attend related charter schools and students who meet other qualifications.
The ALEC opponents, including several Democratic Lawmakers and civic groups, also decried the fact that ALEC is listed as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit charity organization, which gives it tax-exempt status, but also means it is expressly prohibited from lobbying to influence public policy.
Bob Edgar, a former Democratic U.S. representative from Pennsylvania who is the president of Common Cause, a non-profit advocacy organization promoting open and transparent government, said that ALEC has a right to lobby like everyone else, but should do so openly.
“They have a right to exist, they have a right to lobby, they have a right to talk with (lawmakers) but they ought to be honest about that and not try to do it in a stealthy way,’’ Edgar said.