In last week’s column I discussed an Executive Board’s decision to fund individual legislative memberships to ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a radical right-wing organization that fosters a secretive process that allows corporate lobbyists and billionaires to write legislation for state legislatures. In review, the E-Board is the 15-member body that governs South Dakota’s Legislative Research Council. This board consists of seven senators and eight representatives-12 majority party and 3 minority party members. The main function of the E-Board is to consider policies between legislative sessions.
At their May meeting, majority party E-Board members authorized spending $10,500 of our taxpayer dollars for membership dues to ALEC-that’s $100 per member for 105 members of the Legislature. In addition, the majority party E-Board members sanctioned the spending of thousands of taxpayer dollars for future travel and expenses to ALEC meetings and conventions. That’s airfare, hotel accommodations and meals that may be reimbursed to each Legislator who attends an ALEC meeting or convention. For example, if the nine South Dakota State Legislators who attended the ALEC Spring Task Force convention in Oklahoma recently are reimbursed at $2,000 each, that’s potentially $18,000 of our taxpayer dollars being spent to adversely influence laws in our South Dakota Legislature.
The Executive Board’s new travel policy (May 1st 2013-June 30th 2014) is as follows: Any legislator, who has been selected as a member of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), the Council of State Governments (CSG), the Midwestern Legislative Conference (MLC) or the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will be reimbursed for travel expenses. And, any member of the executive governing board of the NCSL, CSG, MLC or ALEC will be reimbursed for travel expenses to attend board meetings. As I stated in last week’s column this is the first time in the history of the South Dakota State Legislature that ALEC has been included in any state funding.
Just exactly what is ALEC? The right- wing activist Paul Weyrich founded the American Legislative Exchange Council in 1973. ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the laws they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Corporate representatives, along with legislators, have membership in ALEC. Corporate representatives sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board that meets jointly with the legislative board. ALEC claims that corporations do not vote on the board. But, corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative right-wing activists, then bring ALEC proposals to their home states and introduce them in statehouses across the nation as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that in fact corporations crafted and voted on these proposed bills.
Who funds ALEC? More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, corporate trade groups and corporate foundations. According to my research, each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 per year. And if the corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations. Its big financiers include Exxon Mobil, the Olin and Scaife families, the Coors family and foundations tied to Koch Industries.
Next week I will elaborate on ALEC legislation and the legal and ethical concerns with ALEC affiliation. Thanks for your continued interest in South Dakota State government. Please feel free to contact me at (605) 352-9862 or .