September 30, 2015
A legislative proposal aimed at requiring a corporate-funded lobbying group and special interest bill mill to be more transparent about its workings and relationships with Wisconsin GOP lawmakers is making the rounds at the State Capitol.
The measure being offered by Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, would require the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and groups like it to register with the state.
ALEC, which was created in the 1970s, unites powerful business interests with conservative state legislators around the country. They meet to come up with “model legislation” that state policymakers can tweak and introduce in their home states. The legislation developed by ALEC hits a range of issues, like privatizing government services and programs, environmental deregulation, voter ID, and the Castle Doctrine.
As of late 2013, ALEC claimed a membership of 1,800 state lawmakers from across the country, including 43 of Wisconsin 132 Senate and Assembly members. ALEC-generated legislation has shown up in Wisconsin, especially since 2010 when Republicans took control of the governor’s office and the legislature. Between 2011 and 2014, about three dozen bills or state budget provisions approved by the legislature and signed into law by Walker were based on ALEC model legislation, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
The state’s Government Accountability Board, which enforces Wisconsin’s ethics, lobbying, election and campaign finance laws, does not require ALEC to register as a lobbying group and has also decided that the corporate-funded group can pay for lawmakers’ trips to ALEC meetings. Lawmakers must report expense reimbursements or assistance, which ALEC dubs as “scholarships,” on their campaign finance reports or annual financial disclosure statements filed with the GAB.
Though she is a Democrat, Taylor joined ALEC in order to attend some of their meetings. Taylor’s legislation would require ALEC and other organizations that influence legislative actions or create model legislation to register as a lobbying group. The bill would also require groups that pay for legislators to attend organization meetings to identify the legislators and staff who receive the funds and the corporations and individuals who pay the attendance costs.