ALEC may have violated Minnesota campaign finance ruling
Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/DollarBillsThumb1.jpgA Twin Cities event hosted this spring by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) likely violated a 16-year old ruling by the Minnesota campaign finance board. The group, which brings together corporations and state lawmakers to create and distribute conservative legislation, failed to register a lobbyist with the state when organizing an issues forum, as required by the board’s ruling.
On March 4, 2011, ALEC hosted an educational event in Bandana Square in St. Paul. In attendance were state lawmakers including ALEC state chair Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and an ALEC task force director, who traveled there for the meeting.
The event likely violated guidelines set in a 1995 opinion (below) offered by the Ethical Practices Board, now the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Under the ruling, which was brought on by a similar event organized by the group at that time, ALEC was directed to register a lobbyist with Minnesota if “the issues forum and any written materials distributed include information that communicates with or urges others to communicate with officials in attempts to advocate a particular position to an official about legislative or administrative action.”
ALEC spokesperson Raegan Weber told the Minnesota Independent that ALEC wasn’t aware of the requirement in the board’s 1995 decision. She denied the group engaged in lobbying.
“Our task force director was asked to give an educational seminar about the publication,” Weber said. “That’s what it was — it was an educational seminar.”
Weber said the purpose of the March event was to provide information on ALEC’s State Government Reform Toolkit, which includes what the group’s press release described as 20 “recommendations” to state lawmakers dealing with fiscal crises. The guide argues for legislative reforms in areas ranging from pensions to the establishment of a privatization and efficiency council. Many of the recommendations include citations to ALEC model legislation, which is sometimes written and introduced to the group by corporate ALEC members who pay between $7,000 and $25,000 to be involved in ALEC.
Hamline University School of Business professor David Schultz told the Minnesota Independent that the board’s decision likely was applied to ALEC’s forums because of the group’s unique organizational structure.
“Oftentimes, a lot of organizations, if they’re going to sponsor issue forums, don’t have to [register a lobbyist],” Schultz said. “Because the legislative exchange council is seeking to try to influence legislation and legislators, that’s why the issue forums would require them to be registered.”
Schultz weighed in on the possible outcomes of ALEC not registering a lobbyist with the state: “It looks like any event they’re going to be sponsoring in the future is going to require them to continue to be considered a lobbyist.” He added, “It could affect issues like their tax status.”
Opinions from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board are interpretations of Minnesota statutes, in this case the one governing the state’s lobbyist disclosure requirements. Board investigations of statutory violations are generally triggered by public complaints. If a violation of statute is found by the board, it could lead to a civil penalty.
ALEC counts some 2,000 legislative officials nationwide among its members. In Minnesota, that includes about 30 members — all Republicans, according to state chair Kiffmeyer – in the state House and Senate and at least one federal member, Rep. Erik Paulsen. The group has drawn criticism from some who say it allows corporations to lobby lawmakers and write legislation without disclosure.
Common Cause Minnesota connected the group to legislation recently introduced in Minnesota, including bills that would undermine greenhouse gas restrictions and shield large food companies from consumer lawsuits.
ALEC is sometimes viewed as secretive because it doesn’t disclose its membership, although leaked ALEC files and individual confirmations by the Minnesota Independent have provided a partial picture of some Minnesota lawmakers that are involved.
Are you a member of the legislature or legislative staff with knowledge of ALEC’s work in Minnesota? Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.