INDIANAPOLIS -- More than one hundred protesters gathered downtown Wednesday to voice their opposition to the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC.
ALEC is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis July 27-29, and it’s not sitting well with groups like Common Cause Indiana, the Citizens Action Coalition, the Indiana State Teachers’ Association, AFL-CIO and the Center for Media and Democracy, which runs the website http://www.alecexposed.org .
Although ALEC will not disclose a list of its members or conference attendees, Call 6 Investigates saw corporations and lawmakers from all over the country at the JW Marriott, where the conference is being held.
“ALEC members are voting behind closed doors with unelected corporate lobbyists and special interest groups,” said Lisa Graves, a spokesperson with the Center for Media and Democracy. “People have the right to know if their lawmakers are involved in a pay to play operation. It really is about getting corporations into a room, sort of one stop shopping to come and influence lawmakers.”
ALEC staff allowed RTV6 cameras inside certain meetings, including a Homeland Security session in which IMPD Chief Troy Riggs talked about public safety during large events.
However, our cameras were not allowed to record inside subcommittee meetings or workshops.
“The one thing they won't let you get on camera is those corporate lobbyists voting as equals with lawmakers on bills which happens when you're not there, and the public isn't there," said Graves. “Some of the biggest corporations in the world are paying for a seat and a vote at ALEC task force meetings, which are closed to the press and public, so you don’t get to see them vote.”
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney spotted ALEC members Rep. Denny Zent (R-Angola) and Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo), who is also on ALEC’s board of directors. Read a transcript of her interview with Buck below:
Call 6: Are corporate interests writing these laws and then you just put your name on it?
Buck: No, I don’t know of legislation that a corporation has drafted. Almost all that I’m aware of come from legislators across the country
Call 6: What do you make of all the criticism of this organization that you’re strongly associated with?
Buck: Well, we have different philosophies. We believe in limited government. They believe in large government.
Call 6: Are you going into backrooms with corporate lobbyists, making legislation?
Buck: We’re no more in the backrooms than unions are in the backrooms deciding their strike targets.
Call 6: Talk to me about the parties lawmakers attend that are sponsored by tobacco companies, like the cigar party.
Buck: I can assure you, that’s not going to influence anyone’s vote as to whether they’ve been given a cigar to smoke.
Buck said the ALEC process actually saves the state of Indiana time by vetting legislation through opponents before it reaches the statehouse.
While ALEC helps pay for legislators’ travel to ALEC conferences, Call 6 Investigates found some Indiana lawmakers travel to conferences, including ALEC meetings, using help from taxpayer money.
“Reimbursement for legislative business is funded out of the state budget,” said Zach Wampler, administrative assistant for the Indiana Legislative Services Agency.
Records show Senator Buck asked Indiana taxpayers to help reimburse his ground transportation to several recent ALEC meetings, including a $74.18 reimbursement for the ALEC meeting in Wisconsin, a $74.18 reimbursement for an ALEC tax & fiscal task force academy in California, $74.18 for the ALEC task force academy in Phoenix in December 2015, and $68.04 for the ALEC spring task force in the spring of 2016.
Other lawmakers who recently sought reimbursement from the Indiana budget for ALEC events include Rep. Bob Heaton (R-Terre Haute) and Rep. Curt Nisly (R-Goshen) who each requested $400 for conference registration for an ALEC meeting in Scottsdale Arizona and Rep. Dale DeVon (R-Mishawaka) submitted $2,232.20 for the same meeting.
DeVon’s reimbursement request included lodging, baggage, airfare and registration for the ALEC policy summit held in December 2015.
ALEC spokesperson Bill Meierling said it’s a misconception that ALEC or corporate lobbyists are drafting legislation inside the meeting rooms.
“Often times these are already state law,” said Meierling. “A legislator may have written it in their state and they're proud of their work. We create the environment for them to share and exchange ideas, but they are their ideas and their ideas alone."
Meierling said ALEC will not disclose its list of members.
“We have a proven track record of our members being intimidated,” said Meierling. “There are groups out there that disagree with free market principles.”
Meierling said the protesters should come to the JW Marriott and have a discussion.
“Our organization is focused on engagement and discussion, and you can’t engage from across the street,” said Meierling.