Arizona Lawmakers See the Country, ALEC Picks Up the Tab

PHOENIX — The American Legislative Exchange Council has spent at least $41,000 over the past three years hosting Arizona legislators on lavish out-of-state policy retreats – including $3,800 for House Speaker Andy Tobin alone — according to records obtained by ProgressNow Arizona. An analysis of public financial disclosure statements found 36 Arizona lawmakers – all Republicans — took 82 separate corporate-funded “scholarships” from ALEC since 2011. However, the amount ALEC spent wining and dining our legislators is likely far higher than $41,000. Arizona lawmakers only require themselves to disclose whether a gift was worth $500 or more, and only two lawmakers reported specific amounts, each far higher than $500. House Speaker Tobin, R-Paulden, who is now running for Congress, was one of those who itemized. Tobin disclosed that ALEC spent $1,800 to put him up in San Diego’s four-star Manchester Grand Hyatt for a conference in August of 2010. A few months later, ALEC again hosted Tobin at Washington, D.C.’s Grand Hyatt for $2,000. ALEC’s conference fees are only about $400 for legislators. “Speaker Tobin will have a lot of explaining to do to the voters in Congressional District 1. First, he’ll have to explain why he doesn’t live in the district he’s seeking to represent, and now these unseemly ties to special interests,” said Robbie Sherwood, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona. “As concerning as these figures are, we do appreciate his willingness to fully disclose what so many of his colleagues are too cowardly to report.” Rep. Debbie Lesko, Arizona’s ALEC Chairwoman and one of its most loyal defenders, took four expense-paid trips to conferences. These private conferences – closed to the public and the media – were where corporate lobbyists develop “model” legislation to hand off to the vacationing legislators to bring back home and introduce as their own bills, said Lisa Graves, publisher and president of The Progressive, Inc., which publishes ALECexposed.org. Later this week, the American Legislative Exchange Council will hold its Spring Task Force Summit in Kansas City. And in July, ALEC will host legislators from all over the country at its annual meeting in Chicago. “This research demonstrates what a pay to play operation ALEC really is,” Graves. Said. “ALEC’s state legislative leader Debbie Lesko claims she has an open-door policy so residents can tell her what laws they want changed. But the reality is that no Arizona citizen can take lawmakers like Lesko on paid vacations to resorts and wine and dine them like what happens at ALEC meetings in state and out of state. ALEC’s operations are a form of corruption of Arizona lawmakers and Arizona’s laws that should not be tolerated.” ProgressNow Arizona helped provide a glimpse into ALEC’s tactic of wining and dining legislatures through a recent hidden-camera investigation by KPHO-TV 5. Lesko, who is featured in the piece, makes no mention of the tens of thousands of dollars ALEC has spent putting she and other Arizona lawmakers up in luxury hotels while they lobby and craft bills behind closed doors. The only other Arizona lawmaker to itemize his gifts from ALEC was Senator Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who is now running a long-shot Tea Party campaign for Arizona Governor. Melvin also attended the conference at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, disclosing that ALEC picked up a $2,300 tab for registration, hotel, airfare and meals. ALEC also paid $1,800 for Melvin to attend a 2011 conference in Salt Lake City. “Al Melvin ran for the Legislature as an iconoclastic Tea Party candidate, but it didn’t take him long to ‘go Hollywood,’ if you catch the drift,” Sherwood said. Also notable, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, reported receiving ALEC “scholarships” to attend four different out-of-town meetings in one year and another in Scottsdale. In 2011, Olson travelled to Washington, D.C. twice, to New Orleans and Santa Barbara, California. View the financial disclosure documents here. ALEC has had free reign in the Arizona Legislature for years, helping to pass and spread legislation like the anti-immigrant SB1070 and extensive privatization of public services like prisons and K-12 education. Their agenda this year did not do so well, thanks to a strong coalition of progressive organizations and moderate Republicans and Democrats working together. ALEC-backed legislation that failed this session included:

  • House Bill 2291 (empowerment scholarships accounts; expansion) Would have expanded Arizona’s back-door school voucher program to thousands more students. ALEC has long sought to defund public schools in favor of vouchers and charters.
  • Senate Bill 1094 (school employees; paycheck deductions; authorization): These so-called “paycheck deception” bills are longtime ALEC model legislation designed to stifle teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees from voluntarily organizing and having a voice to speak out for workplace rights.
  • House Bill 2418 (strike everything amendment, release time) Would have prohibited public employee members from using release time to help settle employee disputes, shape public policy and other association duties. This has been ALEC model legislation since 2007.
  • Senate Bill 1267 (Strike everything: livestock; poultry; animal cruelty; violation) Couched as helping prevent animal cruelty, this bill would have actually reduced penalties on farmers and ranchers who abuse livestock. It also mandates whistleblowers and investigative journalists turn over film of animal abuse to the state within 5 days or face criminal penalties. This so-called “ag-gag” measure – designed to discourage investigative journalism – has been ALEC model legislation since the late 1990s.
  • House Bill 2509 (interstate compact; health care) was nearly identical to Goldwater Institute and ALEC model legislation that stalled last year. It would have set up a “healthcare compact” aimed at undermining The Affordable Care Act.
  • House Bill 2316 (schools; local control; student privacy) A complex bill that was aimed at stopping the state from implementing Common Core educational standards, but contains several elements based on ALEC’s “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability Act” model legislation.
  • House Bill 2485 (technology-based language development software): Sets up a no-bid single-source contract for a Utah education software company. Based on ALEC model language.

For Immediate Release Media contact: Robbie Sherwood, 480.246.7944   ###