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Conservative policy group discovered violating Minnesota lobbying law

By Kase Wickman
Friday, August 12, 2011 14:22 EDT
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The American Legislative Exchange Council, a state legislative group based in D.C., rebuked a recommendation that they should register as lobbyists in Minnesota, The Minnesota Independent reported.

“We’re not lobbyists because we don’t lobby, none of our staff are registered lobbyists,” ALEC spokesman Raegan Weber told the Indpendent. “We take a policy position. Just as most Americans have an opinion on policy, so do we, but we do not do a call to action, according to the IRS there has to be a call to action.”

On ALEC’s website, they describe themselves as a “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions.”

However, the group is generally associated with corporate interests and their meetings are attended almost exclusively by conservative legislators.

ALEC hosted a meeting in the Twin Cities in March that many Minnesota legislators attended, one of multiple public instances of the group crossing the line from policy advocate to lobbyist, under Minnesota’s strict lobbying rules. At the meeting, staff presented “policy recommendations” for the state.

On the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website, a page entitled “What is a lobbyist?” offers a simplified definition:

[A person w]ho spends more than $250, not including the individual’s own traveling expenses and membership dues, in any year for the purpose of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action, or the official action of a metropolitan governmental unit, by communicating or urging others to communicate with public or local officials.

Weber called the Twin Cities meeting an “educational event” and said that ALEC was not aware of Minnesota’s 1995 decision that further tightened lobbying policy and would likely require that ALEC register a lobbyist in the state.

While ALEC likely would not have to register nationally as a lobbying organization — federal lobbying disclosure requirements are not as strict as in many states — Public Citizen spokesman Craig Holman said that ALEC’s actions in Minnesota would be lobbying under the state’s rules.

“The fact that ALEC then exercises and then does these direct activities to meet with lawmakers in Minnesota and to proselytize this model law and then help them draft it into actual state legislation, that crosses the line,” Holman told the Independent.

Beyond Minnesota, ALEC is drawing ire as well. Common Cause, a non-profit group that advocates for transparency in lobbying, wrote the IRS a letter last month asking them to audit ALEC and consider revoking the group’s status as a non-profit, citing the extensive lobbying and private business they engage in.

ALEC’s actions in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin are also being questioned. In Pennsylvania, $50,000 was inserted into the state’s 2007 budget to cater an ALEC meeting in Philadelphia. Lawmakers and ALEC members snacked on $3,000 worth of cheesecake lollipops.

ALEC has not been officially prodded to register, but Public Citizens Holmes predicted it isn’t far off.

“Now that ALEC has become such a major public controversy, I think the Minnesota state agency is obligated to be a little more proactive on this,” he said.

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
 
 
 
 
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