A spokesperson for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) can be seen dispatching sheriff’s deputies in Savannah, Georgia to eject WXIA-TV reporter Brendan Keefe as he tried to cover a meeting the organization set up with state legislators.
The station posted footage of the encounter on Friday morning, showing the ALEC spokesperson, Bill Meierling, get frustrated after Keefe debunks his argument that lobbyists are not involved with the organization.
WXIA also posted a partial transcript of their discussion:
Keefe: Why can’t the people who elected them see the process?
Meierling: This is a private meeting.
Keefe: A private meeting paid for by whom?
Meierling: By our members and donors.
Keefe: [Who] are lobbyists, correct?
Keefe: They’re not lobbyists, the ones that we recorded in the bar last night aren’t lobbyists that are here as members?
Keefe’s report included footage of himself talking to a lawmaker from “New England” who identified himself as a state chairman for the group and three self-identified lobbyists.
“I look for financial supporters, lobbyists and the like such as yourself, to send us a couple thousand bucks every so often,” the unidentified legislator said, addressing the lobbyist. The “couple thousand bucks” he mentioned are part of what ALEC refers to as a “state reimbursement fund,” which is designated as a charitable donation because the organization is technically a non-profit.
Both the official and the lobbyists were part of what ALEC called a “Spring Task Force Summit” in Savannah.
Georgia State Sen. Nan Orrock (D), a former ALEC member, ripped the organization in a separate interview with Keefe, saying lobbyists present at these types of “summits” are granted equal standing with the lawmakers.
“It’s really a corporate bill mill,” Orrock said. “They’re cranking out legislation, putting it into the hands of legislators who go back and file it.”
According to Keefe, he saw a cell phone industry lobbyist, Bethanne Cooley, talking to Georgia state Rep. Ben Harbin (R) and other lawmakers at the Savannah meeting before being asked to leave. Even though Cooley is not registered as a lobbyist in Georgia, her company’s expenses in helping set the “summit” up are not considered lobbying expenditures.
Moreover, Keefe reported, not only was Harbin exempted from having to identify who paid for his expenses associated with the meeting, but the Georgia legislature as a whole is not required to list such expenses under a provision of the state open records law.
After denying Keefe’s interview request and apparently getting flustered by his questions, Meierling motions toward the deputies.
“I’m a guest of the hotel,” Keefe says.
“Not for long,” the deputy responds. “Not for long.”
Watch WXIA’s report, as reposted by Media Matters, below.