A charity for lawmakers? ALEC feeds them bills

ALEC says it's better to have corporate interests reimburse lawmakers than to have the constituents they're supposed to represent pick up the tab.

ATLANTA -- The American Legislative Exchange Council issued a statement hours before a new 11Alive Investigators report on the group.

ALEC has ignored multiple requests for interviews regarding the ongoing 11Alive investigation.

Thursday, in response to a Twitter post promoting the latest report, ALEC called the story a "misleading narrative" and a "potentially inaccurate segment," though the organization had not yet seen the report.

The Investigators first reached out to ALEC's media staff on March 24 requesting a list of Georgia legislative members but never received a response. We and our cameras were kicked out of the ALEC Spring Task Force Summit in Savannah on May 15 after communications director Bill Meierling refused to do an interview and summoned four sheriff's deputies on ALEC's payroll to have us removed.

In our glimpse inside one of the closed-door committee rooms in Savannah, we saw Georgia Rep. Ben Harbin seated across from the top state lobbyist for the wireless industry. We have asked ALEC to allow us to show you that video, but ALEC instead asked us to identify the lobbyists who explained the group's workings in the hotel bar.

Rep. Harbin announced he is resigning in the middle of his term to become a lobbyist. That announcement came out the day we asked him for an interview about the ALEC meeting.

ALEC will not identify the Georgia legislators who are members. Ethics filings show lobbyists paid for the meals of at least 20 Georgia lawmakers that weekend. They are listed below. The 11Alive Investigators asked each of the lawmakers for interviews about the meeting and about ALEC in general. Two responded to say they would not be available for on-camera interviews before our deadline. One offered to talk on the phone. The other 18 lawmakers did not respond to our requests at all, including Rep. Harbin who resigned the same day after serving two decades in the general assembly.

Corporate donations to ALEC are completely tax deductible, even though the group uses some of that money to pay for travel, food, and hotel rooms for lawmakers to attend meetings with corporate lobbyists. An IRS investigation into ALEC's charity status is still open, but ALEC points out that "to date, the IRS has taken no action (because we are compliant with their regulations)."

ALEC also points out that other legislative exchange groups receive tax money while ALEC does not. Instead, ALEC receives most of its money from corporate donations. "Perhaps the story should be about where taxpayer funds are being spent and what ROI (Return On Investment) those expenditures have returned."

ALEC suggests the people's representatives are better off receiving their travel reimbursements from the charitable donations of corporations rather than from public funds.

The Investigators have tried to track corporate donations to the ALEC charity, and payments to Georgia legislators, but unlike tax expenditures that information is not public. ALEC won't even tell us which legislators are members, and the Georgia General Assembly has exempted itself from its own open records act.

The latest statement, which claims "in previous stories Keefe has manufactured outrage," comes after weeks of silence from ALEC to our requests for interviews. The complete ALEC statement is copied below (or click here to read .PDF).

The Investigators were in Washington, DC on other assignments on June 8 and June 22, but ALEC did not respond to multiple offers for an on-camera interview near the charity's Virginia headquarters.

Here is a list of the Georgia lawmakers who received meals or entertainment from corporate lobbyists at the same time as the ALEC event:

  1. Rep. Ben Harbin (and spouse)
  2. Rep. Jay Powell
  3. Rep. John Corbett
  4. Rep. Jon Burns
  5. Rep. John Carson (and spouse)
  6. Rep. Bill Werkheiser (and spouse)
  7. Rep. Matt Dollar
  8. Rep. Trey Kelley
  9. Sen. Bill Heath
  10. Rep. Eddie Lumsden
  11. Rep. Katie Dempsey
  12. Rep. Brett Harrell
  13. Rep. Butch Parrish
  14. Rep. Lee Hawkins
  15. Sen. Judson Hill
  16. Sen. Bruce Thompson
  17. Rep. Micah Gravley
  18. Rep. David Clark
  19. Rep. Dave Belton (and spouse)
  20. Rep. Bruce Williamson – ALEC State Co-Chair

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