Do those ALEC junkets violate Open Meeting Law?

25 Mar 2011 01:35 pm
Posted by: Donna

I caught this informative and useful piece by University of Wisconsin prof William Cronon about the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council on recent anti-working people legislation in his state and across the country. I’ve blogged about ALEC before, as have others here. ALEC is yet another national right wing think tank that promotes the agenda of global corporations through state and local governments. You’ll recall that ALEC had a big hand in SB1070 and that Corrections Corporation of America, a major ALEC corporate member, stands to gain handsomely from anti-immigrant measures. But it was this part of Cronon’s article that really caught my attention:

Which Wisconsin Republican politicians are members of ALEC? Good question. How would we know? ALEC doesn’t provide this information on its website unless you’re able to log in as a member. Maybe we need to ask our representatives. One might think that Republican legislators gathered at a national ALEC meeting could be sufficiently numerous to trigger the “walking quorum rule” that makes it illegal for public officials in Wisconsin to meet unannounced without public notice of their meeting. But they’re able to avoid this rule (which applies to every other public body in Wisconsin) because they’re protected by a loophole in what is otherwise one of the strictest open meetings laws in the nation. The Wisconsin legislature carved out a unique exemption from that law for its own party caucuses, Democrats and Republicans alike. So Wisconsin Republicans are able to hold secret meetings with ALEC to plan their legislative strategies whenever they want, safe in the knowledge that no one will be able to watch while they do so.

Our open meeting lawis pretty clear.

“All meetings of any public body shall be public meetings and all persons so desiring
shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.” A.R.S. § 38-
431.01(A).

“It is the public policy of this state that meetings of public bodies be conducted openly
and that notices and agendas be provided for such meetings which contain such
information as is reasonable necessary to inform the public of the matters to be discussed
or decided.” A.R.S. § 38-431.09.

A meeting is a gathering, in person or through technological devices of a quorum of a
public body at which they discuss, propose or take legal action, including deliberations.
A.R.S. § 38-431(4). This includes telephone and e-mail communications.

But alas, Arizona legislators carved themselves out a similar loophole to the one in Wisconsin! Isn’t that special!

38-431.08. Exceptions; limitation

A. This article does not apply to:

1. Any judicial proceeding of any court or any political caucus of the legislature.

No other non-judicial public body in Arizona enjoys the same privilege to hold closed meetings where they discuss public business as political caucuses of the Legislature do. What is discussed at ALEC conferences? Legislation. Legislation that often makes it’s way to the Arizona State Capitol, with citizens being unaware that it was crafted by DC political operatives in order to advance the interests of multi-national corporations. Why are Arizona legislators allowed to belong to a secret organization that does not disclose its membership or who attends its meetings? Don’t we have a right to know that, particularly if there might be enough legislators in attendance at these ALEC shindigs to comprise quora of legislative committees or the Legislature as a whole? Blog for Arizona’s David Safier covered ALEC’s meeting last December, where our GOP legislative delegation was rumored to be well represented.

A reliable source told the Arizona Guardian how many Arizona legislators were there: More than 30, according to Bob Burns, who said it was the largest delegation from any state.

Expect ALEC-based legislation to be a big part of the next session.

Indeed. The fact sheet I linked about Arizona’s Open Meeting Law explains why it’s so important:

Why do we have an Open Meeting Law?

1. To protect the public.
a. To avoid decision-making in secret.
b. To promote accountability by encouraging public officials to act responsively and
responsibly.
2. To protect public officials.
a. To avoid being excluded (notice).
b. To prepare and avoid being blind sided (agenda).
c. To accurately memorialize what happened (minutes).
3. Maintain Integrity of government.
4. Better informed citizenry.
5. Build trust between government and citizenry.

Exactly how are secret meetings in DC with Newt and Grover, attended by who knows how many Arizona lawmakers, conducive to openness, accountability, and transparency in government? Answer: They’re not.

1 Comment(s)

  1. Comment by blogtucson on April 9, 2011 9:39 am

    We know this is the gathering place to craft racists, bigoted, anti-middle class legislation – and in secret (and on our dime). Is it any wonder the simultaneous introduction and passage of this Tea-publican agenda in other states is no coincidence.
    We need a loud, clear voice out there that there is no spending problem, but there is a huge REVENUE problem.
    And budgets get worse not addressing tax cuts for wealthy/business.

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