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Hiding the sausage

How ALEC, a well-funded right-wing organization, is grinding out state laws

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“ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come and debate and discuss,” ALEC’s senior director of policy, Michael Bowman, told NPR in October. “You have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it.”

Just as the New Orleans convention was kicking off, the St. Petersburg Times seemed to challenge that assertion when it reported that ALEC maintains a $1 million “scholarship fund” to be used in bringing legislators to the convention table, a blatant example of pay for play. Florida law has forbidden elected officials from taking such gifts since 2006, but a former Florida House attorney issued a legal opinion that said that since ALEC “has significant funds that were collected prior to the effective date” of the law, the dozens of Republican legislators from Florida in attendance were acting above board in utilizing some of the funds for food and travel. Florida State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who is the state’s ALEC leader allowed legislators to have their pricey meals paid for along with up to $500 for travel, according to the Times. “I felt that this was an honest way to allow the dollars to be used,” he told the paper.

Rep. Plakon didn’t make the convention, though his name is listed among the ALEC membership. “I had never heard of them until six or seven months ago,” he says. But Plakon is often heralded as one of the critical components behind ALEC’s stated mission to sabotage so-called “Obamacare,” state by state. He calls the connection between his “Health Care Freedom Act,” a constitutional amendment initiative to appear on next year’s ballot, “nuanced,” adding that he and his Republican brethren “have a responsibility as a legislature to be true to our own states, our own constituencies. … We are not robots of some out-state interests.”

However, one of Plakon’s closest house allies (and Tallahassee roommates), future House Speaker Chris Dorworth, doesn’t have the comfort of that kind of arm’s length separation from the ALEC machine. Liberal magazine In These Times pulled public records earlier this year that implicated Dorworth – and potentially Plakon – in conspiring with ALEC to pass anti-union legislation in the state. (Current House Speaker Dean Cannon initially denied any ALEC association). Dorworth’s bill, HB 1021, sought to prohibit the automatic payroll deduction of union dues from the paychecks of public employees. Within the 87 pages of public records obtained by In These Times was a packet titled “Paycheck Protection” containing several different drafts of nearly identical legislation; the difference was that this packet includes at the foot of the page the words “Copyright, ALEC.” Dorworth’s legislative aide Carolyn Johnson says that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. The ALEC draft was just one of many that was sent to Dorworth’s office for review.

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