By John Celock
Missouri Democrats are fighting to bring increased transparency to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s activities in the state.
The Missouri state House Administration and Accounts Committee heard testimony Wednesday regarding legislation that would force all organizations that adopt and distribute model legislation to state lawmakers to register as a lobbyist. While the bill’s main sponsor said the bill was not targeted at ALEC, the group was the only one to be mentioned during the hearing.
“This bill is about transparency. It is transparency for organizations that distribute model legislation,” state Rep. Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City), a co-sponsor of the bill, told the committee. “It would apply to ALEC but it is not exclusively for ALEC. It would be for any org that distributes model legislation.”
The bill would force ALEC and similar groups to comply with all lobbyist regulations in the state. This includes disclosure of contacts with lawmakers and disclosing any meals, trips and honorariums given to state legislators.
In addition, all model legislation from ALEC and other groups proposed in Missouri would need to be tagged in the bill’s fiscal note.
ALEC, long dominated by conservative state lawmakers and business groups, has long been a target of progressive groups, who have claimed the group is using model legislation to push a conservative agenda at the state level. ALEC’s model legislation is adopted by committees composed of both lawmakers and business representatives and made available to state legislatures nationwide.
Among the pieces of model legislation progressives have targeted ALEC about have been tax cuts and the group’s proposed Stand Your Ground law. ALEC representatives have noted that the Stand Your Ground proposal was adopted several years ago but the endorsement expired and it is no longer a proposed bill.
“Organizations like ALEC claim they don’t lobby. But in reality if you look at their docs they do,” Morgan said to the committee. “We’re challenging ALEC’s tax exempt status. We do not believe this org should be tax exempt. They are providing meals and trips to legs, which is what lobbyists do.”
The Republican-dominated committee asked Morgan several questions with regards to other groups active in the state, along with Morgan’s own involvement with the retiree group of the American Federation of Teachers. Morgan noted that AFT is a registered lobbyist in the state and she has not gone on trips with the union since she joined the Legislature.
Rep. Lindell Shumake (R-Hannibal) questioned Morgan over what would happen if a state legislator found a piece of model legislation and the outside group was not actively pushing it in Missouri.
“It could get kind of dicey if someone went on one of these organization’s website and saw a piece of model leg and said I wanted to use this model,” Shumake said. “If they did not consult with them and go to something and simply wanted to use the model.”
Morgan said that she did not see the issue arising, noting that her bill said the organization would need to “adopt and distribute” the model legislation to Show Me State lawmakers. She said finding the proposal on a website was not the same.
Wednesday’s meeting was purely a discussion of the bill and no vote was taken by the committee.
Morgan’s bill comes as ALEC has taken increased steps at transparency. This includes posting all model legislation on the group’s website and offering the media access to parts of their December conference in Washington.
The Missouri legislation is not the first attempt by state lawmakers to push for more transparency by ALEC. In 2012, Democratic lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin pushed legislation to require fiscal disclosure by ALEC. The bills were unsuccessful.
An ALEC spokeswoman did not return a call from The Celock Report seeking comment on the Missouri legislation.