South Dakota SD Legislature a stronghold for ALEC membership

ALECCompanies2The national campaign to politically discredit the American Legislative Exchange Council and the many businesses that financially support ALEC hasn’t swept into South Dakota yet, despite our Legislature being such a stronghold for lawmakers who are ALEC members.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida is fueling the current backlash against ALEC for its role in promoting legislation known as a “stand your ground” law.

A special Internet site alecexposed.org sprung up to show the broad range of legislation that ALEC through its lawmaker members has spread into state capitols across the nation.

The website highlights the string of corporations that have separated from ALEC sponsorship in recent weeks, such as Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Intuit, Kraft, Coca Cola and Pepsi.

The site also shows a variety of other anti-ALEC reports in the past decade from groups such as People for the American Way, Common Cause, Greenpeace, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Through the Legislature’s budget, as administered by the Legislature’s Executive Board, South Dakota taxpayers funded legislators’ official trips to ALEC conventions and meetings for many years.

The practice ceased only because of state government’s budget deficit and spending cuts, as the Legislature eliminated nearly all of out-of-state travel for its members.

The Executive Board allowed the ALEC trips under the same theory of legislator education that provides for trips to meetings and conventions for the National Council of State Legislatures and the Council of State Government.

Businesses help sponsor all of these organizations and their conventions. The difference is that ALEC allots seats on its committees, including co-chairmanships, to business representatives as well as to legislators.

By contrast, NCSL and CSG confine their workings to legislators and other public officials, and seek partisan balance through rotations of leadership offices and other methods.

How strong is ALEC on our Capitol’s third and fourth floors where the Legislature meets? There was a piece of legislation in 2009 that put the issue square before South Dakota’s lawmakers.

The sponsor was then-Sen. Dan Ahlers, a Democrat from Dell Rapids. He led a list of 27 other Democrats and three Republicans who put their names on Senate Bill 142.

It sought to limit lawmakers’ paid travel, restrict their collection of honorarium or stipends from outside groups for travel, require them to publicly report those benefits, and specifically prohibit the Legislature’s Executive Board from authorizing the payment of state dues or other expenditures to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The hearing on the bill attracted two legislators who spoke against it. They were Rep. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, and Rep. Val Rausch, R-Big Stone City. Also testifying against it was lobbyist Dennis Duncan of Parker.

The Senate committee on state affairs subsequently voted 6-3, split along Republican and Democratic lines, to kill the legislation.

Being a target didn’t cause ALEC to hide.

In the 2012 session, there was a wine and cheese reception sponsored by ALEC on Jan. 17 for legislators and state officials. It was one of more than 100 such breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions held by groups, associations, organizations and others listed on the 2012 legislative session’s social calendar.

On that same Tuesday of the ALEC social there were eight other similar types of events that ran from before sunrise to midnight.

Those sponsors included the state Unified Judicial System and Supreme Court, whose gathering was by invitation only.

There also were the FFA; Madison Chamber of Commerce; the chiropractors association; and the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance, the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place and the state Department of Tribal Relations.

And there were the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — South Dakota Synod, Lutheran Social Services and Augustana College hosting an appreciation dinner for public servants; and the community of Delmont doing a doubleheader of sorts, with a sausage feed that evening, after a four-hour promotion in the Capitol rotunda from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There aren’t any requirements in state law that legislators publicly report any of the free food, beverages or possibly gifts they might receive at these social gatherings.

This is the way our Legislature is.

Any day that the Legislature is in session you can freely overhear lawmakers conversing about which events they are going to attend that noon hour or after the day’s work or in the evening or the next morning.

One of the gripes you’ll occasionally catch is there just are too many events to attend in an evening.

The social calendar sometimes can even become a minor burden for legislators, when they believe they must attend events because people from their legislative districts will be attending.

This is how the line blurs: A free coffee mug, a free lunch, a free round of drinks, a free breakfast, a free supper, a free cab ride back to your motel, a free plane ticket, a free stay at a convention resort, a taxpayer-funded trip to a tourism destination where a convention is hosted.

This is the way our Legislature is.

Link to original article from The Daily Republic

NEXT WEEK: A further look at the questions for readers to consider, of what is courtesy vs. friendship vs. influence vs. bribery vs. a favor vs. good government vs. extortion.


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