Five Texas lawmakers have accepted more than $7,600 in corporate-funded “scholarships” to cover the cost of air fares, hotel rooms and other travel expenses to attend meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), a corporate lobbying group, according to new research by Common Cause.
Over a five-year span, State Reps. Tom Craddick (R), Linda Harper Brown (R), John Otto (R), and Phil King (R) and Sen. Larry Taylor (R), received payments of $250 to $1,920, for a total of $7,682, the research indicates. Most of the expenses were reported by King, who disclosed taking $5,142.46 from ALEC last year.
ALEC “scholarships” cover travel expenses for legislators to attend ALEC’s closed-to-the-public conferences. While the legislators disclose that the funding comes from ALEC, a report by Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, and DBA Press indicates that the real sources are corporations and that the lawmakers involved are aware of which companies are picking up the tab. The corporate-financed slush funds are another way ALEC hides its influence in state capitols across the country. Taxpayers also often pick up the tab for their legislators to be wined and dined by corporate lobbyists at ALEC, as Texas lawmakers often get reimbursed from the state for attending ALEC conferences.
Previous corporate funders of ALEC scholarships in Texas include Bayer HealthCare, Novartis, Eli Libby, the Texas Association of Dairyman, and UST Public Affairs. Other ALEC member corporations and nonprofits based in Texas include ExxonMobil, AT&T, ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil, BP North America, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
ALEC’s annual conference in Dallas begins July 30. Texas politicians set to speak include Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Joe Straus, and Attorney General Greg Abbott. While conference sessions in which elected lawmakers and corporate lobbyists join forces to write “model” bills for ALEC are closed to the public and press, citizen activists have organized informational panels, teach-ins, rallies, and film screenings of The United States of ALEC in the Dallas area.
ALEC is the force behind hundreds of state laws privatizing public schools and prisons, weakening clean air and clean water laws and undercutting workers’ rights. Common Cause has filed a tax “whistleblower” complaint against ALEC with the Internal Revenue Service, accusing the group of violating the terms of its tax-exempt status. ALEC is registered with the IRS as a charity but operates as a lobby for its corporate members.
This article was originally published on Common Cause's Democracy Wire.