Who’s promoting ALEC in Oregon?

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Last week, the F29 protests targeted ALEC and their corporate sponsors. Yesterday, we took a look at ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council,) an organization that pairs oil, tobacco, and banking interests with legislators to create policy that promotes an extreme corporate  agenda over the public interest.

And ALEC operates right here in Oregon, with more than a dozen state legislators who serve simultaneously as Oregon representatives and ALEC members. Today, we’re exploring who those members are.

Who’s promoting ALEC in Oregon?

Because of ALEC’s secretive nature, it can be difficult to determine which legislators count themselves as ALEC members. As NPR reported, “Much about ALEC is private. It does not disclose how it spends its money or who gives it to them. ALEC rarely grants interviews. [Senior Director Michael] Bowman won’t even say which legislators are members.”

Though a few Oregon legislators have proudly included details of their ALEC involvement (Reps. Whisnant and Thatcher, for instance) other Oregon legislators are more cautious.

Luckily Oregon has one of the most transparent contribution and expenditure systems in the nation, enabling us to search out legislators who have received some of the notorious ALEC “scholarships.” Coupling that financial documentation with the 2011 leak of internal ALEC documents to the Center for Media & Democracy, we were able to identify several of the members.

Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver)

Rep. Gene Whisnant is not just any ALEC member, but the ALEC Oregon State Chairman. This isn’t an arbitrary honorific; along with the title comes great responsibility. The ALEC charter mandates that state chairmen must “work to ensure introduction of model legislation” (ALEC bylaws, Article X). A chairman must introduce ALEC bills into his state capitol, providing a direct conduit for big corporate interests into Oregon state policy.

F29 protesters focused on ALEC’s Oregon chairman Rep. Gene Whisnant

Leading up to the 2011 session, Rep. Whisnant wrote in one of his constituent newsletters:

“As a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), we vote on model legislation in the committees. I have started to draft two of ALEC’s model legislation and plan on introducing them next session. One is a Privatization Initiative panel that would create a panel to consider Oregon government’s priorities and determine which activities are best provided by the government and what services could be provided by the private sector. The other ALEC model is to create a council on efficient government.”

Rep. Whisnant’s eagerness to introduce ALEC-sponsored bills that promote privatization of government not only fulfilled his duties as Chairman (see those bylaws) but may have even been encouraged by the notion that such corporate favoritism might please some those generous corporate ALEC funders. Common Cause Oregon examined ALEC corporate members and their contributions to Oregon campaigns and discovered that, between 2001 – 2010, ALEC sponsors have dumped more than $16 million into the state, most of which went to conservative ballot measure campaigns and Republican candidates, Leadership, and Party PACS.

And mid-way through the session, in April 2011, Rep. Whisnant penned an article for Inside ALEC magazine, in which he noted that “The Oregon 76th Legislative Session is… the first session with the House equally divided 30-30. As a result, this may be the session to pass model legislation from ALEC’s State Budget Reform Toolkit.”

With such bold moves, it is unsurprising that Rep. Whisnant earned ALEC’s high honor of 2011 ALEC State Legislator of the Year. But Whisnant did not stop after his award. In the February 2012 session, Whisnant attempted to block consumer protection efforts to push big bank-friendly amendments onto foreclosure protection bills. (More on these bills in Monday’s post: How is ALEC affecting Oregonians?)

Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville)

We’ve written before about Rep. Matt Wingard’s blurry line between corporate and public interest: Rep. Wingard’s direct employment by Oregon Connections Academy caused us to question the Representative’s goal to promote education bills in Oregon that expanded opportunities for the for-profit schools which were, by most accounts, failing their students. (They have one of the lowest graduation rates in the state.)

But there’s even more to it. See, Connections Academy is one of ALEC’s corporate members.  And Connections Academy Vice President Mickey Revenaugh is the ALEC Education Task Force co-chair.

Between Rep. Wingard’s membership with ALEC and direct ties to corporate schools, it should come as no surprise to learn that Wingard has been promoting harmful education bills in Oregon that expand for-profit, online education at the expense of public education.

Rep. Wingard received one of the infamous ALEC “scholarships” for the 2011 ALEC conference, according to OREstar records.

Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer)

Rep. Kim Thatcher has proudly attended ALEC meetings, served on an ALEC Task Force, and introduced ALEC bills, according to several of her legislative press releases.

Bloomberg News noted that Rep. Thatcher additionally has permitted her staff to comb the ALEC database of bills to find language for the topics she chooses to introduce, essentially ensuring that corporate interests are primary in any legislation she introduces in Oregon. These bills have included anti-environmental measures that benefit ALEC corporate sponsors like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

Rep. Wally Hicks (R-Grants Pass), Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford), and Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City)

Reps. Hicks, Esquivel, and Kennemer’s involvement is revealed by OREstar records, detailing their attendance at ALEC conferences. It is unclear if other Oregon politicians have also paid membership dues or conference attendance fees. The Representatives listed here paid out of their candidate fundraising PACs, which are required by law to publicly disclose all expenditures. It’s possible that others have paid using other sources that they are not legally required to disclose.

Other Oregon ALEC members

There are many more Oregon politicians whom the award-winning website, ALEC Exposed, has listed as  members based on ALEC’s own documentation. There’s only one problem: ever since ALEC has been in the news, information about the legislators’ connections to ALEC has begun to disappear from ALEC’s archives.

ALEC has rebuffed criticisms of its organizations with the constant cry that “there is no lobbying” but it’s clear that its legislative members are making efforts to hide their affiliation.

Here is a list of Oregon politicians who at one time had online documentation of their affiliation.

Rep. Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg)
Rep. Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg)
Rep. Katie Brewer (R-Hillsboro)
Rep. Shawn Lindsay (R-Hillsboro)
Rep. Michael R. McLane (R-Powell Butte)
Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend)
Rep. Matthew Wand (R-Troutdale)
Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles)

Up next: How is ALEC policy is affecting Oregonians

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