Talk about Southern hospitality! Apparently South Carolina has really rolled out the red carpet for ALEC, carving out a special exemption in the state's lobbying law to allow legislators some very special one-on-one time to plot their state-by-state legislative takeovers. Isn't that just the sweetest thing? Bless their hearts:
ALEC has insisted that it is the victim of a "well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign." It also denies accusations that it is a lobbying firm pressing state lawmakers to pass conservative legislation, though ethics watchdog group Common Cause has filed a lawsuit with the IRS, alleging that ALEC is a lobbying group and challenging its nonprofit status.
Yet there's no doubt that ALEC is an influential organization among conservative legislators, and that the extent of its reach is just beginning to become clear. It is such an integral group in some circles, in fact, that South Carolina law actually carves out a special ethics exemption just for ALEC.
The state's lobbying law has a section governing how lobbyists can interact with public officials. They cannot, for example, pay for an official's lodging or transportation. However, there are exceptions, one of which is for functions held by ALEC (emphasis added).
[...] ALEC is the only organization to get an individual carve-out in the section.
The outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.
As the Post-Courier in Charleston recently reported, some of ALEC's "model laws" have been making their way into the South Carolina legislature. The state passed a voter ID law last year, for example, which had similar language to a model bill that ALEC had proposed.
State Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) discovered the exemption in the lobbying law on Wednesday.
"I am disgusted that this group has been specifically exempted from ethics laws in the state of South Carolina," said Brown in a statement. "I am appalled but not surprised that an extremist group such as ALEC wields such influence in the South Carolina General Assembly."
Brown also told The Huffington Post that he would introduce a bill on Thursday to strike the (a) and (b) exemptions, although he did not expect the GOP-controlled legislature to pass it anytime soon.
House Democratic Caucus Director Tyler Jones said the ALEC exemption was the work of former state House Speaker and ALEC member David Wilkins, who later served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Canada and as transition committee chair for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R). Wilkins was the lead sponsor on the lobbying bill and chose the conference committee members. Wilkins did not return a request for comment.