The email memorandum came from Arizona State Rep. Debbie Lesko, the Arizona public sector chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Dated May 12, 2011, at 4:33 p.m., it extended an invitation to ALEC members “to join me in New Orleans at ALEC’s annual meeting from Aug. 3-6. READ ALL DETAILS BELOW:”
What followed could serve as a damning indictment of several members of ALEC who did and/or continue to serve in the Louisiana Legislature.
“ALEC is a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty,” the email said.
Then came the zinger—in boldface type, no less:
“If you are an ALEC member, your airfare, hotel, ALEC registration, baggage, travel to/from the airport to the hotel, and airport parking will be reimbursed through an ALEC scholarship up to $1900 per legislator.”
Another paragraph, again in boldface, instructed legislators thusly: “You need to SAVE and SUBMIT copies of all receipts and turn them in to my assistant, Patty Wisner, AFTER the trip. Reimbursement usually takes 2-3 weeks to process AFTER the trip and AFTER you turn in the reimbursement form and receipts. I have attached the reimbursement form.”
The problem with that is that at least 16 Louisiana legislators filed expense reports with the House and Senate for reimbursement of more than $20,750 in expenses related to their attendance at last August’s annual meeting in New Orleans, hosted by ALEC’s then national president, former Rep. Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro), according to records provided by the House and Senate.
And those figures don’t even include out-of-state ALEC conferences places like San Antonio, Chicago, San Diego and Washington, D.C., and attended by some of the same legislators who attended the New Orleans annual meeting, as well as 19 other members and former members of the House and Senate and which cost taxpayers an additional $56,200.
Assuming the same offer was extended to members who attended the other meetings, it would appear that state lawmakers may have double-dipped in an amount that approaches $70,000 for the ALEC-sponsored events.
Some of their state-paid expenses were for per diem at $152 per day, a cost not paid by ALEC and to which legislators are technically, if not questionably, entitled.
Rep. Jeffrey Arnold (D-New Orleans), for example received $456 in per diem for three days of meetings in his home town, plus the registration fee of $575 for last August’s annual meeting.
Rep. Austin Badon, also of New Orleans, by contrast, submitted expense vouchers totaling $1333 for the same meeting, including $608 for hotel accommodations even though he resides in New Orleans. He submitted a voucher for a registration fee of $610 as opposed to Arnold’s $575 registration fee.
Others, such as Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), however, claimed more than $2,000 in expenses that included a $475 registration fee for the same meeting.
Besides the $475 registration fee, Seabaugh also submitted vouchers for payment of $346 in mileage from Shreveport and $456 in per diem payments—a total of $1,277, leaving almost $800 in unaccounted for expenses, presumably for hotel accommodations at the New Orleans Marriott which were not itemized on his voucher that was stamp-dated Aug. 15, 2011.
Lesko’s email specifically said that members’ registration fees and hotel accommodations would be paid by ALEC. Seabaugh submitted a $100 payment on June 13, 2011 for two years’ membership, according to his campaign finance records.
ALEC, headquartered in Washington, D.C., professes to be non-partisan and says it is not a lobbyist organization. It is supported by generous donations from hundreds of corporate members such as BP America, Chevron, private prison companies Corrections Corp. of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), US Airways, Amazon.com, American Express, Amway, Amoco, Anheuser-Busch, Archer Daniels Midland, AT&T, Bayer Corp., Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Hunt Guillot of Ruston, Bristol-Myers, Chrysler Corp., ConocoPhillips, Dell Computers, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, ExxonMobil, FedEx, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Georgia-Pacific, K12, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, McKinsey & Co., Merck, Pfizer, Reynolds American, Shell Oil, State Farm, Time Warner, Gulf States Toyota, UnitedHealthcare, Union Pacific, UPS, Verizon, Visa, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Liberty Mutual and Zurich Insurance.
ALEC even has its logo prominently displayed, along with other national legislative organizations, on the Louisiana Legislature’s web page: http://www.legis.louisiana.gov/
Until recently, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Intuit, the Gates Foundation and McDonald’s were members but have since pulled their support in the wake of public backlash over the shooting death in Florida of black teenager Trayvon Martin by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
For more than a month, it appeared Zimmerman would escape prosecution under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, legislation enacted with the strong backing of ALEC. It was announced on Wednesday, however, that Zimmerman would be prosecuted for second-degree murder.
The Louisiana Senate, by a 31-6 vote on Monday, approved SB 303 by State Sen. Neil Riser that would strengthen gun rights by allowing firearms at schools, churches and on college campuses.
If approved by both chambers, the proposed constitutional amendment would be decided by Louisiana voters in next November’s elections.
Riser, a member of ALEC and who has filed expense vouchers for attending ALEC conferences, said the bill would give Louisiana “the strongest Second Amendment law in the nation.”
Other current and former members of the Louisiana House and Senate who submitted expense vouchers for ALEC’s August annual meeting in New Orleans include:
• Former State Rep. Elton Aubert (D-Vacherie)—$1354.01;
• Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans)—$1333.36;
• Former Rep. Damon Baldone (D-Houma)—$575 (registration fee);
• Sen. A.G. Crowe (R-Pearl River)—$1351.72 (including registration fee);
• Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro)—$649.36 (includes two days’ per diem);
• Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles)—$816.64 (includes hotel room);
• Rep. Joseph Harrison (R-Gray)—$1920.97 (includes $947.64 for hotel and $475 for registration fee);
• Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe)—$1696.35 ($608 in per diem for four days; $475 registration);
• Former Rep. Nita Hutter (R-Chalmette)—$677.75 (includes $475 registration);
• Rep. H. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte)—$1781.77 ($760 per diem ($841.95 hotel);
• Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches)—$2178.97 ($894 for six days per diem;
• Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans)—$608 (four days per diem);
• Rep. Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs)—$1319.82 ($456 per diem; $804.99 hotel);
• Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)—$1745.21;
• Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)—$1486.44 (includes $476.08 hotel, $295 registration and $73.92 parking).
Current and former legislators who submitted vouchers for other ALEC conferences in other cities include:
• Lebas—Phoenix, Nov. 29-Dec 2, 2011 ($596); Washington, D.C., Dec. 1-4, 2009 (1656.83); San Diego, Aug. 4-7, 2010 ($1321.36);
• Long—Atlanta, Dec. 7-12, 2011 ($894);
• Hoffman—Atlanta, July 14-18, 2009 ($1614.40);
• Harrison—Washington, D.C., Dec. 3-5, 2008 ($1896.43); New Orleans, Sept. 30-Oct 2, 2009 ($496), Washington, D.C., Dec. 1-5, 2009 ($1981.24); San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1580.50); Washington, D.C., Nov. 30-Dec 4, 2010 ($2031.14);
• Baldone—Chicago, July 30-Aug. 2, 2008 ($1222.22); San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1645.84);
• Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1485.36);
• Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1403.36);
• Rep. Greg Cromer (R-Slidell)—Washington, D.C., Dec. 3-7, 2008 ($2281.73); Atlanta, July 15-18, 2009 (1486); Washington, D.C., Dec. 2-4, 2009 ($956.50);
• Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge)—San Diego, July 31-Aug. 8, 2010 ($2454.11);
• Former Rep. Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro)—Chicago, July 28-Aug 2, 2008 ($858); Washington, D.C., Dec. 2-7, 2008 ($870); Atlanta, July 3-9, 2009 ($2068.05); New Orleans, Sept. 30-Oct 1, 2009 ($304); Durham, N.C., Oct. 14-18, 2009 ($795); Washington, D.C., Dec. 1-4, 2009 ($932.56); Dallas, March 2-3, 2010 ($318); Phoenix, Nov. 28-Dec. 3, 2011 ($894);
• Sen. Dale Erdy (R-Livingston)—Atlanta, July 14-18, 2009 ($2058.25); Chicago, July 30-Aug 2, 2008 ($2302.19);
• Former Rep. William Walker Hines (R-New Orleans)—Atlanta, July 15-18, 2009 ($1707.85);
• Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1403.36);
• Former Rep. Kay Katz (R-Monroe)—Austin, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2011 ($1177.05);
• Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe)—Chicago, July 29-Aug 2, 2008 ($2159.39);
• Former Rep. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1460.36);
• Former Rep. Nickie Monica (R-LaPlace)—Washington, D.C., Dec. 1-5, 2009 ($2095.24);
• Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux)—Atlanta, July 15-16, 2009 ($747.70);
• Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)—Washington, D.C., Nov. 30-Dec. 4, 2010 ($2139.52);
• Former Rep. Mert Smiley (R-St. Amant)—Chicago, July 29-Aug. 3, 2008 ($2200.60);
• Former Rep. Gary Smith (D-Norco)—Washington, D.C., Dec. 4-6, 2008 ($1060.26);
• Rep. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($2438.56);
• Rep. Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner)—San Diego, Aug. 4-8, 2010 ($1525.76).