Following the Money Trail

Following the Money Trail

By Liz Dorland. CREATED Mar 2, 2012

Omaha, NE--Viewers wanted to know after an Action 3 News investigation showed the proposed voter ID bills in Nebraska and Iowa are similar to one being pushed by a group called ALEC: what does it matter where State Senator Charlie Janssen got the bill?

As the senator from Fremont waits for the voter ID bill to come back up for debate, he's also denying any connection to ALEC, which stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

"i didn't use them at all for this bill," Janssen told Liz Dorland.  "I don't see the relevance of it."

But Common Cause Nebraska says there is a connection. 

"We've been able to trace it back to one man.  Kris Kobac who apparently had written the bill for ALEC," explains Jack Gould from Common Cause Nebraska.

Kobac is the Secretary of State in Kansas, a well-known ALEC member and a close associate of Janssen.

"We believe that he's influenced Senator Janssen with a bill that is essentially an ALEC bill," continues Gould.

 Critics say that matters because big corporations pay tens of thousands of dollards each to join ALEC.  Lawmakers pay only 50 dollars a year.

Together, they write the bills that lawmakers take back home.

Alec Kaitlyn Buss from ALEC tells us, "We have about five hundred individual donors, private business, companies large and small."  But when Liz Dorland asks if she can join, Buss turns her down with, "We are more focused on job creators and in legislators, elected officials."

Elected officials like Papillion's State Senator Jim Smith, who is proud to identify himself as a member of ALEC.  But he won't disclose who else in Nebraska is a member, referring that question to ALEC's DC headquarters.

"You're free to reach out to any state legislator and ask them about their activites, their memberships," responds Buss.  She doesn't provide a list of members.

But Common Cause says that once lawmakers pay ALEC the $50 membership dues, they qualify for a "scholarship" to attend ALEC conferences and "task force meetings", often held at luxury resorts in places such as Las Vegas, Orlando, or this year, in North Carolina.

"At those conventions the senators were then handed model legislation which was drafted largely by the corporate interest," Gould contends.

"Task force meetings are where our legislators come together and talk about the policies in front of them. The issues that are facing them," clarifies Buss.

These meetings allow lawmakers to bring their families, too.  A National Public Radio investigation points to tax records showing ALEC spent $138,000 in one week to keep legislators' children entertained.  None of it has to be declared as corporate gifts so voters don't know.

"The idea is to get those senators into a position where they can influence them and so it's a truly a lobbying effort," Gould concludes.

But ALEC officials disagree.  "We do not lobby," states Buss.

If they did lobby, it would change what ALEC would have to reveal, by law, the millions that corporations pour into ALEC for meetings, scholarships, and babysitting, to help lawmakers come up with bills.