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Vukmir releases records related to ALEC work

Apr. 4, 2014
 
Leah Vukmir
Leah Vukmir / File/AP

MADISON — Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir has released documents related to her work with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council as part of a settlement of an open records lawsuit filed by the liberal Center for Media and Democracy.

The group’s attorney, Brendan Fischer, told the Wisconsin State Journal in a story published Friday (http://tiny.cc/oppsdx ) that the documents provide the first evidence that an effort by ALEC to rebrand itself as being legislator-driven is “just a sham.”

The more than 100 pages of records show Vukmir sponsored a model bill under the direction of a Florida lobbying group, after voting last spring on an ALEC policy allowing only lawmakers, and not lobbyists, to introduce model bills.

“This demonstrates that ALEC is really a lobbyist-driven organization,” Fischer said. “The lobbyists are the ones calling the shots. The legislators are just following along.”

ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling said the documents are the culmination of a “yearlong witch hunt based on unfounded accusations.” He said any model policy that legislators introduce would be consistent with their community culture.

“The notion that legislators are puppets is an indictment of the United States and our Constitution as a whole,” Meierling said.

ALEC is a national organization that brings together state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists to craft legislation supporting free markets, limited government and federalism. Vukmir, of Wauwatosa, is second-vice chairwoman of the group.

The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit June 6 to obtain records from Vukmir related to last May’s ALEC meeting in Oklahoma City.

In one email, Christie Herrera, vice president of policy for the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank with a registered lobbyist, wrote to Vukmir and three other legislators from other states. Herrera thanked them for sponsoring a resolution opposing the expansion of state Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act and coaching them on what to say.

“Each of you will need to introduce the bill,” Herrera wrote. “As such I have written opening remarks that are also attached to this email. ALEC had a (ridiculous) concern that the task force debate would be ‘one-sided,’ so I have focused each of your remarks on addressing at least one pro-expansion talking point.”

The documents also include an agenda for the board meeting with reports from various subcommittees about the status of model legislation.

Vukmir said in a statement after the settlement was announced that the documents, which were located in a private email account, were not previously disclosed because of a “technical issue” in searching for them.

Fischer said he doesn’t believe Vukmir’s explanation given that a state agency was able to find the documents by searching for the term “ALEC.”

Luke Fuller, an aide to Vukmir, said the search also found inconsistent results using the same term, which explains why the documents weren’t found earlier.

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