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April 4, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

“United States of ALEC”

  |   Video
  • There will be a free screening of the Bill Moyers production, “The United States of ALEC,” sponsored by AFSCME, the Arizona public employees union. ALEC IS the American Legislative Exchange Council, and critics say it allows corporations to direct and produce legislation for state legislatures. Common Cause President and CEO Bob Edgar will introduce the film and present a new report on all ALEC-backed legislation introduced in Arizona this year.
  • Bob Edgar - President and CEO, Common Cause
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, law, film, ALEC, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ALEC is an acronym that stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a public-private membership association of corporate interests and state lawmakers. Critics say ALEC has too much influence at state capitols across the country, but others see ALEC as little more than a way for lawmakers and business interests to meet and share ideas. National Common Cause president and CEO Bob Edgar presented a new report on ALEC-backed legislation introduced in Arizona this year and he joins me now to talk about what he sees as the influence of ALEC on the Arizona state legislature. It's good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Bob Edgar: It's nice to be here.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of ALEC.

Bob Edgar: ALEC is an association of about , conservative state representatives from across the country who meet several times a year in some of the most fancy resorts and fancy spots and they meet went corporations, they sit side by side, they have eight task forces. Nothing happens unless the corporate leaders agree to let it happen. They put model legislation together, and then they come back to states like Arizona which is the poster child for where ALEC works and here in this state, they have these model bills that they put in place. Now, that's not a bad thing to do if you're a conservative, that's okay. But for 40 years, they've been organized and filing with the IRS as a charity. Every contribution given is tax deductible and corporations who give hundreds of thousands of dollars for these fancy events to lobby, I spent years as a member of Congress, I know what lobbying looks like. Your former guest is a Congresswoman, she's finding out what lobbying is like. These folks are professional lobbyists who want to corporatize democracy, want to move democracy more into the private sector and they ought to be honest about the fact that they do lobbying and they tell the world and here's the point that impacts on average citizens. We pay for it. As taxpayers, every time somebody defrauds the tax code as ALEC has done and bill moyers did a video we showed almost people last night here in Arizona, we're showing it in every state capitol so that average citizens can make the connection between their legislators being wined and dined and accepting gifts that they can't accept in their own state and also what ALEC is doing to influence public policy.

Ted Simons: You use the word fraud. If it's that clear, and if it is fraud, where's the IRS, where's the federal government on this?

Bob Edgar: We found inside the IRS there's a whistleblower agency that is mandated to investigate tax fraud. Bob Edgar, that is myself and my wife, we filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS. We gave the IRS only 4,800 documents. We handed it over last May and they've been researching those documents and showing the difference between what they claim on their tax form and what they actually do, and inside this agency, if we are right and our legal council says that this is the strongest tax fraud case that they've seen, if we're right and the IRS comes out and concludes that we're right, then ALEC and the corporations that are paying into ALEC will be subject to penalties and fines into the millions of dollars. Last year, in the Martin shooting, ALEC came to the fore because the shooter claimed the stand your ground law and that law was invented by the rifle association, installed in Florida, and then spread through ALEC across the country and that's when ALEC came out of the shadows and became very much a popular name and word.

Ted Simons: It's interesting you mentioned coming out of the shadows because a year or so ago, ALEC had a national conference here in Arizona and one of our state lawmakers, the ALEC Arizona state chairman and we talked to her about ALEC and among the things we asked was whether or not ALEC had more influence than it should have or at least more than the average Joe or Jane at the state legislature. We want you to listen to what she had to say.

SOT: Ted Simons:So when critics say ALEC means too much corporate benefit, not enough public benefit, you say...

Debbie Lesko: I say ALEC is a great group. They bring legislators together to talk about pension reform, fiscal responsibility, improving education, it's a great forum. I think it's the strength of ALEC that businesses and legislators can meet together, share ideas, create jobs.

Ted Simons: Is that a disproportionate strength, considering of the lawmakers are members of ALEC.

Debbie Lesko: I'm very good at recruiting.

Ted Simons: Apparently, you are but is the appropriation healthy for Arizona?

Debbie Lesko: Yes it's healthy because all the issues we talk about are issues that our Arizona citizens, a vast majority support. They want to make sure that we're fiscally responsible. We talk a lot about that issue at ALEC. They want their state rights. We talk a lot about that issue at ALEC. I mean, they're just good, solid issues that our citizens support.

Ted Simons: Good, solid issues, a give and take of ideas, a chance to meet with business interests. What can be wrong with that?

Bob Edgar: Arizona is the poster child for how they've been consumed by the ALEC influence. For example, for-profit prisons have been established, and ALEC has spread those across the country and filling them with persons where they get money per diem. Education, they've been trying to weaken public education and we did a lot of research in these whistleblower complaints that we sent in, we found inside of ALEC, they're manipulating these legislators to think that they're doing the public good and your voters here in Arizona need to ask the legislators that are part of ALEC do you represent us as individuals, as democracy is supposed to represent, or do you represent Exxon and bp? Do you represent the energy interests and the healthcare interests? 40 corporations since the Trayvon Martin shooting have fled ALEC because they don't want to be identified with ALEC. Many corporations that don't care about their brand identity have stayed and they want to use ALEC almost like a stealth bomber to be able to lobby inside the state legislatures without labeling it lobbying.

Ted Simons: Is there, though, a liberal version of this? I ask this because I've heard of the progress states network, psn, union backed and there's some thought and some critics of psn say they're more secretive than ALEC out there and it's harder to find out who's funding and running that group which drafts model legislation.

Bob Edgar: Common cause has been around for years and we try to be a watchdog of good government looking at both liberals and conservatives. The difference is if you give 25,000$, to ALEC, you can take it off on your income tax. If you give 25,000$, to the group that you mentioned, that would be illegal because they filed properly with the IRS and you don't get a tax break. So the taxpayers are supporting and funding and subsidizing ALEC. The taxpayers aren't subsidizing these other groups. Also, in ALEC, corporations have equal influence with the state legislators. In these other groups, they'll invite corporations in to give their talking points and their point of view but they don't let them control the outcome.

Ted Simons: So is it your main concern not so much the influence that they have at the legislature because some folks are voting in conservative lawmakers because they're conservative, it's not so much that you're saying it's the tax exempt status, it's the unwillingness to say you really are a lobbying group.

Bob Edgar: If I'm general electric, I want to get access to all of these state legislators, ALEC is a great opportunity to do it and then I get a bonus by being able to take off every dollar I give to ALEC as a tax deduction. That's a pretty good thing. It's actually lobbying on the cheap. And I think what your constituents here in Arizona want, they want their representatives to come to the state capitol and do the best job they can, listen not only to corporations, but listen to all sides of a particular issues and they want lobbyists to be known, registered, and not hiding in the shadows.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Bob Edgar: Appreciate it.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

  |   Video
  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will appear on Arizona Horizon to discuss the latest issues facing congress, issues such as gun control and debt reduction.
  • Kyrsten Sinema - Representative, Arizona
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, sinema, debt, gun control, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Representative Kyrsten Sinema won a tough, narrowly decided race to become the newest member of Arizona’s congressional delegation. She serves in district , which covers parts of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler and Mesa. Kyrsten sinema joins me now to talk about a range of issues facing Arizona and the nation. Good to see you again.

Kyrsten Sinema: It's great to be here.

Ted Simons: There's so much going on. And it seems like immigration has kind of taken a lead here. The reform ideas are out there. I know the gang of eight is going here. Is something happening in the house with you here?

Kyrsten Sinema: Absolutely. Now, the house is getting a little less attention but it's actually a little bit farther down the road. You can expect to see some legislation come out of the house sometime in the next several weeks. The legislation in the house covers the same broad principles as you hear in the Senate, it addresses border security, future flow, so addressing how we let immigrants in to work and when and what numbers and the third issue is settling the status of people who are already here, the dreamers, the folks who have been working for many years.

Ted Simons: Compared to what you're hearing from the Senate?

Kyrsten Sinema: The house version is different in that it will be a package of several bills that will be voted on independently. But it does include significant funding and support for border security. It does address the market-based system to allow individuals to come into this country to work when we have jobs available and it does provide paths to citizenship for people who are already here, who want to get right with the law and get on the path of American citizenship.

Ted Simons: Does that path or any aspect of the house plan involve returning to one's home country, reapplying, reentering?

Kyrsten Sinema: Much of that is still under debate so that may be the case for some, maybe not for others. That part hasn't been completely decided yet.

Ted Simons: And as far as like a new visa program for low-skilled workers, first of all, do you think that's a good idea and secondly, there seems to be a dispute over the wages for some of these workers.

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, that's the gang of eight proposal. The gang of eight in the Senate has proposed the w visa. It would eliminate a temporary visa, allow folks to get a one-year worker visa with the option to turn that into a longer term path to legal permanent residency or eventually citizenship. There are some debates around what the wages would look like and whether or not that visa would be attached to a certain employer. That's in the Senate. It's a different discussion than what's happening in the house. In the house I think there's some acknowledgment that some are interested in more long-term paths to not only working but a path to citizenship.

Ted Simons: And when the two likely eventually mix along those lines, what would your thoughts be regarding again democrats are kind of coming at this from higher wages for fewer workers, Republicans are saying more workers, lower wages.

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I support and always have supported a market-based approach. The idea that instead of having rigid quotas to allow certain numbers of people in every year that we instead adjust the number of the visas based on the market needs so when we have a big need in one industry, we bring in more folks for that industry. When we have less of a need, we bring in less folks. It's a more dynamic approach and meets the real requirements of our country.

Ted Simons: Last question. I'm not going to ask you what a secure border looks like.

Kyrsten Sinema: Nobody knows.

Ted Simons: Nobody's going to have an answer but how do you better improve security at the border?

Kyrsten Sinema: One of the ways to address it is to create a future flow for legal folks to come in, through a door, create a door for good people to come in and get jobs. Right now, border patrol can't tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy because a guy with drugs looks the same as a guy looking to work. If you have a path, the folks coming here illegally are mostly here for bad purposes. But we've seen some success in the Yuma sector. We have to figure out how we can crack down on the folks who are doing dangerous things, smuggling drugs and people.

Ted Simons: I keep hearing the Yuma sector is a success. Let's put it in the Tucson sector. Is that viable?

Kyrsten Sinema: There are some real differences in terms of geogrpahy. The Yuma sector is a much more dangerous sector and the risk of death and dying is much higher in Yuma and so some of the success is replicated but every area is different.

Ted Simons: Let's get to sequestration and what the heck is going on to get this figured out.

Kyrsten Sinema: Sequestration has gone into effect and folks will continue to feel the roll-out of sequestration over the coming months as furloughs are being implemented in the military, as we're seeing pay cuts happen across the board. So the sequestration is very real. And fortunately, the government is taking some action to reduce some of the negative impacts. We passed the continuing resolution two weeks ago that alleviates the impact of the sequester on the military, veterans, the criminal justice system, and our agricultural community. It doesn't eliminate the bad stuff but it lessens it. It's a step forward. It also prevented government shutdowns but there's much work to do and frankly, we're still waiting for some bipartisan action here.

Ted Simons: I know that Republicans are big on addressing things like Social Security and Medicare and debt services. Can those things be addressed or is this such gridlock that you've got -- I keep hearing there's bipartisan action going on.

Kyrsten Sinema: There is.

Ted Simons: We're not seeing a heck of a lot of results here across the continent. Are you willing to listen, raising the retirement age, is that something you would listen to?

Ted Simons: Actually, I am part of a group, we were called the gang of 32, but there's a lot of gangs in Congress. We're the united solutions caucus. 36 Republicans and democrats in the freshman class joined together, we issued a joint statement where we called for a grand bargain to address long-term issues like preserving and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, ensuring they're solvent in the future and also addressing revenue, addressing loopholes, addressing infrastructure and we said we're willing to take bipartisan action to solve this problem instead of kicking the can down the road. What we've asked most recently is for leadership in both parties to meet with us to talk about actually solving the problem. Unfortunately, what we hear in Congress is a lot of attacking each other and blaming each other, which, of course, doesn't solve anything.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing more of that, less of that, what's going on?

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I'm spending my time with folks who want to find a bipartisan solution and the good news is our ranks are growing. We're seeking to attract more and more folks from higher power to join us in the effort to solve the problem. I've got to tell you, everywhere I go in the district, that's what I hear about. People want us to solve the problems. They don't care if it's a Republican or a democratic solution. They want the problem fixed.

Ted Simons: But there are some who look at the sequestration business, this was supposed to be such a radical idea that no one would even remotely consider it, it's a done deal. Is Congress serious about this?

Kyrsten Sinema: There are some people who are. And I certainly can't speak for everyone but I can tell you that in this freshman class, both Republican and democrat, we are folks who come from our communities. We've got new ideas, and most importantly, we're problem solvers. We have a history of being problem solvers when we served in our state legislatures, our city councils, or as business leaders in our community. So we believe it's our job to help kind of allow other folks to reflex their muscles of bipartisanship. They've done it before. They can do it again.

Ted Simons: Are they willing to do it again? You talked about leadership. Are you getting near there or just a gang of fill in the blanks doing their own thing?

Kyrsten Sinema: No, no. When we presented our ideas to both sets of leadership, they encouraged us and asked us to continue working. And so we believe that this change has to come from the bottom up in Congress. It has to be from those of us who are new, who haven't gone Washington, those of us who are still interested in making change.

Ted Simons: The president is out there now talking about gun control, gun control issues and he says we're not going to wait for another Newtown. Do you agree and, if so, explain, please.

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I do believe that most Americans agree throughout this country, including here in Arizona that there are some common sense actions we can take. For instance, right now, 40% of all gun sales happen outside of a background check. That's a little bit nerve-wracking because bad guys who get a hold of guns usually do it outside of a background check. One common sense proposal that I have long supported is to ensure that all gun sales and gun transfers happen with a background check and there's a proposal in the Senate and the house to do that. I support that.

Ted Simons: What about the idea that it would push the bad guys, the black markets sales. It's not going to stop it.

Kyrsten Sinema: It's true, that bad guys will always do bad things but when law enforcement can tell the difference between a bad guy and a good guy, it's easier to stop those people. When good guys are getting their gun sales down through background checks, it's easier to catch the bad guys.

Ted Simons: Some of those good guys are concerned about a firearms registry. How do you keep that from happening?

Kyrsten Sinema: You can do universal background checks and as soon as the check's done, eliminate the data. That's very simple to do and that's actually one of the proposals we've seen in Congress.

Ted Simons: Is that something, though, that you think people will buy? A lot of folks are going to say I'm not buying it, they're not going to get rid of that data.

Kyrsten Sinema: It's healthy to be skeptical of government. The best way to ensure that that doesn't happen is through checks and balances.

Ted Simons: Assault weapons ban, for it?

Kyrsten Sinema: I think the assault weapons ban is not likely to come for a vote in the U.S. house or the Senate. It doesn't seem to be enough folks on both sides of the aisle to get this done and you know me, I'm one who always deals in the world of the possible. I'm trying to get done what we can get done to not only protect the second amendment but also protect families and kids.

Ted Simons: Last question on this, critics of any kind of gun reform here say that gun ownership is up and gun violence has actually for the past 20 some odd years been down, according to FBI statistics. How do you respond to that argument?

Kyrsten Sinema: That's great news. That means we're doing something right in this country. I think it makes sense to take some common sense measures. In Arizona we have a gun show loophole where you can go to a gun show, purchase as many weapons as you want and if you're one of those straw trafficker guys, you can turn right around and sell those guns to people who don't have the legal right to have them, felons, people doing bad things. I think closing that loophole makes sense regardless of the level of violence that we've seen. We don't want guns in the hands of bad people. I think we can agree on that.

Ted Simons: Last question here, I know that you give a state of the district address here and again, it sounds like you're pushing again for bipartisanship, you're pushing again for the mayors of the cities that you represent to get together and work together. Are they willing to do that or are we still seeing some of the old regionalism going on?

Kyrsten Sinema: These mayors are some of the best mayors in the state. You've got mayor Stanton, mayor smith, mayor lane and mayor Mitchell and they're talking together on a regular basis. Before I even took office, we got together and had a meeting and started brainstorming how I could be of service to them in their work together. It's tremendous the work they're doing together, not just around things like transit and public safety but even around economic regionalism, growing technology companies, biotech, incubating centers of innovation. They’re doing some amazing work. I see my job as helping them do that work and facilitating that effort.

Ted Simons: What are they asking you to do now that you've been in office?

Kyrsten Sinema: One of the things they're asking me to help do is identify grants. Because of the sequester and because of diminishing moneys that are coming from the federal government to local governments, they're working hard to earn moneys from the government in the form of grants. So our office is going to start helping them identify grants and help facilitate them applying for and hopefully getting some of those merit-based grants.

Ted Simons: So you're not seeing as much provincialism that we tend to think be out there? You're saying you're seeing some cooperation?

Kyrsten Sinema: These guys are great. In fact, many of the east valley city mayors were together just yesterday talking about some regionalism that they're working on together. They're doing a great job and I'm just proud to be a part of their team.

Ted Simons: Last question here. Biggest challenge you've found since going back to Washington.

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I'll tell you the truth. You spend a lot of time walking from one building to the next and I'm very efficient, so I started having meetings while I'm walking from one building to the next so not to waste the time. That's the biggest challenge I've seen.

Ted Simons: If the lay of the land is the biggest challenge for you --

Kyrsten Sinema: We're in good shape.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Kyrsten Sinema: Thanks so much. Great to be here.