Yesterday, in Transparency: Kahn introduces ALEC ID to let dirty hippies in on corporate overlords' agenda, Bluestem took note of a bill in the Minnesota House that would require disclosure on the part of groups promoting "model bills."
Currently, ALEC and other organizations that draft model bills are not require to be transparent about their spending and other activities, leading to charges against ALEC of undue and untraceable influence by the group's corporate backers.
In the state senate yesterday, Senator Scott Dibble offered an amendment that would have required that groups like ALEC (and to his credit, Dibble uses the hypothetical example of an environmental group that would promote model bills through practices identical to those used by ALEC).
The amendment was ruled ungermane, but Dibble challenged the Senate President's ruling, asking for a roll call vote. The president's ruling was upheld on a 34-31 vote, with Republican Senators Thompson and Nienow joining the DFLers in voting "No." Senator Koch did not vote, and the late Senator Kubly's seat remains empty.
Over at the Minnesota Progressive Project, Eric Pusey notes in Republicans opposed to shining the light on ALEC activities in Minnesota:
Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) proposed shining the light on ALEC's activities at the State Capitol. Unsurprisingly, the MNGOP is opposed and his amendment failed.
"This was a common-sense amendment that would have added more transparency to our political system," Sen. Dibble said. "This is the type of information every Minnesotan deserves to have. Our state already has very strong campaign finance and lobbying laws that require lawmakers to disclose which lobbyists send them money; this amendment simply makes sure there's not a loophole that allows certain special interests to hide from public view."
Sen. Dibble's amendment would have required organizations such as ALEC that advocate "model legislation" to register as a lobbyist principal. In addition, organizations that distribute scholarship funds for lawmaker to attend conferences would need to disclose that information, and all legislators receiving scholarship funds from those organizations would be required to report them on annual statements of financial disclosure registered with the Campaign Finance Board.
Senator Dibble said it was disappointing to see the amendment rejected, but even more alarming to witness Local Government and Elections Committee Chair Ray Vandeveer, R-Stillwater, seeming to mislead the public in Senate Floor debate.
"Sen. Vandeveer suggested this measure should have been vetted during normal committee meetings," Sen. Dibble said. "That suggestion is frustrating, because I requested two separate committee hearings on this bill, Senate File 2249, and twice was ignored by Chair Vandeveer himself. It seems Republicans will go to any length needed to protect their special-interest influences."
Bluestem agrees with Senator Dibble's statements, released after the amendment was shot down. Perhaps more interesting, however, are those two rogue Republican votes from Nienow and Thompson. Fortunately for those who don't want to wade through the video archive of the Senate floor action, The Uptake has pulled the eight minutes when the Dibble amendment was under consideration--Bluestem embeds it at the end of this post
Watching the clip, I noticed something that Dibble would have been unable to see. Almost directly behind the earnest Minneapolis lawmaker, Senator Dave Thompson is typing something on a phone.
Thompson finishes and sits back.
A couple of seconds later, Gretchen Hoffman appears in the frame, holding her phone.
Their eyes lock, and she kneels at Thompson's desk, resting her head on her hands on the surface.
She says something, he laughs, takes off his glasses and leans back.
After a few seconds of conversation, they both get up and leave the screen.
At the 3:51 mark, Hoffman walks through the screen again, followed by Thompson, who doesn't return to his desk, but continues off screen behind her. Presumably, they're headed toward her desk.
The business of the senate in considering the amendment continues--it's dry stuff--and Hoffman is among the first of the chamber to vote. She votes along party lines, to sustain the president's ruling.
But Thompson is second to the last of the senators to vote, and in a surprise move, votes"No" --votes which would overturn the senate president's ruling that the amendment was not germane. Sean Nienow follows his lead, and the vote is closed.
Was Thompson distracted by Hoffman? Was Nienow following his lead? Or was Thompson simply so impressed by ALEC member Gretchen Hoffman that he voted to consider transparency for the group, once he scurried back to his desk?
Bluestem applauds Thompson and Nienow for their bravery in crossing party lines to vote for transparency. It's quite the feat for Thompson, who's offering a "right to work" constitutional amendment that's based on an ALEC model bill.
Whatever the case, snapshots of behavior more worthy of high school freshman than freshman senators can't be good for Hoffman's congressional campaign, however to the right she may be to Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson.
Screenshots: Dibble takes care of business while Hoffman and Thompson chat behind him (above); the roll call vote just before Nienow cast the final vote(below).