Did right-wing organization violate campaign law and its own tax-exempt status? – Akron Beacon Journal

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Its more than coincidence when Republican legislatures throughout the nation all start singing the same right-wing marching songs, as in the frenzy to bar critical race theory from public schools that arent even teaching the university-level discipline.

That hysteria, an outlet for pent-up racism, has been fed not just by Fox News but also by a spider web of mostly tax-exempt political organizations in which the American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC for short is arguably the most significant.

Accurately described as a conservative corporate bill mill and as the back room where laws are born, ALEC indoctrinates like-minded state legislators at annual conferences heavily subsidized by corporate donors, and it drafts model legislation to be introduced in Tallahassee, Austin and other red state capitals.

Now its accused, apparently credibly, of helping Republican legislators win elections in violation of its tax-exempt status. Two Florida lawmakers are named in the complaint.

The stand your ground law promoting the use of deadly force was hatched in Florida but eagerly promulgated nationwide by ALEC, doubtlessly to the delight of gun manufacturers. Following the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, a boycott campaign prompted Coca-Cola and several other corporations to quit ALEC, which announced it would be refocusing on business-friendly legislation rather than hot-button social issues.

But now, its back in the culture wars.

The 1619 curriculum is infecting our schools, warned an ALEC post last December hyperbolically promoting a workshop on critical race theory. Diversity training is taking over our workplaces.

ALEC has also been a fountainhead of voter suppression and anti-union laws, limitations on alternative energy the petrochemical Koch brothers were major funders and pressure to reopen the public marketplace before COVID-19 could be brought under control.

Although ALEC is effectively a powerful mega lobby, it is tax-exempt as an educational organization. As such, its not supposed to make campaign contributions.

But it does that in a big way, according to complaints recently filed with the IRS and with Florida, Ohio and 13 other states. The complaints are serious and deserve to be taken as such.

[In Ohio, the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause Ohio requested the Ohio Elections Commission investigate allegations against three lawmakers, including Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster. The commission will review the complaint on Oct. 7.]

The complaint to the Florida Elections Commission identified Republican state Reps. Spencer Roach and Jason Fischer, ALECs two Florida state chairs, as likely recipients of valuable software thats priced beyond what Florida law allows. Neither has reported any such contribution to their campaigns or responded to emails asking for comment. No contributions from ALEC appear in the Secretary of States election database.

Florida law sets a $1,000 limit on contributions to a legislative campaign and requires the reporting of all donations, whether in money or in kind.

According to the complaint filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, one of ALECs arch-foes, it distributed election campaign software worth between $2,376 and $5,760 to an unknown number of state legislators as a benefit of their membership. The estimate Is based on the manufacturers pricing structure to non-ALEC members.

The software, produced by Voter Gravity, a concern linked to the Republican National Committee, comes fully loaded with all campaign data and functions, according to the complaint. Data entered by ALEC members supposedly is added to the RNCs database, benefitting the national party as well as local legislators.

The complaint, citing information provided by a whistleblower, contends that the software gives ALEC members access to party affiliation, ideology, issue interest, income, education, religion, Tea Party support, voter history, precinct information and turnout score data for voters in their districts, and services that they can use to create walking lists for door-knocking, set door-knocking and phone calling goals, track supporters, and create election day strike lists to maximize the turnout of their supporters.

The software's precise and voluminousinformation about voters implies massive data mining and goes far beyond the lists maintained by Florida election supervisors.

Among other things, the complaint asks the Florida Elections Commission to issue subpoenas to identify all Florida ALEC members who may have received the free software for their 2020 campaigns and determine whether they or their staff used it on state time or in state offices, along with the identities of those who funded the program.

But its improbable that the commission could do any of that for the near future. Its presently one member short of a quorum and lacks even a chair and vice chair. Five seats are vacant, leaving only four members whose terms have long since expired. Gov. Ron DeSantis is responsible for appointing replacements from lists submitted by the Senate president, House speaker and the Democratic leaders of both houses. But he has appointed no one to the commission since taking office in January 2019.

Its insane, said Barbara Anne Stern, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who had served since 2012 until her recent resignation.

In Washington, the Internal Revenue Serviceis under new and hopefully improved management. It has often appeared indifferent to organizations abusing their tax-exempt status. The ALEC complaint is a timely and appropriate opportunity to do better.

As for DeSantis, he was a keynote speaker at ALECs confab in Salt Lake City late last month, rousing the audience with a diatribe against masking requirements and a Faucian dystopia. Although he would seem unlikely to let the Elections Commission have a go at the ALEC complaint, one can always hope. Increasingly in Florida, hope is all thats left.

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Did right-wing organization violate campaign law and its own tax-exempt status? - Akron Beacon Journal

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