Rep. Casey Kozlowski, R-Pierpont, is among the Ohio Statehouse members who belong to a lobbying group that has come under fire by ProgressOhio and other groups.
At the beginning of the current legislative term, more than half of Ohio’s lawmakers belonged to the non-profit American Legisla-ive Exchange Council (ALEC), according to ProgressOhio, which joined with the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause for the American Way in releasing a report on ALEC’s influence on the Ohio Statehouse.
The report, issued Friday, points out that the influence of this group is so strong upon legislators that the director
of scheduling for the Ohio House speaker was asked to rearrange the 2012 session dates around ALEC events. The events provide legislators with the opportunity to enjoy dinner and other entertainment on the lobbyists’ credit card.
ALEC, which was founded in 1973, is an influential player in state politics, according to ProgressOhio. Its influence includes providing lawmakers with model legislation that is often drafted by lobbyists and lawyers from the nearly 300 corporations with ties to ALEC. The ALEC Exposed website states that “ALEC has long been a secretive collaboration between Big Business and ‘conservative’ politicians. Behind closed doors, they ghost write ‘model’ bills to be introduced in state capitols across the country” (alecexposed.org home page).
According to a legislative scorecard released by ALEC, 826 of these ALEC model bills were introduced in state legislatures around the nation and 115 were enacted in 2009. During a nine-month span in 2011, 33 bills were introduced in Ohio containing elements from 64 different ALEC model proposals, according to the ProgressOhio report. And although it is bipartisan group, legislative staff circulated a membership recruitment letter to Republicans only, the ProgressOhio report states.
Kozlowski defends ALEC’s claim of bipartisanship and said he joined “early last year (2011).”
“It is like the other organizations that exist. It’s an option that legislators have,” he said.
Kozlowski said he paid the $100 fee for two years of ALEC membership out of his personal finances. He said ALEC is unlike other groups that legislators can join and have the taxpayer pick up the membership fee.
When asked why he joined ALEC, Kozlowski said “...its ideas are free-market principles. They have individual speakers on different topics throughout the year.”
ALEC holds conferences for members and Kozlowski said he attended one in Arizona. He could not recall the date. He said a state scholarship, the funding source of which he could not recall, provided a portion of his travel and attendance fees. The balance came out of his own pocket.
He said the conference featured several speakers on the challenges of health care and budgets. But Kozlowski said that, at the end of the day, it is what he hears from his constituents that determines what legislation he sponsors and how he votes.
“I’m focused on doing the job, not being beholden to lobbyists,” he said. “It is my job to represent the constituents.”
Kozlowski, who is running for his second term as representative, is challenged by Democrat John Patterson of Jefferson. He said Patterson, a retired teacher, holds membership in education-oriented groups that provide conferences for legislators, just as ALEC provides.
Patterson, whose campaign has researched ALEC’s connection to recent state legislation, said “ALEC seeks to promote a disproportionate share of power for corporations at the expense of the working class.” He points to various pieces of legislation that “have ALEC’s fingerprints” all over them: S.B. 5, which would have weakened Ohio’s public employee unions; H.B. 275, which weakened consumer protection; H.B. 153, which cut funding to schools and local governments; H.B. 194, which suppresses voters rights and will be on the ballot; and the governor’s move to privatize prisons and the Ohio Turnpike.
“My point is that ALEC’s influence is verifiable in all those pieces of legislation or supposed legislation, and my opponent is a member of ALEC,” Patterson said.
online: progressohio.org; alexexposed.org; alec.org