On May 22, a video from an Atlanta TV station started popping up in my Facebook news feed. The headline read "The Back Room: Where Georgia Bills are Made." The segment detailed a reporter's failed attempt to access a meeting between state lawmakers and representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The station's outrage at being denied entry was followed by a shocked explainer of what ALEC is: a conservative, free market think-tank that writes corporate-driven "model" legislation that its member-lawmakers then introduce as their own at statehouses around the country.
While people in Atlant—and on my Facebook feed—are all riled up about ALEC, it seems like a good time to remind BW readers about an Associated Press report that came out on May 12, which detailed the travel expenses of Idaho lawmakers. The legislator who ran up the highest bills was Dalton Gardens Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri, with $9,689 for in- and out-of-state travel.
Barbieri is well known as an arch-conservative from North Idaho, whose first act once elected in 2010 was to propose the state nullify Obamacare. Since then, he has been on the far-right fringe of almost every major issue to come up at the capitol. He's also a committed member of ALEC, traveling to the group's conferences in 2012, 2013 and 2014. His attendance in Salt Lake City in 2012 and Dallas in 2014, according to reports, were at taxpayer expense—$1,226 for the 2014 conference alone.
In a video posted to YouTube following the 2013 ALEC gathering in Chicago, Barbieri said he's drawn to the group for "its fellowship of like-minded individuals looking at conservative principles and ideologies to take home and, you know, implement."
It's also a good emotional support group, apparently.
"It's good to know that I'm not off," he said. "That we are espousing an important ideology here in terms of free markets."
You don't need a think-tank to see that there may well be something "off" about a lawmaker who "espouses" small government and low taxation while asking citizens to foot the bill for his "fellowship" meetings with corporate lobbyists.