ALEC in Idaho: BW Reveals That One of ALEC's Top National Officers Works in the Gem State 

Lindsay Russell has worked for ALEC since November 2012, initially at its Virginia headquarters, following a stint as policy adviser for the Republican Governors Association and three years as special assistant to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

The word "shadowy" comes up a lot in descriptions of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The self-described "public-private partnership" has since 1973 teamed lawmakers, including members of the Idaho Legislature, with corporate interests to craft bills friendly to its stated "nonpartisan" ideology of "limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty."

For much of its 42-year history, ALEC has kept a low profile—its so-called "model bills" quietly working their way into law at statehouses around the country. By its own admission, the nonprofit membership organization—which has included some of the biggest corporations in the United States—has been successful: More than 1,000 of its bills are introduced by member legislators each year, with one in five ending up in statute.

In recent years, ALEC has been linked to controversial laws such as "stand your ground," which was used to acquit Robert George Zimmerman of the 2011 shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, and voter ID, which swept through state legislatures ahead of the 2012 election. In Idaho, similarities have been traced between ALEC legislation and the so-called "guns on campus" and "ag-gag" laws.

That ALEC is a powerful force in the Idaho Statehouse has become well known. The Center for Media and Democracy counts nearly 40 current and former Idaho lawmakers with ties to the organization, including all three members of the state's congressional delegation. Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Jeff Thompson, who serves as Idaho state chair for ALEC, was awarded State Chair of the Year at the group's annual meeting in Dallas last year. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, meanwhile, is part of the conservative State Policy Network, which is a member and sponsor of ALEC.

Media reports reveal that Idaho legislators routinely attend ALEC events around the country—Dalton Gardens Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri charged taxpayers $1,226 for his trip to the 2014 meeting in Dallas—and it is clear that model legislation finds a welcome home at the Statehouse, but according to documents obtained through public records requests, it turns out that ALEC's presence in Idaho is more concrete than taking phone calls from IFF and hosting legislators at national retreats.

Beginning in February 2014, ALEC was engaged in a back-and-forth with the Idaho Industrial Commission over its failure to provide an employee with workers' compensation insurance. In November 2014, after nine months of noncompliance, the Idaho Office of the Attorney General sent letters to ALEC CEO Ron Scheberle and CFO Lisa Bowen informing them that the organization had been assessed a penalty of $6,150 for continued failure to provide coverage from Dec. 23, 2013-Aug. 25, 2014. A phone record shows ALEC claimed it had a temporary policy in place that would have covered most—or all—of the penalty period, but in December 2014 the state of Idaho filed suit in Fourth District Court, demanding payment of the penalty plus attorney fees of $750.

The suit was dismissed and penalty lifted on Jan. 12, after ALEC's insurance provider retroactively amended its workers' compensation policy to include coverage for Idaho workers. What was left unclear in the suit was how many people ALEC has on the payroll in Idaho, who they are and what they're doing here for the Virginia-based think tank.

That information proved hard to get, but turned up a high-ranking member of ALEC's national operation who works out of Idaho.

"I have to tell you, I've never known of anybody specifically lobbying here in the Statehouse on behalf of ALEC," said Kathy Holland-Smith, Legislative Services Office division manager for Budget and Policy Analysis. "We have quite a few members who attend meetings that ALEC sponsors ... but I have not seen or heard of anybody lobbying for them here in Idaho."

According to Todd Dvorak, spokesman for the Idaho attorney general's office, the Industrial Commission learned of ALEC's failure to provide workers' compensation insurance through a review of Idaho business registration forms, which Idaho Department of Labor spokeswoman Georgia Smith said are documents used by businesses to provide information to multiple state agencies—in this case, the Department of Labor, Idaho Tax Commission and Industrial Commission.

Comparing IBR forms to workers' compensation records, IIC found that ALEC was violating Idaho law by "currently employing individuals to work and provide services under their direction and control" without coverage.

The IBR form includes more than 50 pieces of data and is needed to apply for various business permits. According to the Tax Commission website, businesses must register and are reminded to "be sure to" also file the business entity with the Idaho secretary of state. However, a search of the secretary of state's database does not return any record of ALEC as a registered business in Idaho.

"If there's a lawsuit obviously they have employees here and you would think that they would be registered as a business in Idaho," Smith said. "It does sound strange."

According to a clerk at the secretary of state's business entity office, ALEC may "not have even thought about filing with us" because the group hadn't needed to based on its "dealings with other companies, agencies, banks."

Meanwhile, Smith said IBR forms are confidential and protected by state law.

"I cannot either confirm or deny [that ALEC has filed an IBR form]," she said.

The same answer came from Idaho Tax Commission spokeswoman Liz Rodosovich.

"We cannot divulge any information about an individual taxpayer," she said.

However, a copy of ALEC's IBR was obtained by Boise Weekly following a records request with the Idaho Industrial Commission.

According to the form, ALEC filed its registration on Sept. 1, 2013, listing the "type of service performed" as "telecommuter—TFD of Education (Task Force Director)."

As detailed in investigation case notes from the IIC, Lindsay Russell, a 2006 College of Idaho graduate, has worked as director of ALEC's Education Task Force from an Idaho office since late 2013. The task force is one of nine such national subgroups in the organization.

According to her LinkedIn account, Russell has worked for ALEC since November 2012, initally at its Virginia headquarters, following a stint as policy adviser for the Republican Governors Association and three years as special assistant to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

It is still unclear what duties Russell performs as a task force director in Idaho—calls to Russell and ALEC CFO Lisa Bowen went unanswered by press time—but her presence illustrates the group's strong connection to Idaho.

ALEC maintains that it operates in the open, but has been known to turn away reporters from its meetings, seldom responds to questions and, in recent years, piled up enough negative publicity to require a "Setting the Record Straight" section of its online press room.

At least in Idaho, that record remains less than straightforward.

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