The Center for Media and Democracy's (CMD) Brendan Fischer and Nick Surgey uncovered an internal document from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the controversial organization's meeting last week in Oklahoma City. The document entitled "OKC anti-ALEC photos" featured the headshots of eight reporters and public interest advocates that have written about ALEC or been critical of ALEC's activities (as a front group working on behalf of its corporate membership).
CMD's Surgey attempted to attend the keynote address by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, which was billed as open to the press. After registering for press credentials at the ALEC registration desk, Mr. Surgey ascended the escalator towards the keynote speech, but was confronted by ALEC staff members and then approached by a uniformed Oklahoma City police officer.
Mr. Fischer and Surgey recount the exchange in which Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting. From PR Watch:
"I need those credentials," the officer said.
"I registered," Surgey replied.
"No, you didn't," said a female ALEC staffer, who was accompanying the officer.
"I did, downstairs," he said.
"It was... you shouldn't have been able to."
The reason Surgey shouldn't have been allowed to register, according to the ALEC staffer: "Because we know who you are.
Surgey asked the ALEC staffer for her name as she asserted that he had to leave:
Can I ask your name?" Surgey asked the ALEC staffer who challenged his press credentials.
"Erm, why?" she replied.
"Is there any reason you wouldn't want to tell me your name?"
"Yeah, because I know who you are," she said.
The staffer -- whose organization had developed talking points claiming to support the First Amendment, which protects a free and vibrant press -- added: "Because you're going to write an article about it."
Less than 10 minutes after registering as press, Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting by a police officer. As he was escorted away, the ALEC staffer repeated: "We know exactly who you are."
As Director of the Checks & Balances Project, I was one of the eight people featured on the "ALEC Most Wanted" document alongside other reporters and public interest advocates who have criticized ALEC's efforts to influence state legislators on behalf of special interests. Fischer and Surgey write:
"The page featured pictures and names of eight people, four of whom work with CMD, including Surgey, CMD's general counsel Brendan Fischer and its Executive Director Lisa Graves, as well as CMD contributor Beau Hodai.
It is not known whether the photo array of people who have reported on or criticized ALEC was distributed to ALEC members or shared with Oklahoma City law enforcement.
Other targets on the document included The Nation's Lee Fang, who has written articles critical of ALEC, and Sabrina Stevens, an education activist who spoke out in an ALEC task force meeting last November. Also featured were Calvin Sloan of People for the American Way and Gabe Elsner of Checks and Balances Project, both of whom are ALEC detractors.
The name of ALEC Events Director Sarah McManamon was in the top corner, indicating the document was printed from her Google account."
As Fischer and Surgey point out, ALEC claims to support the freedom of the press. But in practice, the organization seems reluctant to provide transparency and access required for a free press to be functional. Instead, "ALEC assembled a dossier of disfavored reporters and activists," and "kicked reporters out of its conference who might write unfavorable stories... "
ALEC's sensitivity to transparency shows that the accountability work by C&BP, CMD, People for the American Way and others is working. A free society can't work unless there is some check on the concentration of power. Now, more than ever, society needs more of the most powerful check on concentrations of power -- public scrutiny. Most recently, C&BP has worked to expose ALEC's efforts to eliminate clean energy laws in states across the country and bring to light that these attacks are being driven by powerful special interests.
ALEC exemplifies how fossil fuel corporations and other special interests have an oversized influence in our public process. And, C&BP is proud to be part of the effort to expose ALEC, fossil fuel-funded front groups and other fossil fuel interests using their power and resources to attack clean energy policies -- even if it lands us on ALEC's Most Wanted list.