This winter, the South Dakota Legislature decided to spend an extra half-million dollars on itself, even though its own Research Council never said they need the money. House Speaker Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) and Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth) pressed into law a funding increase per legislator that is twelve times larger than the funding increase they saw fit to dole out per teacher...because obviously Brian and Russ's work is twelve times more important than your kids' teachers' work.
Today the Executive Board of the South Dakota Legislature decided to spend some of that money on sending members to the entirely pro-corporate, anti-democratic meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The E-Board also apparently wants to pay dues to ALEC for every member of the Legislature. $100 a head, 105 legislators, $10,500 trickling up the corporate ladder.
Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) says nuts to that. Your money may already be appropriated, but the House Minority Leader promises the only folks wasting it will be Republicans. Below is Bernie's assessment of the Republican leadership's poor stewardship of your money.
The Republican-controlled legislature hiked its own budget $5,000 per lawmaker last session, and today (Tuesday) they began to spend the money by voting themselves more out-of-state travel, including trips to the controversial ALEC conventions where conservative lawmakers mingle with corporate special interests.
Democrats tried to strike the money for the trips on the final day of the legislative session, and they tried again today (Tuesday) when the legislature's executive committee expanded the travel policy. "When we can't afford to fund our schools or cover other basics of government, we can hardly afford to turn legislators into frequent fliers," said Senator Larry Lucas of Mission, who opposed the measure as a member of the executive board.
Lucas said he and other legislators were blind-sided by the proposal to include ALEC. "That's unconscionable, especially this year when we pushed school costs onto property taxpayers. The priorities of our Republican colleagues are hard for me to fathom today."
Rep. Bernie Hunhoff said the spending priorities of the GOP-dominated legislature are hurting South Dakotans. "On the last day, the legislature couldn't even find $25,000 to help fund a van for disabled veterans. We couldn't find support for scholarship programs or prenatal care to the very poorest young mothers in South Dakota. And yet we have the money to fly ourselves all over the country? This is not a proud day for the South Dakota legislature."
Hunhoff said the 2013 session was remarkable in its lack of partisanship and substantive reforms were enacted. "I'm still hopeful we can continue that spirit into 2014, but today's vote and the way it was conducted is not particularly helpful in that regard."
Sen. Jason Frerichs, the Democrats' senate leader, said spending state tax dollars on ALEC dues and trips is shocking. "This is an organization that has raised more than $20 million over the last several years from the biggest corporate special interest groups in the world. They take great pride in promoting legislation that benefits the coffers of these large corporations, often at the expense of the average American taxpayer."
Frerichs and Hunhoff said they intend to demand that no dues monies be paid for Democratic legislators. "We won't attend the ALEC conferences and we do not want a dime of the taxpayer's money to be used for this biased, extremist lobbying organization."
They said they'll also try to correct the executive board's decision in the 2014 legislative session.
ALEC is an extremist organization supported by the rightwing Koch brothers and a few hundred other wealthy individuals and corporations who seek to promote their political agenda to state and national politicians. The group has raised more than $20 million over the last several years. "They hardly need the hard-earned tax dollars of South Dakotans," Lucas said [Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, press release, 2013.04.23].
In addition to buying our legislators, the Koch brothers want to buy eight major U.S. newspapers. Turn the papers and the lawmakers into puppets—it's hard to beat that strategy.
Update 20:24 MDT: Sourcewatch maintains this list of South Dakota legislators who have mucked or are mucking about with ALEC. Brain Gosch, Stace Nelson, Fred Romkema, Charlie Hoffman....
Update 20:58 MDT: I've updated to press release to include comments from Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot).8 comments