In my last submission, “Let’s Rain Down A Storm Of Protest And Blow Alec Out Of The States”, I wrote of the immense power the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wields over state legislatures. This is the final feature in my trilogy on this dreadful organization. This segment is directed at writing an effective Freedom of Information request.
Here’s what needs to be included in an FOI request: it should be mailed to one of the two legislative chairs of the state ALEC organization. In my previous ALEC story, I showed how you could track the name down through the ALEC website.
Send your FOI through the postal service. Your letter must identify it as a Freedom of Information request. Mail it to his/her legislative office address. All states have a state government site identifying state senator’s and representative’s addresses, emails and assorted phone numbers.
If phone contact is required, call the legislative office number. Do not call the legislator at home unless, as a last resort, he or she is ducking every attempt at compliance.
What follows is my actual FOI request, minus my personal contact information, that I sent to Representative Liston Barfield, one of the ALEC state Chairmen in South Carolina. If possible, try to research state ethics filings or whatever heading applies, to learn of any ALEC trips, fees, gifts and reimbursements that involve the object of your request. It will be helpful in formulating your FOI.
An FOI request is for paper records and documents. It is not a simple Q & A because clearly there is not proof to back up the answers. Always include requests for hard-copy documentation to be mailed by the postal service to your enclosed home address. It is helpful to put a time limit on your request as well.
Here is the exact FOI I sent to Representative Barfield. Obviously, the FOI must be state-specific.
Representative Liston Barfield (R-58) 2/21/2012
This is a citizen Freedom of Information request. My name is…(include mailing address, email, all contact numbers.)
Here are my FOIA requests to include U.S. Mail, email, memos, notes, legislative records and/or any other form of correspondence reflecting the material(s) requested. It is understood that all requests will assume the above. Requests involving the American Legislative Exchange Council will hereafter be represented by the acronym, ALEC.
(NOTE: be sure to include every conceivable mode of correspondence or recording of records).
- Telephone conversation notes, letters, memos and/or emails relating to your duties or services for fees earned from ALEC of $9,661.00 for Educational Services Rendered as reflected in your SC Ethics Commission records of 2008. (NOTE: this is why it is a good idea to peruse ethics records. If you have the individual’s own filing, there’s nowhere to hide.)
- Telephone conversation notes, letters, memos and/or emails relating to your duties or services for fees earned from ALEC of $7,600.00 for Educational Services Rendered as reflected in your SC Ethics Commission filing of 2009.
- Any correspondence (as defined) reflecting your appointment/election as Secretary of the ALEC national Board of Directors and your duties.
- ALEC membership roster of the 118th and 119th SC General Assembly to include house and senate members, republicans and democrats. (NOTE: states demarcate legislative sessions numerically. You’ll want the current session and 1 or 2 of the most recent prior sessions. Sessions are generally referenced as the 119th South Carolina General Assembly and cover two years. There might be exceptions I’m not aware of).
- Roster of those 118th and 119th General Assembly members who are members of an ALEC Task Force.
- List of those 118th and 119th General Assembly members who attended a national ALEC function in the years of 2009, 2010 and 2011. List should include the name of the function, date and city where held (to include Task Force meetings, States & Nation Summit, et al).
- Please provide 1-2 page samples or copies of assorted ALEC handouts that you received in attending various ALEC functions. Include schedules, speakers, corporate attendees, descriptions of meetings, etc.
- Provide any correspondence referencing ALEC and/or ALEC model legislation within this time period (1/1/2010 – 2/20/12) that was exchanged between you and Governor Haley and/or her staff. Include interoffice memos and all other forms of correspondence described above. This is to include both originating source and response for both parties. One or two sample pages of each example will suffice.
- Please make available the initial legislative sponsor and bill identifier cover page of each piece of introduced legislation (whether passed or not) from the last two legislative sessions that was based solely or partially on ALEC model legislation. (example: Campsen ALEC Voter ID bill). The page should reflect the sponsor & co-sponsors, name and number of the bill, an opening statement about the bill and whatever else is necessary to enable me to research the legislation in its entirety on the SC legislative website.
- From 2008 – 2011 your ALEC ‘fees’ totaled $18,531.00. In addition to the information already provided, please compile those additional documents that identify what work was done by you to earn these ‘fees’
- Common cause has identified the state of South Carolina as having received $2,408,151.57 from ALEC from 2001-2010. Please provide documents reflecting your receipt of any portion of that money and/or documentation of any legislators who received any of that money during that time period and to the current period if those payments continue. Also enclose any documents that would reflect what is expected of that money. Not to exceed 1-2 pages per example.
- Provide 1-2 pages of any correspondence between you and ALEC in your capacity as South Carolina House of Representatives American Legislative Exchange Council State Chairman. Include the years 2009 through the present time.
- Please provide a reflection of your payment from ALEC for services as National Secretary of ALEC Board.
The time and effort of you and your staff are duly appreciated. I would like to receive these materials in a timely manner not to exceed six weeks.
Obviously, not all the above will apply to your situation, but hopefully this example with give you a basic template. I also previously pleaded with my readers to get the ALEC word out through mail, mass emails and phone. Let’s not forget word of mouth and vital social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I’d especially like to see wide social media distribution of my last ALEC feature.
Caveat: If money is an issue (of course it is). You will likely be charged fees for processing, research, copies, etc. You should include a fee waiver request in your letter based on why the FOI answers regarding the operation of state government would be of significance to the general public.
Good luck fellow believers in democracy.