A national whistleblower group is accusing Arizona politicians of being in the pocket of big corporations.
The group Common Cause is accusing nearly all the Republicans in the Arizona State House and Senate of participating in a political "scheme."
A 50-page report compiled by Common Cause and its allied organizations claims more than $200,000 has gone to Arizona legislators in the past several years to pay for plane tickets, rooms at lavish resorts and food and drink, among other perks.
"What we have is an organization which corporations put money into to have access to members of the legislature," says State Rep. Steve Gallardo, a Phoenix Democrat.
Common Cause is targeting the nonprofit group ALEC, which stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
"ALECs influence is secretive but very powerful," says Lisa Graves with the Center for Media and Democracy.
The newly released report accuses ALEC of hardcore lobbying and tax fraud. The report says corporations first make tax-deductible donations to ALEC. Next, that money is turned into "scholarships" for legislators to pay for trips to political action meetings. Then, lawmakers return from the trips and introduce legislation that was actually written by corporate lobbyists.
"ALEC has a substantial role here. It's behind a number of bills introduced in this session and others of the Arizona legislature," says Graves.
Nothing that ALEC is doing in Arizona is illegal because the law allows for legislative benefits as long as they're available to all lawmakers and not just a select few.
"Let's put an end to these free trips," says Gallardo.
Republican State Rep. Amanda Reeve says ALEC gets a bad rap.
"It provides a forum to meet and discuss issues with industry leaders and fellow lawmakers from different states," said Reeve in a phone conversation with CBS 5. "It's a good service for the legislature."
The group spotlighting ALECs work, however, strongly disagrees.
"Is democracy based on we the people or should be democracy be owned by corporate executives and corporations?' asks Bob Edgar of Common Cause.
The Salt River Project is listed in the report as having given $25,000 to ALEC over the past several years.
SRP provided the following statement when reached for comment:
The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization that provides a platform in which public policy matters that can impact SRP customers are discussed with public-policy leaders and industry experts. Because these issues – such as tax and energy policy – can affect our community and our business, SRP believes having a seat at the table on behalf of our customers is important. Other examples of organizations that provide a forum for public policy in recent years are:
SRP has served as a cornerstone of meeting the Valley's water and power needs for more than 100 years. We have a long history of participating in public policy development and we are committed to thoughtful, bi-partisan discussion to provide a solid foundation for decision-making in the public-policy arena.
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