It all begins with secret meetings at a luxury resort in Georgia.
Politicians accepting all-expenses-paid retreats from high-powered lobbyists. A bill written under cloak of darkness and voted on without the public even knowing. This isn't some Orwellian dream, it's happening right here in America.
Investigative reporter Brendan Keefe of 11Alive News went behind the scenes and what he recorded was pretty disturbing, until the police escorted him away.
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Brendan's video shows how members of a powerful lobbying network called ALEC pool their resources, then use them to create "scholarships" for legislators who attend their closed-door meetings at resort hotels. The public is not allowed in and even credentialed reporters are turned away.
Organizations like ALEC operate as 501c3 charities to "educate" legislators about upcoming bill proposals. Georgia Senator Nan Orrock, a former member, sums it up best, "I mean, they're cranking out legislation, putting it in the hands of legislators who go back and file it."
And she knows exactly what happens inside these secret meetings.
"There are votes taken that have the corporate folks at the same table voting with the legislators... and truth be told, they write the bills."
That's right. Bills are often drafted by lobbyists and then handed over to politicians who fill in the blanks. Simultaneously, these politicians are being showered with money and gifts from those lobbyists.
In Georgia, the Asbestos Claims Priorities Act, which prevents many asbestos victims from suing asbestos manufacturers, is alarmingly similar to the draft of the bill crafted in a backroom session and even matches some sections exactly. This same Act was proposed by three Georgia Senators, who combined received over $22,000 in "scholarships" to attend lobbyist-hosted events, like the one in the video.
And this isn't just a state-based problem. We reported on a federal bill, (H.R. 992), that was largely written by Citigroup lobbyists. 70 of the 85 lines in the bill reflected recommendations contained in the model bill. Word for word. Let's be clear, collaboration on legislation between politicians and lobbyists is part and parcel of democracy. But when money changes hands and the public is prevented from ever seeing the deal, we've got a problem.
At least we got a peek at how these deals go down before reporter Brendan Keefe was approached by four off-duty police officers and asked to leave the premises.