Hey, remember State Rep. Bob Helm’s (R-ALEC) star turn in a hidden-camera video? The one recorded at an American Legislative Exchange Council meeting at a tony Savannah resort?
The one where he happily acknowledged that his expenses had been comped by lobbyists? And further, that he had solicited lobbyist donations for other lawmakers to attend the conference?
Yeah, well, the video has gotten another airing on Atlanta’s Channel 11, which has done a follow-up to its earlier piece on the toxic combo platter of lobbyists, lawmakers, big money and secrecy that characterizes an ALEC conference. This time, investigative reporter Brendan Keefe documented ALEC’s inadequate and misleading response to his original report. He used the opportunity to re-air some absolutely wonderful footage of his encounters with ALEC officials and his ultimate eviction from the hotel — where he was a paying guest — by uniformed sheriff’s deputies doing security for ALEC.
The video is recommended viewing. But here’s a transcript of a key passage, in which Keefe tries to interview a guy who ought to be prepared for such an eventuality — ALEC’s Vice President of Communications, Bill Meierling. The encounter takes place in the opulent lobby of the Hyatt Regency Savannah Hotel, and Meierling’s obvious discomfiture at being buttonholed by a persistent reporter is just wonderful.
Keefe: Can we do an interview with you?
Meierling: Actually, no.
K: Why not?
M: Um, if you’ll please turn the camera off.
K: No, we can’t turn the camera off. That’s one thing we don’t do.
M: Okay, well then I’d like to have you escorted out of the building.
K: Okay, I’m a guest of this hotel. I’m actually staying here.
M: You are staying at the hotel?
K: Yeah. So here’s the question. If Georgia legislators are meeting here, we’re credentialed right here to see Georgia legislators making laws. Are they discussing things that could become law here?
M: Georgia legislators are here participating in discussions, they’re learning from legislators from other —
K: So why can’t the people who elected them see the process?
M: This is a private meeting.
K: A private meeting paid for by whom?
M: By our members and donors.
K: Lobbyists, correct?
At this point, Keefe replays the footage of Bob Helm saying that lobbyists help pay lawmakers’ expenses, and a nearby lobbyist acknowledging same. She also adds that lobbyists pay higher conference fees, which helps underwrite lawmakers’ participation. Keefe then resets the Meierling tape to his previous question:
Keefe: Lobbyists, correct?
Meierling: No. They’re not lobbyists.
K: The ones we recorded in the bar last night aren’t lbbyists?
[Meierling sighs and turns away.]
ALEC later accused Keefe of having “caught [Meierling] off-guard.” Which is a stupid thing to say about your own primary spokesperson. If anybody at ALEC ought to be prepared for a reporter’s inquiry at any time, It’s Bill Frickin’ Meierling.
The premises, as Keefe reported, were guarded by fully-uniformed sheriff’s deputies whom “we saw taking orders from ALEC staffers.” Here’s the transcript of Keefe being evicted from the premises by law enforcement officials, even though he was a paying guest and had broken no laws.
[Deputy walks up]
Deputy: I’m going to have to ask you to leave.
Keefe: I’m a guest of the hotel.
D: Not for long. Not for long.
K: I’m a paying guest of this hotel, sir.
D: We’ll take care of that.
K: Did we violate some law or something? I mean, are we violating a law here?
D: [whispering to fellow deputy] Don’t say nothing.
Embarrassing. Keefe is still seeking information from the sheriff’s department on the security arrangements for the ALEC confab. If the deputies were on the clock, that’s an abuse of public resources. If they were on their own time, I’d argue they shouldn’t be wearing their official uniforms.
ALEC claims to have “welcomed journalists from prominent outlets” to its events in the past, but reporters have to apply in advance in writing so ALEC can pick and choose. Fox News? Come on in! Left wing outlet or MSM? No sir! From Media Matters for America:
Security guards working at the 2011 ALEC annual meeting in New Orleans physically removed ThinkProgress reporters Lee Fang and Scott Keyes from the hotel in which the conference was being held. In 2013, uniformed Washington, D.C. police turned away Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Reporters critical of ALEC are denied even the limited access granted to the handpicked journalists ALEC allows to attend portions of their conferences. As Toronto Star reporter Olivia Ward discovered in 2011, some journalists, along with protestors, are threatened with arrest while trying to cover ALEC conferences.
These are the people Bob Helm chooses to associate with, take ideas from, and accept top-flight hospitality from. This is the organization whose membership includes, according to Helm, one-third of Vermont’s Republican lawmakers.
And given the general secretiveness of ALEC and its minions, I expect that Blurry Bob Helm’s braggy video will get plenty of airings for a long time to come.