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Republican Legislators Charge South Dakota Taxpayers for ALEC Trips

Nine Republican legislators from South Dakota traveled on taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year 2017 to imbibe the corporate-fascist nectar of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. According to an Out-of-State Legislative Travel Expense Report prepared by the Legislative Research Council, we reimbursed these nine Republicans a total of $18,750.33 for 17 trips to big-money propaganda sessions designed to promote legislation to weaken state governments and increase private corporate power.

Legislator FY2017 ALEC travel reimbursements # of trips
Lynne DiSanto $1,470.82 1
Brian Gosch $2,623.06 2
Leslie Heinemann $3,445.70 3
Phil Jensen $1,893.00 1
Kris Langer $2,283.13 2
Isaac Latterell $872.16 3
Jenna Netherton $1,353.06 2
Al Novstrup $1,466.84 1
Jim Stalzer $3,342.56 2
total ALEC bill $18,750.33* 17

Brian Gosch attended the ALEC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis on July 27, 2016, and the ALEC 2016 States & Nation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., on November 30, 2016, on our dime—actually, on 26,000 of our dimes—even though he did not stand for re-election and thus would not be returning to the Legislature in 2017 to provide any arguable public value for our investment.

Isaac Latterell attended both the ALEC 2016 Annual Meeting and the ALEC 2017 Spring Task Force Meeting in Charlotte, NC, with his now-married former power-coupler Jenna Netherton. It’s nice to know those two can still get along on the road professionally.

Al Novstrup celebrated his November victory and return to the Senate by traveling to ALEC’s Washington, D.C., shindig at the end of November. Funny that he would come back and propose a $39-million property tax increase two months later—I don’t see that anywhere in ALEC’s model legislation. Jeepers, Al: if we’re going to pay for your trips to Washington, D.C., at least pay attention to your corporate overlords!

The LRC also has data on taxpayer-funded out-of-state travel so far this year. Seven purportedly conservative Republicans charged us for their trip to the ALEC 2017 Annual Meeting in Denver, where they got to listen to billionaire Betsy DeVos tell them how to further ALEC’s goal of destroying public education:

Legislator FY2018 ALEC travel reimbursements (as of 9/22/2017)
Steven Haugaard $1,281.79
Leslie Heinemann $1,217.14
Phil Jensen $1,443.08
Isaac Latterell $444.93
Lee Qualm $595.32
James Schaefer $1,299.44
Jim Stalzer $1,161.96
 total ALEC charges $7,443.66

The LRC reports cover lodging, transportation, and meals. It omits taxi fares, baggage charges, and other miscellaneous expenses that, according to LRC director Jason Hancock, may add a single-digit percentage point to the out-of-state travel charges.*

*Update 2017.10.29 16:00 CDT: LRC has provided those miscellaneous charges. The FY2017 ALEC total increases to $19,751.54. Read more detail about the updated FY2017 out-of-state travel reimbursements in my October 29 post.


  1. owen reitzel 2017-10-08 09:59

    The usual names. When will the people in their districts wake up?

  2. Donald Pay 2017-10-08 10:10

    Freeloaders on the taxpayers dime. They should repay every last cent.

  3. Tim 2017-10-08 10:47

    Until the voters in this state start holding them responsible, they have nothing to fear and nothing will change.

  4. John Sweet 2017-10-08 11:07

    Anyone interested in drilling down further on the influence big money (especially the money provided by the Koch’s) to influence legislation and ideology should read Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money.”

  5. bearcreekbat 2017-10-08 12:09

    Is there statutory authority for using public funds to pay the partisan travel expenses for legislators? If so, individual legislators can’t really be faulted for compliance with the statutes – the focus ought to be on repealing or amending these statutes.

    If there is no statutory authority to pay for partisan travel then these legislators should be required to repay all such travel expenses paid by the State.

  6. Donald Pay 2017-10-08 12:09

    There are members of ALEC who go specifically to infiltrate and report on what’s going on. Sen. Chris Taylor form Wisconsin is a progressive who has been an ALEC member for several years. The most important thing they support is corporate welfare, but the money has to go to the right people, namely their corporate supporters.

    ALEC is part of a political protection racket. They like to couch their corporate welfare in grand-sounding efforts to “reduce subsidies” for industries or companies that don’t toe their particular line. What it amounts to is this: if you don’t contribute to our organization and our political causes and our list of political stooges we are going to come after your industry.

    Years ago it was the waste industry that was big at ALEC events, so ALEC had a huge effort, largely unsuccessful to gut recycling requirements. The waste industry, however, got smart, and developed or bought out recycling companies, and turned against ALEC model legislation.

    Right now the extractive industries, especially in the fossil fuel area, are huge ALEC supporters. That’s one reason you are seeing a nationwide effort to relax state and federal laws pertaining to mining, and to go after renewable energy.

  7. bearcreekbat 2017-10-08 12:34

    Thanks Cory! I had overlooked that earlier post.

    Do you know if there are any ARSD’s or standards governing the decisions of these officials? Surely they cannot authorize the use of taxpayer dollars for anything unrelated to the taxpayer’s interest, such as a vacation to Hawaii for legislator’s favorite lobbyist or donor.

    If there are no such standards governing the use of tax dollars for travel costs, then that raises two questions: (1) does the SD Constitution permit arbitrary spending taxpayer money without standards? and (2) what standards should we adopt to assure that taxpayer funds are only spent in the public interest, rather than on partisan trips?

  8. Tim 2017-10-08 18:25

    Cory, if you don’t mind me asking, how does that justify Gosch? For all intents wasn’t he finished?

  9. Rorschach 2017-10-09 02:05

    The taxpayer-funded junkets are not limited to just ALEC. How about posting the list of everyone who took taxpayer-funded junkets to NCSL and CSG. There are probably some big spenders on that list.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-09 04:50

    Tim, Gosch’s travel is a puzzler. Speaker Mickelson approved travel for a member who would not be returning. Gosch’s last interim committee meetings were on November 18, 2016, prior to his November 30 trip to Washington, DC. I’m not sure what value he added to the Legislature by attending that final meeting that warranted reimbursement.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-09 04:51

    Ror, stay tuned. I’ll get to them. But does any other group attempt to propagandize legislators into such a partisan agenda as ALEC?

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-09 04:55

    Bear, there are no standards in law or rule. The Legislature has given the Speaker and Pro-Tem full discretion over these travel reimbursements.

    I’d support two simple standards:

    (1) The state pays for travel assigned to legislators by the Legislature or by a Legislative committee.

    (2) The state pays for no out-of-state travel.

  13. Rorschach 2017-10-09 08:43

    NCSL and CSG are bipartisan organizations without agendas designed to facilitate discussion and craft model legislation.

    ALEC is a partisan organization created by and for a coalition of special interests to craft model legislation favoring the special interests and to recruit legislators to advance that model legislation.

  14. Roger L. Elgersma 2017-10-09 12:24

    Even though I really disagree with Latterell totally on his being one of only two that are totally against Dad’s being Dad’s in divorce with that fake shared parenting bill, I do see he actually does know how to balance a budget by not spending a lot of money. He went on three trips and spent less than those that went on one trip.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-09 12:53

    True: Rep. Latterell asked for zero reimbursement for lodging for his three FY2017 trips and minimal reimbursement on travel on two of his three trips. Perhaps he’s crashing on couches or finding a colleague with whom to bunk.

  16. Cheryl Rowe 2017-10-10 06:35

    Same old SD story. The Republican Party is a Club. A large majority of the members have no idea what their reps do. They throw fun parties. Make their members feel important. People like to feel they belong to the winning team. The Dems in SD need to work hard, if this landscape is ever going to change. Boy does it need to change. Get out the Vote!

  17. Tara Volesky 2017-10-10 07:42

    They are still going on junkets??? Wow! I believe they had a segment on 60 minutes how these Legislators are wined and dined at plush resort like hotels. They are lobbied to introduce bills and vote in their legislation to favor the 1%ers. These are ALEC conventions.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-10 18:34

    Tara, I look forward to hearing how the Republicans who went to the ALEC summit in Washington DC right after the election justify spending time right before Session spending our money to go be told by Coastal elites and fat cats what legislation to work on instead of hanging around here at home and getting advice directly from us voters. What does any ALEC exec in Washington DC have to tell a South Dakota legislator that is more important or instructive for solving South Dakota problems than what South Dakotans have to say to their own legislators?

  19. Tara Volesky 2017-10-11 06:58

    Cory, nice way to have a paid vacation on the taxpayers. I wonder if anyone will propose an anti-junket bill to stop free trips to ALEC and AMERICANS for PROSPERITY excursions. The groups have a full time Lobbyist now, former State Representative Don Haggar that will wine and dine you right here in SD. He’ll even give you the Legislation to introduce and vote on.

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