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Lawmakers, lobbyists head to the Big Easy

Dozens of Florida legislators -- and, of course, lobbyists -- are gathering in New Orleans for the annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and taxpayers (and even a few lobbyists) are helping to pick up the tab.

ALEC is a pro-business, pro-limited government group heavily funded by corporations, and it attracts thousands of like-minded lawmakers every summer. The agenda includes subjects familiar to any Florida legislator: public pensions, privatization, tax policy and Medicaid reform. Speakers include Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wall Street editorial writer Steve Moore and former U.S. House majority leader Dick Armey.  

Among those who registered at ALEC from the Tampa Bay area are Reps. Larry Ahern, Jeff Brandes, Rachel Burgin, Rich Glorioso and Will Weatherford. Others include Reps. Chris Dorworth, Lake Ray, Carlos Trujillo, Clay Ford, Clay Ingram, Bryan Nelson, Dennis Baxley and Ana Rivas Logan. At least one lawmaker, Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, will hold a campaign fund-raiser while she's there.

 "Obviously there are going to be lobbyists there, and I figure it would be an easy place, if they have checks, to come by," Nunez said.

Some lawmakers are paying their own way to the conference; others are using a mix of district office account money and excess campaign money. A fourth, smaller source of ALEC funding is ALEC itself: House lawyers wrote an informal legal opinion five years ago that allows money from an ALEC scholarship fund to be used, as long as the money was collected before the gift ban law took effect in 2006.

-- Steve Bousquet, Janet Zink