COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Hundreds of emails were sent through an Ohio lawmaker's office last year to arrange free meals and other perks for legislators from lobbyists at events sponsored by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, records show.
The Ohio House scheduler was asked to arrange session dates around council events and obliged, raising questions about the council's sway at the Statehouse.
The Associated Press reviewed emails obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy. It's part of a coalition of liberal activist groups leading a national campaign to highlight the council's operations and corporate ties, as well as controversial bills it has pushed, including voter identification and "stand your ground" gun legislation.
Activists complain the council improperly influences the legislative process by allowing corporate leaders to draft legislation alongside legislators. Under Ohio law, state lawmakers can't take gifts worth more than $75 -- but happy hours, lavish dinners, concerts and sporting events at council conferences are largely exempt.
For the period of the emails, those events included conferences in New Orleans and Phoenix and a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
State email records show mostly Republican state lawmakers attended the group's conference in August 2011 in New Orleans, something Brian Rothenberg, executive director of the liberal policy group ProgressOhio, said shows it is not a bipartisan entity, like the National Conference of State Legislatures or the Council on State Governments.
"Clearly, this is hardly bipartisan. It's a very conservative effort to sit at the table with large corporations, provide model legislation on conservative objectives, and change the way Ohio laws work," he said. As criticism has grown nationally, corporations such as Wal-Mart and Amazon have dropped their affiliation with the group.