Oklahoma legislators invited to electoral vote "seminars" in exotic locales

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Philippine sunset, 1983, by Michael Bates. All rights reserved.

Several Republican Oklahoma legislators have confirmed to BatesLine that they or their colleagues have been invited to all-expenses-paid "seminars" sponsored by National Popular Vote advocates and held in exotic, warm-weather locations. The legislators have mentioned locations including Scottsdale, Arizona, south Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and St. Croix in the U. S. Virgin Islands. State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, has confirmed the latter destination in his latest blog entry, "Spiking the Electoral College with a Free Trip to St. Croix."

One legislator told me about receiving verbal information about the Scottsdale event from Michelle Sutton, a lobbyist at the state capitol who is registered as a representative of National Popular Vote. (Sutton's firm is CRG LLC, and her lobbyist number is L140338.) According to the legislator, the verbal info was followed by an invitation attached to an email from Saul Anuzis, a consultant to the National Popular Vote campaign.

The written invitation comes from FairVote, aka The Center for Voting and Democracy, a 501(c)(3). According to their website (fairvote.org/reforms/national-popular-vote/), FairVote "has nurtured and supported the National Popular Vote plan... Fairvote regularly works with advocacy leaders at the National Popular Vote organization to assist in getting to important legislation passed."

The invitation from FairVote's executive director is to an "all-expenses-paid, invitation-only panel discussion and educational seminar on presidential elections and the Electoral College" at an expensive resort hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.

February 7, 2014


This is Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote. FairVote is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that researches elections and election law. We are based in Maryland.

I am writing to invite you to participate in an all-expenses-paid, invitation-only panel discussion and educational seminar on presidential elections and the Electoral College, to take place near Phoenix (AZ) on March 1st. We will address three major reform proposals: allocation of electoral votes proportionally and by congressional district and, as the major focus given its enactment in 10 states, the National Popular Vote interstate compact. More and more Americans are concerned about the impact of Electoral College rules, and more states are taking action or considering action to reform their current system. Although the 2016 presidential election may seem distant, it in fact is an ideal time to analyze prospective changes now, rather than closer to the election.

We have sponsored and participated in a number of these roundtables over the years, and have found them an excellent way to delve deeply into this topic. All of us have experienced presidential elections and formed opinions about proposals for reform, but we have found it useful to reexamine assumptions and look at different ideas afresh Doing so has been all the easier and more productive when legislators and civic leaders from a mix of states can convene and have the time to go over these issues. We have developed a six-hour format for such discussions that has worked particularly well with groups of 10 to 15 participants.

We are planning our next roundtable for up to 15 people in Scottsdale, Arizona on February 28th-March 2nd. To allow people to attend from a mix of states, we can cover your costs associated with travel and accommodation at the JW Marriott Camelback InnĀ® Scottsdale Resort, located outside Phoenix at 5402 East Lincoln Drive in Scottsdale. We can cover guests' accommodations covered for up to three nights, February 28th - March 2nd. (Family members can join attendees, but their travel costs will not be reimbursed.) We also reimburse meals for participants on the evening of February 28th, lunch on March 1st, and breakfast vouchers for each night of your stay. We request that all participants commit to reviewing a collection of reading materials that will be provided by email before the meeting so that all participants can ready to share their insights and questions in panel sessions on March 1st and have the same background information going into the discussion.

If you have any questions about this invitation, please let me know by email (rr@fairvote.org) or phone (cell is 240-393-2420). Because we plan to finalize our list of participants by February 14, I would appreciate hearing from you by February 11th as to whether you can attend our seminar.

Sincerely yours,
Rob Richie
Executive Director

As of this writing, the least expensive room at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Scottsdale Resort for those dates was $509 / night, not including the daily $25 resort fee, and any state and local sales and lodging taxes. Add in three vouchers for breakfast at the resort plus reimbursement for a dinner and a lunch, and the cost of air transportation, and you have a nice little weekend getaway for over $2,000, interrupted by the political equivalent of a timeshare presentation, which, I suspect, is filled with the same sort of emotional manipulation and selective disclosure for which timeshare presentations are notorious.

Note that the attendees are to include "legislators and civic leaders from a mix of states." That indicates that Oklahoma isn't the only target of this left-wing push to overthrow our presidential election system. It's reasonable to imagine that an Oklahoma Republican attending this event would be grouped with Republican legislators from other states. The "civic leaders" in the group would be already on board with NPV and able to could guide the discussion in a way that would be persuasive to the GOP lawmakers.

As State Rep. Jason Murphey notes, while several states have approved NPV, the NPV campaign can't reach the target of 270 without some Republican-controlled states jumping on the bandwagon:

Here's the problem for these groups: the Washington Post recently opined that if this effort were to be successful, "they'll likely have to branch out into red states, because there are only so many blue states (and so many electoral votes in them) on the map."

How could the national popular vote people convince the more sparsely populated red staters to give away their advantage in the Electoral College?

What better way than to put Oklahoma on the list with the liberal states? If the reddest state in the nation signs on, then why wouldn't other red states?

To this end, the national popular vote group invaded Oklahoma with a high powered team of very sophisticated lobbyists. They wisely kept the issue under the radar and away from the eyes of the public while aggressively trying to convince legislators by using a series of convoluted logic for why this proposal would benefit conservatives.

They financed a series of out-of-state junkets to various vacation sites where they explained this logic against an exotic backdrop of recreational events.

Having succeeded in the Senate, they are preparing to go on the offensive in the House. On March 20, they will finance an all-expenses-paid junket to St. Croix. In this exotic venue, far away from the eyes of the public, they will attempt to convince Oklahoma House members to vote for the bill. Just a few days after they return to the mainland, House members will vote on the proposal.

You may wonder, as I do: How is it possible for a legislator to accept a trip worth thousands of dollars, paid for by an organization with an interest in legislation, and not violate our ethics laws? I suspect that the loophole is that the organization is a 501(c)(3) and the "seminar" is framed in the invitation as a neutral exploration of the issue rather than advocacy. There ought to be a law requiring prompt disclosure of these trips.

And if there's not a law already, Oklahoma legislators should take the initiative to disclose out-of-state trips where public policy is discussed, particularly if their expenses are paid or reimbursed. Oklahoma voters deserve to know what influences are shaping their legislators' decisions. Any legislator unwilling to make such a disclosure before the end of March ought to have a primary challenger.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 17, 2014 11:25 PM.

Allen, Brecheen recant National Popular Vote support was the previous entry in this blog.

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