tl; dr turns out you can't just walk into an event sponsored by a group without their permission, and if you refuse to leave, the police will remove you.
Reporters have been denied credentials to cover ALEC events, while others who received ALEC credentials were barred from covering the closed door task force meetings where potential laws are discussed between publicly-elected lawmakers and corporate lobbyists.
The 11Alive Investigators already have media credentials to cover both houses of the Georgia General Assembly, so we went to Savannah with those credentials displayed. We walked through an unlocked door into a committee meeting room where we were allowed to remain for a few minutes. When were asked to leave by an ALEC staffer, we immediately left the room, but peppered her with questions in the public hallway.
"You need to be credentialed at registration," the unidentified ALEC staffer said.
We showed her our Georgia Senate and House credentials. She indicated that those were not good enough for us to observe Georgia lawmakers discussing legislation in Georgia.
"Nope, you're not credentialed," she insisted, adding, "you're not allowed in there."
Following the woman to the registration desk, I said, "we're credentialed to observe legislators here in Georgia wherever they meet to discuss laws. Are laws being made in there?"
Instead of answering, she called over a sheriff's deputy, one of six off-duty police officers we observed taking their orders directly from ALEC staff members. He called three of his fellow deputies as back-up.
Then we were approached by Bill Meierling, ALEC's Vide President of Communications and Public Relations with the four deputies keeping a close watch on us. Surely he would be able to answer our many questions. "Can we interview you?' I asked. "Actually no," he answered.
According to ALEC's tax exempt IRS filings, Meierling receives a six-figure salary to deal with the media, but instead he asked that we turn off our camera. What was there to hide?
When we refused to stop recording our interview with him in the public hallway of the hotel, Meierling said, "OK, well then I'd like to have you escorted out of the building please." He motioned to the deputies.
"I'm a guest of this hotel," I said. "I'm actually staying here at this hotel."
"You are staying at this hotel?" Meierling asked.
We decided to ask our questions.
Keefe: "Why can't the people who elected them see the process?"
Meierling: "This is a private meeting."
Keefe: "A private meeting paid for by whom?"
Meierling: "By our members and donors."
Keefe: "..are lobbyists, correct?"
Keefe: "They're not lobbyists, the ones that we recorded in the bar last night aren't lobbyists that are here as members?"
At that point the ALEC vice president clasped his hands, closed his eyes, and let out a sigh. He then called over the pack of four deputies without saying another word.
Sheriff's Deputy: "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Keefe: "Alright, I'm a guest of the hotel sir."
Sheriff's Deputy: "Not for long. Not for long."
Keefe: "I'm a paying guest of this hotel sir."
Sheriff's Deputy: "We'll take care of that."
Second Deputy: "We'll escort you up to your room and you can get your things."
The deputies called for the hotel manager who ultimately kicked us out of our hotel room for "taking pictures in the hotel."
I asked the deputies, "did we violate some law or something? I mean are we violating a law?"
The first deputy ignored my question and turned to the second deputy telling him, "Don't say nothing."