Major Backers Shy Away From Conservative Nonprofit ALEC in Wake of Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Mariana Atencio

 

From New America Media and Univision News:

 

A swift exodus of corporate support from the little-known, but powerful American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has shined light on the group’s efforts to spread conservative and corporate-backed legislation to state and local governments.

 

Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for ALEC. The foundation issued a $376,000 education grant to the conservative group last year, and will pay out the balance of the grant.

 

The 39-year-old conservative nonprofit group has come under fire in the wake of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin’s killing. In recent years, ALEC helped spread template versions of Florida’s 2005 “Stand your ground law” to other states. Under the law, Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman initially avoided arrest since it allowed him to claim self-defense. Twenty-five other states now have similar laws on the books.

 

The Gates Foundation is not alone. It joins big companies like Coca-Cola, Kraft and Intuit in cutting ties with ALEC, though those other companies had an even more involved role with the group as full members.

 

“The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC],” the statement said.

 

“Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our company and industry.”

 

ALEC did not return calls or emails to Univision News but issued the following statement.

 

“In the end, we will always respect people who disagree with us on policy, but is simply wrong to try to score political points by taking advantage of a tragedy as great as of Trayvon Martin,” the organization said.

 

Rashad Robinson, the executive director of ColorofChange.org, a liberal black advocacy group, has been leading his group’s efforts to collect signatures against Zimmerman and pressure corporations to drop their support for ALEC.

 

“The real impact ALEC has is the weakening of our democracy. The idea that a corporation and lawmakers meet behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., and draft legislation that George Zimmerman can be use as legal defense, after he admitted shooting Trayvon Martin, is a mockery of justice.”

 

ALEC was a relatively unknown before the Trayvon Martin case sparked national interest.

 

The organization has quietly promoted controversial immigration initiatives. A model bill drafted at a 2009 ALEC conference by Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R) mirrors his state’s SB 1070 crackdown law, which he also co-authored. Similar laws have passed in Alabama and South Carolina. The group has also spread voter ID laws to dozens of states.

 

Non-ideological organizations similar to ALEC exist, such as the National Conference of State Legislators. But ALEC’s opponents argue that the group is unique in pushing a conservative legislative agenda and is better funded by corporate backers.

 

Rashad says public attention should not only concentrate on these corporations, but also on the 2,000 state legislators who support the organization.

 

“They cannot come by day to our communities and ask us to buy their services and use their products, and then at night keep this sordid relationship with Washington organizations that do nothing to promote laws that strike our communities,” he said

 

The list of companies that still support ALEC financially is impressive.  It includes big names like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, AT&T, UPS, ExxonMobil, State Farm Insurance and the Koch Companies. The latter corporations are run by Charles and David Koch, who are major backers of conservative organizations nationwide.

 

New America Media

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