Last week, as George Zimmerman was being charged with second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin in Florida, big business began a quiet stampede away from the organization that is promoting “shoot-first” laws throughout the country.
The organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is a far-right policy incubator whose members include corporations, think tanks and lawmakers, who introduce its model bills simultaneously in statehouses nationwide. The proposed legislation ranges from industry-specific measures such as a bill vetoed last week by Gov. Mark Dayton limiting liability in asbestos injuries to the ideological, such as voter ID and shoot-first.
In total over the last two years Minnesota lawmakers have introduced some 60 bills identical or very similar to model legislation drafted by ALEC. Seven of Dayton’s 12 vetoes so far this year have been of ALEC-promulgated measures, including a shoot-first or Castle Doctrine bill.
ALEC has been in existence since 1973, but in the last year a handful of organizations including Common Cause, Parents United and the progressive Center for Media and Democracy have begun tracking its activities. It wasn’t until the high-profile Trayvon Martin case, however, that ALEC’s activities drew widespread attention.
Neighborhood Watch captain Zimmerman told police he thought he was justified in shooting the unarmed teen under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a National Rifle Association-promoted act which states that “a person is justified in the use of deadly force” if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
In the wake of the shooting, a number of grassroots and civil-rights organizations began pushing ALEC’s corporate members, whose dues underwrite the group’s activities, to cut their ties. Companies pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to join; ALEC routinely pays for lawmakers, whose dues are just $50 a year, to travel to meetings at resorts where they are handed policy playbooks.
Ten had resigned by end of week
By close of business Friday, the list of corporations and nonprofits dropping memberships in ALEC had lengthened to 10: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars, Reed-Elsevier, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arizona Public Service Co.
“We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC,” said a Reed Elsevier spokesman.
“At this point, we’ve decided that it’s not the right environment to continue working with them,” a Gates Foundation spokesman told Reuters. Separately, the foundation said it did not intend to support ALEC’s ideological work but had thought it was paying for distribution of its education reform research.
Even corporations no longer affiliated with the controversial arch-conservative policy incubator appeared to be trying to distance themselves. Ticketmaster last week sent a letter to the Center for Media and Democracy, which operates the website ALECexposed, “advising” the organization to “cease and desist from including Ticketmaster on your site” and threatening to sue for libel and defamation.
An exhaustive catalog of information on past and present ALEC members, the site listed Ticketmaster as a one of the corporations that was known to be a member in 2000 but was not currently.
By midweek, the normally secretive ALEC was swinging back. “Over the last 24 hours, ALEC has been inundated with letters of support from elected officials, community leaders and concerned citizens in response to the intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda,” said Executive Director Ron Scheberle.
Local group presses MN members
Common Cause Minnesota, meanwhile, called for ALEC’s local corporate members to follow suit. Minnesota members include 3M, UnitedHealth Group, Xcel Energy and Cargill. Update: After publication of this story, a Cargill spokeswoman informed MinnPost that Cargill is not and has never been a member of ALEC and doesn’t know why it was listed in a 1998 ALEC annual-meeting program, obtained by Common Cause, as a member and sponsor.
Other companies with deep ties to Minnesota and memberships in ALEC include Thomson Reuters, Comcast, Corrections Corporation of America, Time Warner and State Farm.
“It’s time for Minnesota legislators to quit promoting corporate special interests at the expense of middle-class families,” said Mike Dean, executive director. “As the country’s largest corporations end their relationships with this radical group, Minnesota corporations should too.”
Minnesota’s elected ALEC members, most of them GOP lawmakers, have been distancing themselves from the group ever since its efforts were first revealed by a variety of local organizations in the wake of the 2011 legislative session. Confronted about introducing a bill that is identical to an ALEC model or quite similar, local lawmakers have protested that they haven’t had the time or the money to attend the group’s gatherings or that they got the idea for the legislation elsewhere.