M. Spencer Green / AP

Politicians should ditch ALEC

Corporate America has turned against the conservative group’s radical agenda; our representatives should follow suit

February 18, 2015 2:00AM ET

In December, eBay became the latest major company to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). More and more U.S. corporations are growing wary of public backlash from the think tank’s legacy of controversial policy advocacy.

“[ALEC’s] extreme agenda includes denying the science of climate change, defunding public services, curtailing workers’ rights and opposing net neutrality,” a coalition of more than 80 religious, civic and labor groups said in a petition delivered to eBay executives shortly before the company parted ways with ALEC.

The company’s exit follows Google’s, Yahoo’s, Facebook’s and Yelp’s decisions in September to end their membership in ALEC. Coca-Cola, General Motors, Walmart and a number of other Fortune 500 companies have severed ties with ALEC over the last two years as well. Corporate leaders are realizing that the conservative think tank is too radical to represent their interests. ALEC promotes state and local legislation to eliminate the minimum wage, privatize public education and oppose campaign finance reform.

It is time our politicians also recognize that ALEC is out of touch with mainstream American values and stop treating the group as a constructive player in our legislative processes.

Tech companies lead way

The tech industry is leading the corporate defections from ALEC. In August 2014, Microsoft withdrew funding for the group after a number of investors objected to its opposition to renewable energy. Microsoft has moved away from fossil fuels and now purchases half its power from renewable sources. ALEC, by contrast, continues to push legislation that benefits corporations such as ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy and Koch Industries that depend on fossil fuels.

Other Silicon Valley giants followed Microsoft’s lead. Google ended its membership on Sept. 22, a day after the People’s Climate March in New York City.

“The facts of climate change are not in question anymore,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm that day. “The people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And we should not be aligned with such people. They're just — they’re just literally lying.”

Within a week, Facebook, Yelp and Yahoo exited ALEC as well.

This is not the first time ALEC’s values clashed with corporate America’s. In 2012 after nationwide protests over the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, dozens of leading corporations — including Walmart, McDonald’s, MillerCoors, General Motors, Kraft and Coca-Cola — cut ties with ALEC after it was revealed that the organization was pushing bills nationwide similar to Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, which authorizes individuals to use lethal force against a perceived threat of serious bodily harm rather than retreat. That year, Republican-controlled legislatures in 14 states passed a wave of ALEC-backed voting restrictions, which raise barriers that disproportionately affect African-Americans, the young and senior citizens.

ALEC pushes at the boundaries of American conservatism to an extent that even big businesses are becoming uncomfortable with its proposals.

How is it that ALEC legislation, which is being rejected by corporate America, is still accepted in so many state legislatures?

The organization often presents itself with benign and innocuous language. “ALEC provides a forum for the private sector to provide practical input on how state public policy decisions can impact jobs and the local economy,” reads the group’s website. “It provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.” It even claims to not “lobby in any state.”

However, the misleading PR masks ALEC’s agenda, which pushes at the boundaries of American conservatism to an extent that even big businesses are becoming uncomfortable with its proposals. ALEC may not directly hire individuals to pressure lawmakers, but its Private Enterprise Advisory Council is composed of top lobbyists representing the pharmaceutical, petroleum, tobacco, finance and insurance industries. The advisory council helps write bills that ALEC-affiliated legislators then take back to their states.

ALEC has periodically recognized opposition to its agenda. For example, in 2012, ALEC dissolved its public safety and elections task force, which was responsible for voter ID and “stand your ground” laws, after massive corporate flight. Yet such face-saving measures have not changed its core mission or methodology.

It continues to push bills that don’t align with the interests of the great majority of Americans. Last year it proposed laws that bar low-income Americans from Medicaid access, that stop cities from adopting living wage and paid-sick-leave laws and that lower the bar for insurance companies to dispute policyholders’ claims. It also called for measures attacking the pensions and benefits of public servants.

Despite the lack of popular support for such measures, state legislatures across the country continue to spend significant amounts of time debating bills drafted by the organization. These bills do not reflect the needs of local constituencies. They are laws brought in by an outside lobbyist that is pursuing a national agenda that benefits the interests of a select few.

The radicalism underlying such efforts is beginning to be noticed. Many U.S. corporations recognize that ALEC’s agenda is harmful to our communities, and they are voting with their feet. It’s time our politicians do the same.

Amy B. Dean is a fellow of the Century Foundation and a principal of ABD Ventures, a consulting firm that works to develop innovative strategies for organizations devoted to social change. She is a co-author, with David Reynolds, of “A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.”

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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