04/18/2012

Increased scrutiny leads corporations to cut ties to ALEC

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The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, has had the kind of week that gives public relations professionals nightmares. The shadowy organization, which is funded by major corporations, prefers to promote its agenda in the background, working with corporations and conservative organizations to write "model bills" that are introduced in legislatures around the country.

In recent days, however, some of its major corporate funders, including Coca-Cola, Intuit, Kraft, McDonald's and Pepsi, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have announced they are cutting ties with ALEC. Also, Reed Elsevier joined that group last week. While lesser known, Reed Elsevier is one of the largest academic publishing companies in the world; it owns prestigious scientific journals like Cell and The Lancet and LexisNexis. The Professional Staff Congress, the AFT's affiliate that represents instructional staff at the City University of New York, recently published a detailed account about Reed Elsevier and ALEC in its Clarion newspaper.

While ALEC has been around for decades, it has remained relatively unknown until the last year or so. The group's model bills promote corporate and conservative interests, including proposals to privatize schools, prisons and other public services; to make it harder to vote; and to take away workers' and immigrants' rights. One reason for the increased scrutiny of ALEC has been the efforts of Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Now, the Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, whose ALEC Exposed website has published hundreds of the model bills as well as background provided by a whistleblower. (See earlier story.)

Most legislators are careful to hide their ties to ALEC, but public records obtained from one Florida state representative showed that some copies of his draft bill that would have restricted unions' ability to collect money for political activities said "Copyright, ALEC" on every page, despite his denial that ALEC had provided him any materials.

The current backlash against ALEC is coming in large part as a reaction against "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and two dozen other states that have been in the spotlight since the killing of Trayvon Martin. ALEC and the National Rifle Association (a longtime member) have aggressively pushed such laws, despite the objections of law enforcement groups. (While it looks to be more of a PR ploy than a substantive change, ALEC announced on April 17 that it was eliminating its "public safety and elections" task force and focusing more on economic issues.)

As the New York Times noted in an April 16 editorial titled "Embarrassed by Bad Laws," ALEC has criticized its opponents and claimed it is only interested in job creation, government accountability and pro-business policies. "It makes no mention of its role in pushing a law that police departments believe is increasing gun violence and deaths," the Times writes. "That's probably because big business is beginning to realize the Stand Your Ground laws are indefensible." [Dan Gursky, the Professional Staff Congress, the New York Times]

April 18, 2012