It’s been a week since a coalition of liberal and civil rights groups went public with a campaign to undermine the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has advocated stringent voter-identification and “stand your ground” laws around the U.S. Seven corporations — Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars, Kraft Foods, McDonalds, Wendy’s and the software maker Intuit — say they have dropped their memberships in ALEC. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it won’t give ALEC any more grants, though one already under way will continue.
Rashad Robinson, director of ColorofChange.org, a civil rights organization in the coalition, says they are trying to put ALEC’s corporate members on the spot. “They’ll be making a choice, that they’re going to stand with an organization that works to suppress the vote and support shoot-first legislation, and they won’t be able to do that in private,” he says.
ALEC says it’s being targeted because of its free-enterprise agenda. “The groups attacking ALEC and its members are the same activists who have always pushed for big-government solutions,” said Kaitlyn Buss, the council’s spokeswoman. “And those groups will use any excuse to intimidate and bully.”
Attacking! Bullying! One wonders how itty-bitty Kraft Foods will survive this sort of intimidation. I keep waiting for someone to ask one of these paid hacks at ALEC just what in the heck voter suppression laws have to do with “free enterprise”, but no one ever does.
The coalition campaign is based partly on an archive of ALEC-drafted legislation — documents leaked last spring to the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group in Wisconsin “People for the first time could really connect the dots between which corporations were involved in ALEC and what the legislative agenda was of ALEC,” said Lisa Graves, the head of the center. “And people could look in their statehouses and see that agenda moving.”
She’s right, but the other factor was this, from 2010:
Although attention has focused on GOP gains in Congress and Governor’s mansions, the worst part of the night for Democrats probably came in state legislative seats. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that Democrats had the worst night in state legislative seats since 1928. Republicans have flipped at least 14 chambers, and have unified control of 25 state legislatures. They have picked up over five hundred state legislative seats, including over 100 in New Hampshire alone.
It was just the sheer VOLUME of the ALEC-drafted legislation that drew attention.
But if leaked documents provide the information, something else helps to raise the stakes: Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations spend freely in political campaigns. Legally speaking, Citizens United has absolutely nothing to do with ALEC, but corporate CEOs remember what happened soon after the Citizens United decision came down: The retail chain Target gave $100,000 in support of a Minnesota state candidate who opposed gay marriage. The move was at odds with Target’s hip, urban image, and the blow-back from customers was fierce. “The sensitivity level in corporate America went up, particularly among retail corporations, appreciably,” says Ken Gross, a lawyer who advises corporate clients on campaign finance issues. “It set off alarm bells in many quarters.”
David Primo, who teaches political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, says the corporations are boxed in. He says it’s not fair to hold the ALEC corporate members responsible for everything the council does, but with tinderbox issues such as voter ID and “stand your ground,” he says, the corporations can’t afford to have a debate. “What gets picked up on that is race, money, politics,” he says. “And you need to try to deal with that message and not have that message tarnish your brand.”
By all means. Protect the brand. If that means we protect voting rights, we all win.