The coalition trying to force corporations to disassociate from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group responsible for modeling and writing a substantial portion of the bills that come through the Republican side of state legislatures, has notched a couple more victories. First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hooked up with ALEC on “education reform” issues, dropped their support.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.
The Foundation claims that their only grant to ALEC was “narrowly and specifically focused on … teacher effectiveness and school finance.” The Foundation never paid annual dues to ALEC, they say. But this limited grant amounted to over $375,000 over two years, and the Gates Foundation will not withdraw the grant money earmarked for this year.
However, the latest corporate benefactor to drop ALEC was a dues-paying member: McDonald’s.
The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. “While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012,” Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn’t mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company’s decision to leave ALEC.
But there was outside pressure. Just this week, the progressive coalition targeting ALEC, including Common Cause, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, singled out McDonald’s and two other corporations (Johnson and Johnson, and State Farm) over their membership. “The funding of these and other corporations makes ALEC’s operations and agenda possible, including closed door meetings where corporate and special interest lobbyists actually vote as equals with elected officials on ‘model’ bills to change gun laws and make it more difficult for American citizens to vote,” according to Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and the website ALECexposed.org. And just a couple days later, McDonald’s dropped its support. In fact, they were still planning on staying a member of ALEC as recently as February 29 of this year, according to a letter to the progressive group Color of Change.
So it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. Corporations want to hide behind the maze of sub-groups within ALEC to claim that they only fund their core issues. But the money is fungible, and the ALEC model keeps pumping out pro-gun, anti-woman and voter suppression legislation. And these corporations are necessarily associated with that. So they are quietly responding to pressure by dropping out, being protective of their brands.
Color of Change’s next target is AT&T, one of the 21 corporate board members for ALEC. While I still believe that there’s enough money in the conservative ecosystem to keep ALEC going – or to perhaps pull the plug on ALEC and reinvent something else just like it – this is a very successful accountability campaign that has reaped some real rewards.