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The Power of Pushing Back

Oct 22, 2014

Organizing can achieve results, and collective strength sometimes overcomes powerful interests.

Credit Rich Egger

For example, days after labor unions and progressive groups, led by the Teachers, cited the American Legislative Exchange Council’s secretive, extremist opposition to Internet neutrality, clean energy and labor rights, and wrote Google executives to ask them dump its membership in ALEC, Google quit the group backed by the Koch brothers and harshly criticized its activities.

In an interview on National Public Radio Google chairman Eric Schmidt said his company was dropping its ALEC membership over the group’s environmental policies, commenting, “[Google] has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts. What a shock! And the facts of climate change are not in question. The people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. They’re just literally lying.”

ALEC is notorious for its Radical Right agenda, including a wide range of anti-worker laws. ALEC also was tied to the “Stand Your Ground” law passed by the GOP-run Florida legislature, which let a neighborhood watch “volunteer” in 2012 fatally shoot unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin.

The Alexandria, Va.-based ALEC maintains a library of “model” state legislation and connects businesses with a network of lawmakers, offering corporate members a voice in policymaking. But its extremist-conservative policies have caused labor unions, civic organizations, nonprofits and shareholder-activist groups to work together to pressure corporations – who pay thousands for ALEC membership – to quit.

Bill Knight

Google’s departure came after Microsoft left ALEC in July, and it was followed by Facebook, YELP, Yahoo, Uber and Lyft. Also, the American Sustainable Business Council, which says it represents more than 200,000 businesses in the United States, issued a statement praising companies who have canceled their ALEC memberships “over ALEC’s obstruction of America’s transition to a renewable energy economy,” said David Levine, co-founder and CEO of the progressive business group.

The impact on ALEC as a result of the desertion of large corporations could weaken it as an entity that sponsors and passes destructive legislation, and could snowball to encourage other responsible businesses to flee the Right-wing consortium. Already, Walden Asset Management, which manages $3 billion in investor money, has asked dozens of companies – including Comcast, eBay, Exxon-Mobil and UPS – to reassess their involvement with ALEC, according to Senior Vice President Tim Smith, who said, “We think that the company’s reputation is hurt by the relationship. We think that they’re supporting a very, very partisan political agenda and it is actually an unwise use of shareholder money.”

Almost 100 companies have left ALEC since 2011, when the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause – plus other groups focused on campaign finance reform, environmental issues, and labor rights – started to pressure companies to abandon their participation in ALEC.

Jay Riestenberg, a policy analyst at Common Cause, said, “These companies have decided it’s just not worth it anymore. I think with the departure of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp … people aren’t going to take ALEC seriously.”

Activists are now moving to pressure eBay and AOL to drop their involvement with ALEC.

MoveOn.org’s Marisol Garcia, whose effort, “AOL: If you’re in ALEC, you’ve got fail,” is online, said, “We need to tell AOL that, like dial-up Internet users in an age of broadband, continuing their ALEC membership means they’ll only fall further behind.

She added, “Sign our petition and tell AOL to take a stand against ALEC’s dirty politicians and backroom deals.”

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com