The American Legislative Exchange Council, the once-obscure organization that pairs corporations with state lawmakers to draft pro-business and often anti-union legislation for the state level, is in damage control mode. Corporate members such as McDonald's, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mars, Inc. have cut ties with ALEC after taking heat from a coalition of progressive groups angry over ALEC's "discriminatory" voter ID bills and controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense legislation that figures into the Trayvon Martin shooting in central Florida.
To push back, ALEC has turned to the conservative blogosphere for help. As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC's director of external relations, told attendees at a Heritage Foundation "Bloggers Briefing" on Tuesday that the campaign against ALEC was "part of a wider effort to shut all of us down." She asked the bloggers for "any and all institutional support" in ALEC's fight against progressive groups, especially when it came to social media. "We're getting absolutely killed in social media venues—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest," she said. "Any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don't know much about this fight but are seeing us really get heavily attacked with very little opposition."
Korb educated the bloggers with a handout listing ALEC's positions on a range of issues. PR Watch, one of ALEC's loudest critics, described the handout as "riddled with errors." Here's a list of ALEC statements followed by PR Watch's responses in italics:
- "The potential solutions discussed at ALEC focus on free markets, limited government, and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments." It is hard to discern what voter suppression bills, tax breaks for big tobacco, bans on unionization, protections for companies whose products injure or kill, and "Stand Your Ground/Kill at Will" laws have to do with free markets.
- "The organization respects diversity of thought; it is a non-partisan resource for its members, which include more than 2,000 Republican and Democratic state legislators." Diversity of thought apparently refers to Republicans talking to Republicans. Although touted as "nonpartisan," when CMD launched ALEC Exposed, out of 104 legislators in leadership positions in ALEC, only one was a Democrat. It's hard to believe that ALEC phone briefs on redistricting are totally nonpartisan.
- "Unlike in many private sector groups that offer model legislation, elected state legislators fully control ALEC’s model legislation process." As ALEC's public Task Force Operating Procedures" (PDF, p. 8) and other documents reveal, corporate members vote alongside legislators in ALEC task forces.
- "Each state legislator and their constituents then decide which solutions are best for them and their states." For the most part, constituents have no way of knowing that corporations wrote or approved ALEC legislation behind closed doors.
Blogger outreach isn't ALEC's only response to the campaign against it. ALEC has issued a handful of statements decrying the "coordinated and well-funded intimidation campaign" against it and pledging to keep pushing its agenda. In what some progressives touted as a victory, ALEC announced this week that it is eliminating of its "Public Safety and Elections" task force, the group that pushed voter ID bills as well as Stand Your Ground laws. Korb said ALEC will soon launch a new website called "I Stand With ALEC" to rally support. "We need to start fighting back," she said.
The progressive groups waging war on ALEC, meanwhile, have no plans of letting up. "Corporate membership in ALEC isn't just destructive to democracy, it's also bad for business," Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, said last week. "Corporations that currently support ALEC have a choice to make: They can continue to underwrite reckless assaults on our rights and wellbeing, or they can stand up for their customers by leaving ALEC immediately."