Companies flee from backing right-wing advocacy group

At least five major companies and one foundation have severed support for the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC -- part of a growing national campaign that has linked the corporate advocacy group to voter ID laws and "Stand Your Ground" gun legislation highlighted in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

On April 10, Common Cause announced in a press release that "Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Intuit confirmed last week that they've already withdrawn from ALEC. On Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that they will no longer be making grants to ALEC."

Later the same day, McDonald's also announced it was pulling support.

The defections could be a serious blow to ALEC, which since 1973 has pushed conservative legislation in state legislatures, often aimed at weakening or eliminating environmental and other regulations. In November 2011, a Florida Republican lawmaker forgot to remove ALEC's mission statement from an anti-tax bill he introduced to the legislature, one of several recent episodes revealing ALEC's pervasive influence.

Key to ALEC's mission is its "public private partnership," which, according to ALEC's website, "provides the private sector with an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated, by the legislative members" of the groups, who are mostly Republican state lawmakers.

Twenty-three companies comprise ALEC's "private enterprise board," all of them political heavyweights. According to an analysis by Open, the 23 corporations have spent more than $400 million on federal lobbying between 2009 and 2011. The people and PACs associated with the ALEC companies also gave more than $25 million to federal candidates in the 2010 election cycle.

Civil rights, labor and environmental groups have long opposed ALEC's influence in state legislatures, arguing it's a nonprofit proxy for corporate and Republican interests.

But the campaign against ALEC escalated in 2011, when the online advocacy group Color of Change pointed to the group's backing of dozens of laws introduced -- and many passed -- across the country placing new restrictions on voters, which would likely impact African-American and Latino voters most.

More recently, watchdog groups like the Center for Media and Democracy have highlighted ALEC's role in pushing "Stand Your Ground" laws, which became a national news story in the wake of George Zimmerman's shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February.

The pressure isn't likely to let up any time soon. According to ThinkProgress, shareholders at Altria Group, Kraft Foods, Peabody Group, Union Pacific and UPS have all introduced resolutions for the companies' May annual meetings calling on them to sever ties with ALEC.

The negative publicity -- and cracks in corporate support -- have left ALEC scrambling to refurbish their image, and hold on to corporate supporters that are key to their financial and political success. As Bob Edgar of Common Cause said in a statement:

“It’s increasingly clear that ALEC applies the economic clout of some of our country’s largest corporations on behalf of public policies that limit voting rights, undermine our public schools, assault collective bargaining and weaken laws protecting our environment,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “This is neither good business nor responsible corporate citizenship.”

Unfortunately for ALEC, a growing number of companies appear to agree.