The gun lobby has come under the spotlight for its role in the so-called "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First" law that may protect the man who shot and killed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida -- but many other special interests, including household names like Kraft Foods and Wal-Mart, also helped facilitate the spread of these and other laws by funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman highlighted this week in the New York Times, the Center for Media and Democracy's work exposing ALEC has pierced through the veil of secrecy around how "model" bills like the NRA-conceived "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First" bills get approved in closed-door meetings of corporations and politicians and then pushed across the country.
But as CMD has documented through ALECexposed.org, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is not the only special interest that has funded ALEC's operations over the years. Kraft, Wal-Mart, State Farm, and other well-known corporations are ALEC members and give thousands of dollars a year to ALEC to support its work, sit on its board, have a vote on its task forces, and access lawmakers through ALEC meetings at fancy resorts. Over 98 percent of ALEC's annual $7 million budget comes from corporations and sources other than the $50 in annual dues paid by its legislative members. Because ALEC is largely corporate-funded, it is through the financial support of some of the largest companies in the world that ALEC model bills can spread across the country.
CMD has called ALEC a "corporate bill mill" because it facilitates companies like Wal-Mart and special interests like the NRAputting their wish lists in the hands of state legislators and having their desires ratified as model bills to pass in statehouses around the country. In addition to the Florida bill that ALEC and the NRA call the "Castle Doctrine Act," ALEC model bills have served as the template for "voter ID" laws that swept the country in 2011, for the "voucher" programs that privatize public education, for anti-environmental bills, anti-immigrant legislation, and for the wave of anti-worker legislation pushed over the past year in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Indiana, and most recently, in Arizona.
ALEC Task Force meetings, where model bills are initially approved, are closed to the press and public, but corporations and ideological special interests like the Wal-Mart "have a VOICE and a VOTE," in the words of ALEC, with elected officials. Not only do corporate representatives have a vote on model legislation alongside legislators on ALEC task forces, some companies also provide gifts to the ALEC "scholarship" fund for elected officials to attend ALEC meetings at resorts. Under ALEC's published bylaws, every state's legislative co-chair has a "duty" to raise money from ALEC corporations for these trip funds. (CMD has filed a complaint with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board about how the ALEC scholarships appear to violate state ethics and lobbying laws.)
ALEC boasts of having over 300 corporate members, with almost two dozen corporations sitting on the ALEC Private Enterprise Board. According to ALEC's published bylaws, this Board meets jointly with its "public sector" board of state legislators.
In addition to the usual suspects like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Altria/Phillip Morris, corporate members of that board include a variety of businesses whose products are well known. Coca-Cola and computer chip manufacturer Intel both sat on ALEC's board last year when CMD launched ALECexposed.org and began highlighting the corporations making ALEC's agenda possible. Currently, the Board includes mac-and-cheese maker Kraft Foods, the "good neighbor" State Farm, shipping giant UPS, and the global consolidated liquor company Diageo (known for brands like Johnny Walker, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, and Guinness). Verizon's former lobbyist, Ron Scherbele, is currently ALEC's Executive Director, after having represented Verizon on the Board for years.
Other ALEC Private Enterprise Board members include telecommunications giant AT&T and pharmaceutical companies like Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, along with the drug industry lobby group PhRMA. (PhRMA also gave over $350,000 to ALEC's scholarship fund in 2010 alone.)
Wal-Mart is also a member of the ALEC Board, and in 2005 headed the ALEC Task Force that ratified the law that may protect the killer of Trayvon Martin and other unarmed victims. Wal-Mart is also the largest seller of rifles and ammunition in the U.S.
With the launch of ALECexposed.org, CMD, along with the efforts of Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Now, and others, began a corporate accountability campaign to hold the corporate leaders of ALEC accountable for legislation resulting from the ALEC bill mill.
Numerous citizens have responded by contacting ALEC corporations, which often try to disavow any responsibility for ALEC bills. Koch Industries has just issued such a claim, despite its long-time leadership role as a member of the ALEC corporate board, and despite having chaired the board in the past. Koch says it opposed an NRA bill in Florida, but at the same time, a Koch representative was sitting on the corporate board of ALEC (and have been for over a decade), and both Koch Industries and the Koch family foundations have been funding ALEC's operations. Over this period, ALEC in turn has been elevating an array of gun bills as state "models," including legislation expanding concealed carry and allowing guns on college campuses as well as the Stand Your Ground/Shoot First/Castle Doctrine bill. And many ALEC legislators have sponsored these bills to become the law in states across the country.
ALEC has boasted repeatedly that nearly a thousand of its bills are introduced each year and 20 percent become law. Corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart have helped make that possible through their long-standing financial support of ALEC.
A list of known ALEC corporations, present and past, can be viewed here.
Send a message to the corporations on the Private Enterprise Board here.