AOL, Owner of Huffington Post, Quits ALEC

Following criticism of it teaching climate change denial, AOL, the owner of the Huffington Post, became the latest major corporation to announce a decision to cease funding for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), following similar statements in recent months from a wave of other tech firms including Google, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo and SAP America.

In a statement to the good government group Common Cause, which had collected more than 21,000 petition signatures calling for the firm to leave ALEC, AOL would not confirm whether the revelations that climate change denial was the motivation for it leaving now, although the timing would suggest that it was.

The recent exodus of tech firms from ALEC has come following increased awareness of the group’s role in teaching state legislators climate change denial during its closed door meetings. Funded by some of the largest coal, oil and gas companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, ALEC has long opposed action to tackle climate change, blocked efforts for any kind of limit on carbon pollution and opposed the development of renewable energy. Following renewed public concern about climate change, ALEC’s corporate funders appear increasingly unwilling to be publicly associated with the group.

ALEC Teaches Climate Change Denial

In August, CMD obtained and released documents from the ALEC Annual Meeting in Dallas Texas, which took place that month, with legislators being told during a presentation from famed climate change denier Joe Bast of the Heartland Institute, that “there is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and “there is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and no point in attempting to do so.” Heartland is best known for a billboard campaign which compared those that believe in climate change with terrorists such as the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

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Another session during the same conference was led by staff from The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), another climate change denial group, which was titled “How to Think and Talk About Climate and Energy Issues.” At that session, legislators were provided with talking points to take back to their states, which touted the supposed benefits of increased CO2 and denied carbon dioxide is a major pollutant causing climate change.

Then in September, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt went on NPR’s Diane Rehm show. Following a question from a caller about ALEC, Schmidt admitted that Google had made a mistake in providing ALEC with funding because of its position on climate change and its opposition to renewable energy. "We should not be aligned with such people. They are just literally lying," Schmidt said.

Within weeks, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp, Overstock.com all announced that they too had or would soon leave ALEC. Most recently, SAP America, the German software firm and the ALEC corporate board chair, announced that it  would immediately cease support for ALEC, telling CMD in a statement that this was because of the groups “strange policies” on climate change, renewable energy, guns and voting rights.

The SAP America and AOL announcements will increase pressure on the few remaining tech firms in ALEC, which following AOL’s decision include Expedia, AT&T and eBay.

Nick Surgey

Nick Surgey is CMD's Director of Research and an investigative reporter. His work has been featured in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.