Darden Restaurants Dumps ALEC in Favor of ALEC-Affiliated Group

Darden brandsA spokesperson for Darden Restaurants, which operates Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and other chain restaurants, contacted the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) to ask that a recent article be corrected to reflect that the company has dropped its membership in American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Rich Jeffers, Director of Media Relations at Darden, told CMD that the company had not renewed its ALEC membership since January 2010 because it "felt that different organizations like the National Restaurant Association would ... serve us best." The call indicates that the company is sensitive to being linked to the controversial ALEC agenda, which has generated recent negative press attention on the fight against paid sick days, controversial "ag gag" bills, "Stand Your Ground" gun laws, and voter suppression proposals.

The National Restaurant Association was a member and funder of ALEC as of 2011, according to its most recent financial statement. The trade association is a key player in the fight over paid sick days for workers. As CMD has reported, the Wisconsin state chapter of the National Restaurant Association lobbied for Senate Bill 23, which was enacted to repeal Milwaukee's paid sick days ordinance, then took the preemption bill to the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee of ALEC's Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force in August 2011. Now similar preemption bills are popping up in at least nine states, as CMD has reported, often with backing from the local affiliate of the National Restaurant Association.

Robert McAdam is Darden's Senior Vice President of Government and Community Affairs. He once represented the company at ALEC, and he now represents the company at the National Restaurant Association. His corporate biography discloses that he was previously Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Walmart, but neglects to mention his long-standing ties to ALEC, big tobacco, and the right wing. McAdam represented Darden on ALEC's corporate board from at least 2008 through early 2010. But he has been involved with ALEC since at least 1992, when he and five other Tobacco Institute officials attended ALEC's annual meeting. The Tobacco Institute was an umbrella trade group for the tobacco lobby. McAdam worked for the tobacco industry throughout the 1990s, as Vice President of "Special Projects" within the States Activities division of the Tobacco Institute. Before that, he was Vice President of Conservative Governance at Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, (Paul Weyrich also helped found ALEC).

Firms Rush to Distance Themselves From ALEC

Corporations that have publicly cut ties to ALEC since the Center for Media and Democracy launched ALECexposed.org include Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, General Electric, Western Union, Sprint, General Motors, Walgreens, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, MillerCoors, John Deere, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Amazon.com, Procter & Gamble, Mars, Wendy's, McDonald's, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo. Many companies failed to renew their ALEC membership in 2011 when the ALEC Exposed project was launched. Six non-profits and at least 71 legislators have also cut ties with ALEC.

Even ALEC is working to distance itself from ALEC, as CMD has reported, urging members to ditch the acronym and use the phrase "exchange council" instead.

CMD and public interest groups including ColorOfChange.org, Progress Now affiliates, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Greenpeace, and numerous other groups continue to urge corporations to stop funding ALEC's extreme agenda.