It serves the purposes of both sides to portray the recent departure from the American Legislative Exchange Council of several of its corporate sponsors as a “War on ALEC,” in which left-wing groups pressured Coca-Cola and other corporations into defecting from the organization. A war, for both the left and the right, makes for great fundraising.
In a sense this story line is accurate. The campaign led by the African American group Color of Change was the catalyst for the corporation’s break with ALEC over its promotion of “stand your ground” gun laws like the one involved in the Trayvon Martin case. Much the same can be said about the Media Matters for America drive against Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his comments about Sandra Fluke earlier this year. If you want to elevate these interest-group scrimmages up to the status of full-scale armed conflict, fine, we can call it a “war.”
But the alacrity with which so many companies followed Coca-Cola’s lead, like the rush away from Rush, makes it seem as if they were just waiting for the chance to close the checkbook on ALEC. Which makes sense, when you consider how much the contemporary corporate mindset is geared to the ruthless elimination of the extraneous.
The purchasing of influence can be a very sloppy business, a fact which can’t be a revelation to the executives of the corporations footing the bill. Coke bought in to ALEC, as it indicated in its statement breaking ties with the group, because it was concerned about a soda pop tax. When it found it was also buying trouble over another issue, it cut its losses.
“We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry,” Coca-Cola’s statement said. Given the company’s global reach, you might take that with a grain of salt, but the point remains: Coke is not an ideological organization.
If this really has been a war, surrender came very quickly. ALEC announced last week it’s ditching its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which was responsible for the “stand your ground” and voter ID laws which have become the most controversial aspects of ALEC’s agenda. Just as Limbaugh continued to rail at the feminazis after his apology to Fluke, ALEC is calling on conservative bloggers to defend it against liberal attacks, but in effect it has already conceded the issue at hand.
Viewed from this perspective, the “war” starts to look more like a corporate reshuffling – and a warning from corporate offices that their interest groups should stay as targeted as they are. They might, come to think of it, also take a look at the budgets of the national associations representing them in Washington.
Although it isn’t good for ALEC to have Common Cause joining in to question its tax-exempt status, one spate of bad press seems no more likely to topple the organization than anything but a coronary is likely to knock Limbaugh off the air (according to one recent report, his advertisers are already beginning to drift back). But the story does expose ALEC, and the mostly Republican legislators who rely on it, to some unaccustomed sunlight.
Generally, state legislatures don’t get the attention they deserve, and the rise of ALEC as a major force in state legislatures is one of the big stories missed by the national media over the past few years. In Georgia and elsewhere, conservative legislators have lept to its defense.
“Why shouldn’t the private sector be able to sit at a table and discuss legislation that affects the country and them and people?” Sen. Mike Rose, a South Carolina Republican, told the Charleston Post and Courier. “The legislators that I know who are conscientiously trying to figure out what’s the best thing are using these organizations to obtain information. They’re certainly not a rubber stamp.”
Despite his protests, the South Carolina legislator puts his finger on the touchiest part of the ALEC story. Businesses sit across the table from lawmakers to work out legislation all over the country, and ALEC isn’t the only national organization which produces model legislation. But ALEC has become so proficient in churning out model legislation – the liberal Center for Media and Democracy has published more than 800 template-style bills and resolutions it says ALEC authored – that the rubber stamp question becomes relevant.
According to the Post-Courier story, when Rose was questioned on one of his bills recently in Columbia, he asked for a delay so he could consult with ALEC. Georgia not being a state as notable for its candor as its neighbor, you don’t hear that sort of thing referred to as openly under the Golden Dome. But when you begin to compare the similarity of legislation from state to state, you can’t escape the conclusion that a lot of lawmakers around the country have not only been following ALEC’s line, they’ve been phoning it in.