Part 1 of a series: The American Legislative Exchange Council
The escalating controversy over Yahoo! CEO and Walmart director Marissa Mayer’s support for a Silicon Valley lobbying group prompted us to look more closely into her political activities. What we found was a little surprising, given Mayer’s reputation as a liberal and major Obama supporter.
It turns out that both Mayer and Yahoo! are affiliated with groups responsible for advancing policies that seem out of step with mainstream values. In this post, we look at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that has been backed by Yahoo!, and which also enjoys close ties to the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart.
ALEC: A modern-day version of the smoke-filled room
ALEC is basically a modern-day version of the proverbial smoke-filled room; a place where corporate special interests can gather with sympathetic state legislators to hammer out and promote a self-serving legislative agenda. Greenpeace sums it up this way:
ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America’s largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization.
Despite public outcry, Yahoo! seems to be sticking with ALEC
Although ALEC is highly secretive about its membership, a document unearthed by Common Cause shows that Yahoo! Director of State Government Affairs Bill Ashworth was a member of the ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as recently as August 2011. Over the last year, a number of corporations have responded to public outrage over ALEC’s record by publicly disaffiliating from the group. There is no indication that Yahoo! has done so.
We do know that Yahoo! is currently listed as a member of the eCommerce trade group NetChoice, and that NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco has been active in ALEC for over a decade. In fact, DelBianco was recently named ALEC’s Private Sector Member of the Year.
ALEC: Pursuing corporate-friendly legislation
ALEC’s scope of activity is enormous, as documented by the Center for Media and Democracy, but here are a few choice examples of ALEC’s legislative work (hat tip to Greenpeace):
- ALEC has pushed legislation to privatize prisons, criminalize undocumented workers, and put more non-violent offenders behind bars – including Arizona’s SB 1070 Immigration Law, modeled on ALEC’s “No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act”. As Greenpeace explains, “this bill was ALEC’s way of making private prison companies rich by rounding up brown people without documentation and tossing them in jail.”
- ALEC promoted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that contributed to the murder of Trayvon Martin. As Greenpeace explains, “ALEC has managed to push versions of this law in over two dozen states. It allows any killer to claim immunity if they felt a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The Florida version of this law passed in 2005 and was written by a NRA [National Rifle Association] lobbyist.” It’s worth noting that the ALEC task force which endorsed Stand Your Ground was co-chaired by an executive of Walmart, the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition.
- ALEC is a big fan of anti-environmental legislation, including support for the Keystone XL pipeline, a long history of opposition to meaningful government action on climate change and more general efforts to block environment-friendly legislation. As PRWatch reports ALEC continues to pursue an aggressive “big oil agenda” in the face of widespread concern over climate change.
Walmart is one of forty-nine corporations that have publicly disaffiliated from ALEC since the group became the target of widespread protests last year (the Walton family, which owns a majority of Walmart stock, has not renounced its ties to ALEC). This is one area where Marissa Mayer might be well-advised to follow in Walmart’s footsteps.