[Artwork and animation by MARK FIORE]
REUTERS: Coca-Cola Co is dropping its membership in a conservative national advocacy group that supports “Stand Your Ground” laws such as the one being used as a defense in the Florida killing of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The move by the world’s biggest soft drink maker comes as corporate America faces increased scrutiny from consumers and shareholder activists over lobbying and political spending. PepsiCo Inc ended its relationship with the group – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – in January. In a statement on Thursday, Coca-Cola made no direct mention of the controversial self-defense law pushed by ALEC that provides shooters with wide latitude for claiming self defense when they perceive a threat. Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, 28, a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer who has claimed he acted in self defense and has not been charged with a crime. At a rally in Sanford on Saturday, civil rights leaders said they were considering economic boycotts of national companies that support “Stand Your Ground” laws. Coca-Cola and other ALEC member companies were targeted last year by the civil rights group ColorOfChange for their support of ALEC, which is also behind what ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson calls “voter suppression laws” in many states. The laws require voters to show identification.Since Martin’s killing, Robinson said ColorOfChange has let the corporations know that ALEC was behind a push for states to adopt legislation modeled after Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Late on Thursday, Kraft Foods Inc said in an emailed statement: “We belong to many external groups, including ALEC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes growth and fiscal responsibility. “ALEC covers numerous issues but our involvement has been strictly limited to discussions about economic growth and development, transportation and tax policy. We did not participate in meetings or conversations related to other issues. “Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.” MORE
PHAWKER: We love how Kraft is not renewing their ALEC membership because they just can’t swing the dues. Cough cough.
RELATED: ALEC Exposed
THE GUARDIAN: More than 85,000 members signed a petition targeting Alec’s corporate partners for their role in suppressing the black vote, and 170,000 have signed a petition calling on the department of justice to take over the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer who claimed self defence, arrest his killer and review the police investigation of the case. In a statement emailed to the Guardian, Coca-Cola confirmed it was ending its relationship with Alec. Diana Garza Ciarlante, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, said in the statement: “The Coca-Cola company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). Our involvement with Alec was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our company and industry.” On Wednesday, the Center for American Progress published a report on the proliferation of voter ID laws which it said were “hindering voting rights in a manner not seen since the era of Jim Crow”. Last month, leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called on the UN human rights council to investigate the proliferation of restrictive electoral laws. PepsiCo was a member of Alec for 10 years. In January, according to NPR, a company vice-president told Color Of Change that it would not renew its membership for 2012. MORE
FRESH AIR: An archive of ALEC documents was recently leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy. “All of those pieces of legislation and those resolutions [in the documents] really err toward a goal, and that goal is the advancement of an agenda that seems to be dictated at almost every turn by multinational corporations,” Nichols tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “It’s to clear the way for lower taxes, less regulation, a lot of protection against lawsuits, [and] ALEC is very, very active in [the] opening up of areas via privatization for corporations to make more money, particularly in places you might not usually expect like public education.”
Legislators in ALEC pay a minimal fee to join the group, while corporations pay much more — up to $25,000, Nichols says.”But once they’re in, they sit at the same table,” he says. “On the board of ALEC, you have an equal number of legislators and corporate members. … They then set up task forces to deal with topics like health care, education, election law, and you have an equal number of legislators and corporate and/or interest groups [and] think tanks in each grouping. They have to agree on any model bill or model resolution.” What that means, Nichols says, is that corporations can veto proposals and ideas that aren’t to their liking — and can also propose measures that are then written into model bills. Those model bills, he says, are often introduced in multiple places — creating consistent messages across the country.
“In Tennessee, a [news]paper found a bill where the second half of it was verbatim from the ALEC model bill,” Nichols says. “Now that’s not always the case. The legislation will have variations on a theme — it won’t always be verbatim. But the core concepts are there.” Nichols says ALEC is smart to focus on the state legislation as opposed to national legislation.”We live at the local and state level. That’s where human beings come into contact more often than not,” he says. “We live today in a country where there’s a Washington obsession, particularly by the media but also by the political class. … And yet, in most areas, it’s not Washington that dictates the outlines, the parameters of our life. … And so if you come in at the state government level, you have a much greater ability to define how you’re going to operate.” MORE