"We call on your companies to stop supporting ALEC's reckless agenda, which harms the communities in which you do business." – March 26 letter to ALEC's corporate sponsors from United Republic, Rebuild the Dream, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy
Last week, the civil rights community and Americans of conscience won a major victory against the corporately-funded conservative policy group that supported the "Stand Your Ground" law responsible for delaying the arrest of Trayvon Martin's killer. This same group is behind dozens of voter ID laws that are jeopardizing the voting rights of millions of Americans.
On April 17, after an exodus of major corporate sponsors, prompted by pressure from a coalition of progressive and civil rights organizations, including the National Urban League, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) officially ended its involvement in these issues, saying in part, "We are eliminating the ALEC public safety and elections task force that dealt with non economic issues..."
Corporate support, which ranges from $7,000 to $25,000 in annual dues to the organization, began to wither in the wake of the public outcry against Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which shields a gunman from prosecution simply by claiming a suspicion that his or her life was in danger. George Zimmerman made that claim to Sanford, Fla. police officers who incredulously did not arrest him following the February 26 shooting death of the unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
While presenting itself as an organization that promotes legislation that serves the financial interests of its corporate funders, ALEC has used its close ties to conservative state legislators to sponsor similar "Kill at Will" laws in 30 states – and the tragic body count is growing. In Florida alone, since the law was passed in 2005, that state's "justifiable homicide" rate has jumped 300 percent.
The organization has also supported dozens of unnecessary voter ID laws across the country that may keep as many as 5 million citizens from exercising their right to vote in this all important election year.
In rallies, letters, and social media outreach, the civil rights community reminded ALEC's corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Kraft, that significant numbers of consumers found their association with the organization's extreme agenda offensive. When a growing number of businesses began severing their ties with ALEC, the group backed away from supporting these "no- economic" issues. But we urge ALEC to go one step further.
Now that ALEC has acknowledged that its activities led it far beyond the bounds of reasonable commercial legislative activity, we call upon the group to devote its considerable resources to redress the harms caused by the "Public Safety and Elections" task force – dangerous policies that armed civilian vigilantes and disenfranchised seniors, people of color, and the disabled by the millions.
The full impact of these measures has only begun to be felt. For example, laws that restrict voting access are still in the pipeline in many states. A simple disavowal of its misguided activities will be insufficient to correct the damage that has already been caused. We call upon ALEC to actively support our "Occupy the Vote" campaign to repeal these onerous laws.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.