April 5, 2012; Source: Florida Independent

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin has spurred a reexamination of “stand your ground” laws and the national nonprofit organization promoting them—the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Coca-Cola has ended its partnership with ALEC and ColorOfChange—an organizing group led by former Obama administration official Van Jones—is claiming credit, though the group’s campaign target has more to do with ALEC’s support of voter ID laws (which NPQ has previously noted). ColorOfChange is also claiming that Coke’s competitor, PepsiCo, has also dropped its partnership with ALEC.

ALEC works very closely with corporations and state legislators to draft model legislation for state government enactment. The official board of directors of ALEC is comprised of state legislators, but ALEC also has a corporate board—called its “private enterprise board”—that clearly ensures that corporate messages and priorities make it into ALEC’s legislative initiatives.  If one wants to get a sense of the conservative political activism of the U.S. corporate sector, the board membership gives you some taste of which corporations are most invested in guiding state legislatures toward corporate-friendly policies.  Some of the corporate board members have well recognized corporate philanthropic track records, including State Farm, ExxonMobil, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, Reed Elsevier, Bayer, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Altria, UPS, and, not surprisingly, Koch Industries.

For Coke and maybe Pepsi, the legislative support they have gotten from ALEC for efforts to fight proposed taxes and restrictions on soft drinks, for example, make ALEC an important resource, but are they willing to withstand threatened consumer boycotts to stand behind ALEC’s promotion of stand-your-ground laws, not to mention voter ID laws? More ALEC members might be similarly vulnerable. Witness a statement from Kraft that its only interest in ALEC is its pro-corporate legislative work, not its support of stand-your-ground and voter ID laws.

Some groups have long challenged ALEC as a front for corporate interests that lacks the bona fides that would justify its 501(c)(3) public charity status. ALEC’s reach into conservative political arenas such as shoot-first laws and laws that might suppress the vote may be just the non-corporate agenda items to help ALEC resist attacks on its (c)(3) status—but exactly the non-corporate avenues to drive ALEC’s corporate supporters, like Kraft, Coke and Pepsi, away from the organization.—Rick Cohen