Topeka — A handful of major corporations recently announced they have dropped their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that promotes “model” legislation for conservative legislators and has strong ties to the Kansas Legislature.
The decision by Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Intuit, Kraft and McDonald’s to leave ALEC comes as ALEC has been under fire from civil rights and government watchdog groups for pushing voter ID laws and the so-called “stand your ground” law that has been cited in the controversial slaying of a Florida teenager. In addition, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has said it will not award any more grants to ALEC.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we will continue to educate the public about ALEC’s agenda, and highlight the influence of corporate money in our state laws and public policies,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a citizens lobbying organization. The civil rights group ColorOfChange has also called on companies to separate from ALEC.
On Wednesday, Ron Scheberle, executive director of ALEC, struck back.
“Today, we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign,” Scheberle said. “At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential priorities.”
Common Cause said they weren’t surprised ALEC “would call the free exercise of democracy an ‘intimidation campaign.’”
ALEC describes its mission as advancing free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty. The group includes legislators and representatives of corporate interests that produce “model legislation.”
Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy released a report that described ALEC, which enjoys tax-exempt status as a nonprofit, as a public policy front for corporate interests, including Kansas-based Koch Industries, which helps fund ALEC.
In Kansas, a healthy contingent of legislators have been active in ALEC for years, going to its meetings, serving in leadership positions on its board and returning to Kansas with model legislation that they then start pushing through the legislative process.
Twenty-three Kansas legislators, all Republicans, attended the last annual ALEC meeting where they received information on defeating federal health reform, expanding charter schools and lowering business taxes. Shortly after the ALEC meeting in New Orleans last August, Gov. Sam Brownback rejected a $31.5 million federal grant, which he had earlier accepted, to establish a health insurance exchange system. The exchange is a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care proposal.
Another ALEC connection to Kansas lawmaking is Art Laffer, who serves on ALEC’s Board of Scholars. Laffer, an economist, was paid $75,000 by the Brownback administration as a consultant for Brownback’s proposed plan to phase out the state income tax and eliminate taxes for nearly 200,000 businesses. That proposal is currently being considered by the Legislature.