THE AMERICAN Legislative Exchange Council, the group funded in part by the conservative Koch brothers to draft bills for state legislators, is the type of shadowy, under-the-radar operation that exerts huge influence over state lawmaking. It has written “stand your ground’’ statutes, which critics say encourage armed confrontations, and pushed voter-ID laws that limit the participation of poor and minority citizens. So it’s more than just deserts that ALEC would get its comeuppance from another under-the-radar operation - the civil rights group ColorofChange.org.
Launched in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, ColorofChange has succeeded in pressuring companies that work with ALEC to sever their ties. In the last week, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Kraft, and many other firms have said they will stop working with ALEC, which was founded in 1973 to push for “limited government.’’ Today, the group partners with Fortune 500 companies to reduce regulation and taxation. In recent years, though, ALEC has also pushed social legislation, persuading 21 states to pass “stand your ground’’ laws and prodding legislatures to require extra voter ID, which tends to weed out lower-income people without cars and drivers’ licenses.
The group’s co-founder, the late Paul Weyrich, once declared, “I don’t want everybody to vote,’’ on the theory that conservatives benefit when fewer people go to the polls. With that agenda in plain view, ColorofChange began its campaign against ALEC in December. In January, Pepsi informed the group it had let its ALEC membership expire.
Then came the shooting of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman, a white and Hispanic neighborhood watchman. At first, prosecutors declined to arrest Zimmerman because he claimed the “stand your ground’’ law allowed him to shoot if he felt intimidated. ColorofChange’s point was simple: Corporations cannot blithely market products to black consumers while abetting organizations that seek to restrict civil rights. CEO John Castellani of drug industry lobbyist PhRMA, which held its annual meeting in Boston this week, told the Globe he was “surprised’’ by ALEC’s involvement in divisive social issues and would review PhRMA’s membership.
ColorofChange executive director Rashad Robinson said that years ago, the Martin tragedy might have remained a local story, but the Internet tied it to “much larger systems’’ of laws and politics. For decades, ALEC avoided scrutiny by operating in sleepy state capitals. Now, ColorofChange’s small Oakland and New York staff used social media to take it on nationally. Technology has caught up with ALEC; so have its deeply objectionable policies.