The American Legislative Exchange Council, under fire for championing voter identification and “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, lost another corporate member yesterday when Johnson & Johnson (JNJ:US) announced it would leave the Washington-based public policy group.
Johnson & Johnson joins more than a dozen other companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US), McDonald’s Corp. (MCD:US), and the Coca- Cola Co. (KO:US) in deciding to leave the organization. The corporate exodus has continued despite ALEC’s April announcement that it would focus exclusively on economic issues and disband the task force that handled voter-ID and gun-rights measures.
“We have been in dialogue with the American Legislative Exchange Council for some time, and while we acknowledge ALEC’s recent decision to focus only on innovation and growth- supporting policies, we have decided to suspend our participation and membership,” said a statement provided by Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick, New Jersey- based company.
Johnson & Johnson had been targeted by ColorofChange, a New York-based civil rights group, which ran radio ads and generated phone calls to corporate members of ALEC urging them to quit the group.
“As Americans learn more about ALEC’s extreme agenda, companies understand that their brands suffer through association with a group that has weakened our democracy and made it harder to earn a living wage,” said Rashad Robinson, ColorofChange’s executive director.
Kaitlyn Buss, ALEC’s spokeswoman, criticized ColorofChange’s efforts in a statement.
“As we announced in April, ALEC is solely focused on free- market solutions that create jobs and improve the economy,” she said. “Americans of all political stripes should be deeply troubled by the kind of tactics employed by ColorofChange designed to spread fear and shut down debate. Ultimately, they will not succeed because our limited government ideals are far from the caricature the liberal extremists have attempted to paint.”
Working through ALEC, corporate representatives have helped state lawmakers draft various bills, which are then introduced before state legislatures.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have opposed ALEC-backed efforts to enact voter-ID laws, saying such measures suppress minority participation in elections.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has said 25 percent of voting-age blacks, 16 percent of voting-age Hispanics and 15 percent of voting-age Americans in households earning less than $35,000 lack the sort of approved identification required by the laws.
ALEC also championed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that allow individuals to use deadly force if they feel threatened. George Zimmerman, a community watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida earlier this year, has claimed self-defense. He is charged with second-degree murder.
That case drew attention to ALEC, and its adversaries began pressuring corporations to quit the group. An annual corporate membership in ALEC costs $25,000 or more.
Common Cause, a Washington-based public policy advocacy group, has asked the Internal Revenue Service whether ALEC is entitled to its tax-exempt status, insisting instead that it is a lobbying organization.
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