executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. She formerly served as deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Five more corporations have severed ties with the secretive, right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. The group has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as the public has become aware of its role in advancing the "Stand Your Ground" gun law initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin’s killer in Florida. The organization has pushed voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. The future of ALEC is now more precarious than ever before. A grand total of 25 corporations have dropped ALEC membership, as well as four major nonprofit organizations and 55 elected officials. We’re joined by Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which created ALEC Exposed, a website showcasing more than 800 of the group’s model bills. [includes rush transcript]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This summer, Americans can cut their grass with a John Deere mower, drink a cold Miller High Life beer, and buy sunscreen from CVS without fear that their consumer dollars will be used to fund policies like voter suppression and climate change denial. Those three companies, along with computer maker Hewlett-Packard and electronics retailer Best Buy are the latest entities to sever ties with the secretive, right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. In fact, the future of ALEC is more precarious than ever before. A grand total of 25 corporations have dropped ALEC membership, as well as four major nonprofit organizations and 55 elected officials.
AMY GOODMAN: ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as the public has become aware of its role in advancing the "Stand Your Ground" law initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin’s killer. The organization has pushed voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. This is NAACP President Benjamin Jealous talking about ALEC during his address to the group’s annual convention Monday.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: And that is why I say here to the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, who has so efficiently replicated Stand Your Ground laws around this country, voter suppression methods from coast to coast: the blood of every adult and child who is wrongfully killed because of these laws is on your hands. And if it comes to pass that we find that this election was stolen in advance, the way that that politician in Pennsylvania believes it already has been, then we will ensure that the shame is placed squarely on your shoulders, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’re joined by Lisa Graves via Democracy Now! video stream. She’s executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which built ALEC Exposed, a website showcasing more than 800 of the group’s model bills. The project just marked its first anniversary.
Lisa, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this latest corporations to pull out of ALEC.
LISA GRAVES: Thank you so much, Amy.
Well, we were thrilled yesterday when Color of Change announced that five more corporations have left ALEC, bringing to the total 25 corporations, four nonprofits and 55 legislators that have left this organization that’s basically a corporate bill mill, where politicians and lobbyists vote behind closed doors on model bills to change our rights. So, on behalf of our work and the work of the coalition—People for the American Way, Common Cause, the Progress groups, Color of Change—we’re just so happy to see additional corporations standing up and saying no to ALEC.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Why do you think these five companies pulled out when they did?
LISA GRAVES: Well, I think that there’s been a number of pressure points, including the ongoing petitions by Color of Change and the other coalition partners. There was also a complaint filed just a week-and-a-half ago that called for criminal sanctions against ALEC for what was described as evading the criminal and civil provisions of the tax law. And so, that, along with the previous complaint against ALEC for lobbying without disclosing that to the IRS, along with our work to expose how these ALEC scholarships by corporations are bankrolling trips by legislators that are then not disclosed—I think the heat is on ALEC, and rightly so.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: ALEC is, in fact, a charity under federal tax law, so does that have implications for the lobbying that they allegedly engage in?
LISA GRAVES: Well, it does—it does if you don’t disclose that you do any of it. And ALEC has previously said that it engages in no lobbying, and it has said that it doesn’t actually manage scholarships, while in fact the documents we have, that we’ve obtained, that Beau Hodai has obtained, who works for the Center for Media and Democracy and other groups like Common Cause, document that, in fact, ALEC does engage in extensive lobbying.
AMY GOODMAN: Are there any connections between this organization, ALEC, and the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney?
LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s interesting to see his platform unfolding, because when you look at the ALEC bills at ALEC Exposed, you can go to the tax section and see bill after bill that basically channels the voice of Grover Norquist. That voice is channeled through both the Romney campaign as well as through the ALEC bills to basically slash corporate taxes, cut back on the ability to basically fund the revenue for our state and federal governments to provide basic services, and do everything it can to tie the hands of lawmakers to do the democratic will in terms of providing the basic services that Americans count on—public education, public services, public benefits, retirement, and things of that nature—privatizing all those things. That’s part and parcel of, unfortunately, what’s become the dominant agenda of one of the parties in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the significance of Trayvon Martin’s killing in breaking the camel’s back here with ALEC, how it called—put sort of center stage first ALEC’s pushing for the Stand Your Ground laws, and then people seeing what it meant on the ground?
LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s a horrible tragedy, what happened in Florida. And the very idea that a law would be cited to prevent a case like that from going to a jury for people to hear the evidence, I think, is a fundamental flaw in the justice system, and it’s a flaw that’s been propagated by ALEC, an organization that has pushed these laws in states across the country to make it more difficult to prosecute shooters of people, in many cases, who are unarmed. And so, I think it has shined a light on ALEC. And that light has revealed not just the abstract policy issues that are in the ALEC Exposed portfolio, the bills that we’ve disclosed, but also reveals the real human impact of some of these policies that have been pushed by corporations and corporate trade groups.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could just give us the list of corporations that have pulled out of ALEC—interesting for being in it, and now interesting for pulling out, as ALEC moves into its major conference at the end of the month in Salt Lake City, Utah. Just a list of some of those names.
LISA GRAVES: Sure. That includes McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, John Deere. It includes Pepsi-Cola. We also know that the Gates Foundation has pulled out of ALEC. That’s one of the nonprofits that’s left. We know that the Yum! groups, which has a number of fast-food operations, including—it has previously had Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell and others—have pulled out. And so, we see—Kraft Foods, as well—a number of corporations that are brand names, that people rely on, that people eat and drink and use, have now left ALEC. And I—
AMY GOODMAN: Who’s still in?
LISA GRAVES: Well, who’s still in? The Koch brothers, through Koch Industries, the big tobacco companies, Pharma, Big Pharma, which includes a number of—a number of pharmaceutical companies other than Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. A number of other pharmaceutical companies are still involved. And we also see groups like the American Bail Coalition, which is pushing to privatize in every state in the country the bail bonds process, as well as corporations to basically slash taxes and get set-asides for themselves and stop the ability of the EPA to regulate poisons that poison our air and water. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, we’re going to leave it there, but we’ll continue to follow this story. Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, formerly served as deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.