Coke and Pepsi abandon conservative group over voter ID, gun laws

By David Ferguson
Thursday, April 5, 2012 15:10 EDT
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Coca Cola bottles via Flickr Commons
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Though the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was formed almost 40 years to organize conservative state legislators and allow them to share and replicate one another’s legislative ideas — and has been “soliciting more input from private sector members” about what is good for them for more than 20 years — it wasn’t until recently that it attracted almost any scrutiny for its promulgation of everything from Stand Your Ground laws to voter ID to business-friendly tort reforms. That increased scrutiny may have just started to get costly for ALEC.

According to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday, beverage behemoths Coke and Pepsi have both dropped their memberships to the conservative lobbying organization. The advocacy group Color of Change began a call-in campaign on Wednesday threatening a boycott of Coca-Cola and its products. The company announced within hours that it will not be renewing their membership in ALEC.

Color of Change began their campaign in November of 2011 to draw attention to ALEC’s legislative agenda, which includes Voter ID laws in multiple states as well as gun laws like the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. “Stand Your Ground” was cited by the defense team of George Zimmerman, Jr., the shooter in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Pepsi dropped out of ALEC in January. Hoping to capitalize upon the national attention drawn to the Martin case, Color of Change set in motion its national call-in campaign, in which volunteers contacted Coke announcing that they would boycott the company’s products if it chose to remain a part of the council.

Coca-Cola released a statement on Wednesday that read, in part, “The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry.” Information about the length of its involvement in ALEC was not made available.

PepsiCo had been a member of ALEC for more than ten years. When asked about leaving ALEC, the company declined to comment. An ALEC spokesperson said to NPR that the soft drink giant had cited budgetary reasons for its decision.

Increasingly, shareholders and investors are demanding transparency from corporations that engage in political activity. Color of Change strategy director and head of the anti-ALEC campaign Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte told Raw Story that transparency is the best weapon of progressives and consumer advocates.

Color of Change, he said, plans to continue its campaign to publicly expose companies who still support ALEC. The group intends to mobilize supporters through a combination of email and social media.

According to Color of Change, increasing the availability of information to investors and consumers empowers them by informing them of what corporations are doing with their money. An added benefit, however, is that robs organizations like ALEC of the secrecy they need to operate.

“Controversial and dangerous policies like voter suppression and Florida’s ‘Shoot First’ law are not supported by the majority of the public,” he said. The more these initiatives are exposed to public scrutiny, he believes, the less likely they are to succeed.

UPDATE: Kraft to pull support from ALEC

Kraft Foods Inc said Thursday that it would not renew its membership with the organization.

“We belong to many external groups, including ALEC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes growth and fiscal responsibility,” the company, which was part of ALEC’s corporate board, said in a statement.

“ALEC covers numerous issues but our involvement has been strictly limited to discussions about economic growth and development, transportation and tax policy. We did not participate in meetings or conversations related to other issues.

“Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.”

[image via Flickr Commons]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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