Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is withdrawing from the legislative group the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), according to Think Progress. ALEC has come under scrutiny of late for its controversial policies regarding voter ID laws and looser firearm restrictions, like Flordia's "Stand Your Ground," a law that expanded the definition of acceptable force. Wal-Mart is the 19th company to drop out of ALEC or decine to renew its membership dues.

The move is seen as an especially critical departure in that Wal-Mart is the largest purveyor of firearms in the country. It is also the largest company to leave ALEC since an awareness and boycott effort was launched by the advocacy group Color of Change.

ALEC's embrace of harsh voter ID laws, laws that disproportionately affect poor and minority voters, as well as its pursuit of legislation like "Stand Your Ground" have sent many businesses running as the group's profile has risen. Most big corporations don't want to be associated with controversy, and controversies don't come much larger and more racially charged than the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin earlier this year, in which "Stand Your Ground" was cited by lawyers defending shooter George Zimmerman, Jr..

The organization announced in April that it was shuttering its gun law and social issues task forces, but the decision has apparently come too late to keep many companies on board. Other businesses who have left the ALEC fold include Coke, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Amazon.com, Kraft Foods, Yum! Brands, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

The citizens' lobbying group Common Cause has praised Wal-Mart for its decision in a press release.  Common Cause president Bob Edgar wrote, "ALEC and its corporate backers have built an extremely successful lobbying shop under false pretenses.  They wine and dine and write legislation for our elected officials behind closed doors at posh resorts and guide that legislation into law in the statehouses. Then they call themselves a charity and ask the taxpayers to subsidize their work by bestowing a tax-exemption.  Wal-Mart has made a smart decision to end its involvement in this charade.”

Common Cause has filed a complaint with the IRS that seeks "an IRS ruling revoking ALEC’s tax exemption and assessing back taxes and penalties."  The complaint is backed up by 4,000 ALEC emails that purportedly demonstrate that the group's lobbying efforts have violated the terms of its nonprofit status.

(image by Jeremy Benedict via WikiMedia Commons)