Overstock.com rejoins controversial lobbying group ALEC
Patrick Byrne of Overstock.com at Bitcoin2014 (CoinDesk/Flickr)

Controversial lobbying group Alec has received an early Christmas gift from Overstock.com . The online retailer recently rejoined the group, bucking a trend among tech companies, many of which have recently disassociated themselves from it.

Alec, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has lost the support of a number of top tech firms in recent months over its stance on climate change. Last week eBay became the latest to cut ties to the group, which lobbies for legislative change at the state level.

Ebay’s decision followed an exodus by tech firms that started after Microsoft quit the group. Following Microsoft’s exit, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said his company could no longer be aligned with people who deny climate change. “They are just literally lying,” he said. Alec denied Schmidt’s charges.

Overstock was previously a member of Alec but let its membership lapse. Overstock confirmed it had rejoined Alec to lobby on internet sales taxation issues.

“Overstock.com did re-join Alec recently”, said a spokesman. “Our relationship with Alec is based on the organization’s access to lawmakers involved in the internet sales tax issue, which is a very weighty one for us. Alec’s stance on climate change did not factor into our decision, one way or another”.

Nick Surgey, director of research at the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy, said Overstock, unlike Google and many other Silicon Valley companies, had never espoused progressive values on climate change or other issues.

Patrick Byrne, Overstock’s chief operating officer, is chairman of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a free market lobby group set up by the late Nobel economist Milton Friedman that champions vouchers for education, a cause also supported by Alec. “It appears they have made a business decision to push on a tax issue”, Surgey said.

Google and Microsoft were followed away from Alec by AOL, Facebook, Yahoo and Yelp.

“In the last four months, Alec has lost the support of companies worth trillions of dollars”, said Surgey.

The recent wave of tech exits followed another exodus over Alec’s support of Florida’s “stand your ground” legislation, which became controversial nationally after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Alec worked with the National Rifle Association to lobby for similar legislation in other states. Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald’s and Walmart terminated their memberships after the killing.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014