On Tuesday the American Legislative Exchange Council — a conservative organization that has advanced the national spread of voter-ID and "Stand your ground" laws — made a surprising announcement. The group is shutting down its Public Safety and Elections task force, which focused on those controversial pieces of legislation.
"We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy," said Indiana state Rep. David Frizzell, ALEC national chairman, in a statement. "The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned."
The news came just two weeks after ColorOfChange.org and other liberal activist groups began applying pressure to the dozens of corporations that fund ALEC — and after 10 companies, including Coca-Cola, Kraft, McDonald's, Wendy's and Blue Cross Blue Shield — subsequently ended their relationship with the group. But ColorOfChange.org isn't celebrating the announcement.
Instead the activist group sees this move as an ALEC publicity stunt to divert attention from its legislative agenda, and one that does little when compared with the dozens of states that have already passed ALEC's bills into law. The Root spoke with ColorOfChange.org's executive director, Rashad Robinson, about ALEC's ongoing work and what he really wants to see the organization do.
The Root: ALEC's announcement could, ostensibly, be hailed as a progressive victory, but ColorOfChange is not impressed. Why not?
Rashad Robinson: Because essentially what ALEC has done is this: They've gone out into the water, thrown some oil in it and now they're saying that they won't spill any more oil — but they're not telling us how they're going to clean it up. Millions of Americans will be dealing with discriminatory voter-ID laws and "Stand your ground" laws brought to us by ALEC, with the support of major corporations. And ALEC and these corporations are offering no solutions to dealing with them.
TR: What kinds of solutions would you recommend?
RR: Have them work to overturn these laws. If these laws are indefensible — they're no longer going to defend them — and if they truly want to make a change, then they'd work so that Americans are not continuing to deal with these laws. And this is an organization that has worked for years to suppress black people's vote and make our communities less safe — we have no reason to trust that there won't be real harm coming from anything that they try to push.
TR: So is ColorOfChange's campaign against corporations that financially support ALEC still going on?
RR: Our campaign is continuing. It's based on a mix of the work that ALEC continues to do and what they've already done. And it's a clear statement that these corporations will not get to have a private relationship with ALEC. Americans of all races and classes will get to make a choice about what they think of our corporate brands that associate with organizations like ALEC.
TR: When you say "the work that ALEC continues to do," what specific work are you concerned about?
RR: Everything from making it harder for working people — through their model legislation to take away collective bargaining rights — to reducing taxes on tobacco that's marketed to young people, to their work around education and the privatization of prisons. They're calling their work on education, privatizing prisons and the environment "economic issues." For us at ColorOfChange, we're just simply not impressed.
TR: But in terms of the Public Safety and Elections task force that they have ended, do you see that having any practical effect or silver lining?
RR: I think the silver lining for us is the message to these corporations that ALEC won't even defend these laws anymore. So for us the silver lining really is a change in the discussion.
TR: The executive director of ALEC, Ron Scheberle, suggested that the ColorOfChange campaign isn't about voter-ID laws or "Stand your ground" at all — but rather a broader campaign against their advocacy of free market principles. Do you have a response?
RR: Our campaign is about ensuring that democracy is done in the light. It's about everyday Americans getting to know how bills become law, and that our legislators are not working for corporations but they're working for the people. ALEC's agenda of bringing legislators and corporations into closed doors to write legislation in partnership — bills that that nobody asked for and nobody wanted — is the antithesis of what our democracy should be about. At the end of the day, we're running a free market campaign here.
TR: In the two weeks since you started the second phase of your campaign, 10 major corporations have already ended their relationship with ALEC. How are you feeling about the momentum that you've built, and what's next?
RR: I think the members of ColorOfChange have a lot of be proud of. Everyday people's voices are being heard by very powerful multinational corporations, and it's a sign that they can make a difference. We're going to continue to expose and challenge the corporations that want to have a relationship with ALEC, and ensure that Americans understand exactly what ALEC's agenda is and understand the corporations that choose to associate with that agenda.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.