Updated 4/6/2012: On Thursday Kraft announced that it, too, will end its membership with ALEC. The company issued this statement:
We belong to many external groups, including ALEC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes growth and fiscal responsibility.
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.
Following Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Kraft is now the third major corporation to stop supporting ALEC.
Some of the bills that ALEC has quietly pushed are laws requiring strict government-issued photo ID in order to vote, which have passed in 16 states, and "Stand your ground" laws that allow the use of deadly force if a person feels threatened, on the books in 24 states. In a statement on Wednesday evening, Coca-Cola said:
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.
ColorOfChange.org, the online activism group that launched a campaign last December against corporations that support ALEC, had been corresponding with Coca-Cola for months. The group started the campaign with education. Members sent letters to companies (including Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods) explaining the voter-ID laws that they were, knowingly or not, supporting. As it came to light that ALEC also pushed the "Stand your ground" law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting, ColorOfChange.org also let corporations know about that.
On Wednesday morning the group's members shifted their campaign into a new phase. First they reached out to small batches of its membership, urging them to call Coca-Cola and demand that it stop supporting ALEC. Then they sent out a tweet:
@CocaCola is helping undermine voting rights. Tell them to stop
The tweet linked to a Web page explaining ALEC's role in both voter-ID and "Stand your ground" laws, with a request to call Coca-Cola. By Wednesday night the company announced that it was leaving ALEC, no longer funding the group in any way.
Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, said that a senior vice president at Coca-Cola called him with the news first. "It was a cordial conversation," Robinson told The Root. "We thanked them for making the decision and told them that we would stop the phone calls."
Robinson said that two factors motivated his group to launch this next, bolder chapter of the campaign. One was that ColorOfChange.org had given ALEC-affiliated corporations a number of months to withdraw support. The other was the renewed outrage from the group's members once they learned that ALEC also played a role in spreading the "Stand your ground" law.
"Our membership, which has stood up for justice for Trayvon Martin, started asking why George Zimmerman is still free. The fact is, he's relying on a legal defense that's been supported by ALEC," said Robinson. "Now we're making sure that [corporations] understand that they can't have a relationship with ALEC in the dark."
ColorOfChange.org focused on Coca-Cola first because the group had a secret weapon concerning the soft-drink empire. "Pepsi let us know at the end of last year that they were not going to be renewing with ALEC," said Robinson. "We chose Coca-Cola because we knew that their biggest competitor had made a really good decision. We applaud Coca-Cola for also making the right decision."
Robinson said that they will move on to more corporations starting next week, employing different strategies depending on the company. "But all of it will ensure that the corporations, and the public at large, hear the voices and outrage of our members and their friends, families and neighbors," he said.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.