Last weekend, faithful Tea Partiers were surely thrilled to see Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Ryan strut their stuff at the Washington, D.C., summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council. But the conservative pressure group, which has sponsored startlingly reactionary legislation around the country to loosen gun restrictions and clamp down on voting rights, is suddenly running out of friends.
And money. And influence. And it hasn’t happened a moment too soon.
It’s not news to my organization, ColorOfChange.Org, that ALEC has been losing corporate members by the dozen of late—particularly in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida and the ensuing controversy over the Sunshine State’s “Stand your ground” gun law, which ALEC not only championed but has replicated and actively pushed in one state legislature after another. This is due, in part, to pressure from our 850,000-plus members and research and organizing from a growing number of important partners.
What is news, though, is that ALEC is now seeing the writing on the wall and is racing to reinvent itself before it crashes and burns completely, after a batch of leaked internal documents and a report, published by The Guardian, depicting an organization with its finger perilously close to the panic button.
ALEC, it turns out, is terrified of losing its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as it maintains the fiction that it is not a lobbying organization. So, according to the report, they’re considering the formation of a 501(c)(4) offshoot, the “Jeffersonian Project,” to afford their advocacy efforts “greater legal protection” and “lessen ethics concerns.”
ALEC has lost the support of about 400 state legislators around the country and about 60 corporations, resulting in the loss of more than a third of its projected income for the first six months of this year. Donations, membership fees and income from conferences have all fallen short.
The reason this has happened is simple: public revulsion. We at ColorofChange.org have been arguing for a long time that ALEC’s agenda directly threatens people of color and deeply corrodes democracy. Restricting minority voting rights through voter-ID laws hurts us all, as do "Stand your ground" shooting laws that disproportionately favor white shooters who kill black people. For too long, ALEC, and its corporate funders, have been operating on an agenda that places profits over the welfare of Americans.
But it turns out corporate America does care about a few things: its own public image, its branding and its reputation. And that’s cause for hope.
The documents leaked by The Guardian suggest that ALEC may be mounting a counteroffensive, a so-called Prodigal Son project to try to woo back 41 of its departed corporate sponsors.
As we just wrote to the corporations on the Prodigal Son list, ALEC “was designed as an explicit pay-to-play legislation pipeline providing deep-pocketed corporations an end run around state-by-state lobbying efforts.” And no company that cares about its shareholders or customers should want any part of that. But that has not stopped them in the past.
We’ll continue to keep a careful eye on ALEC’s contributors. We urge both the Prodigal Son companies to stay away from ALEC and the remaining corporate members to cut their funding.
Although these companies have every right to be a part of ALEC’s destructive game, they should know that we have every intention of making sure there will be consequences.
Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange.org, the nation's largest online civil rights organization. Follow ColorOfChange.org on Twitter.
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