Until a few weeks ago, many of us didn't know the name ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. But the Trayvon Martin tragedy and debate around Florida's "Stand your ground" law has uncovered the nationwide, systematic work by ALEC to advance cookie-cutter legislation that disproportionately hurts communities of color. ALEC, with the support of corporations like Wal-Mart, has promoted and advanced this agenda.
Hearing the outrage from consumers, many corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft Foods have withdrawn their support from ALEC. This week ALEC responded to the public pressure by disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which had been the target of much of the criticism. This isn't enough. Both ALEC and members like Wal-Mart need to do much more to distance themselves from these attacks on our communities.
Right now the country's largest retailer and employer, Wal-Mart, and the Walton family, which largely controls the company, remain supporters of ALEC. Looking a little closer, we can see why. Encouraging gun possession and sales is good business for Wal-Mart and for the six Walton family members who inherited the company. Wal-Mart is the nation's largest seller of guns and ammunition, and we know that gun violence has disproportionately affected communities of color.
Not only are Wal-Mart and the Walton Family Foundation members of ALEC, but the company also played an active role in helping advance the "Stand your ground" law. In 2005 Wal-Mart executive Janet Scott co-chaired ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force (it later became the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in 2009) when the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the task force to support the "Stand your ground" legislation.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, "justifiable homicides" have tripled since the passage of the law. FBI data shows similar increases in other states that have adopted the law.
As identified by the NAACP and countless of other organizations, voter-ID laws are clearly intended to keep voters of color from the polls. And despite the fact that there is no real evidence of voter fraud, ALEC — with the contributions and help of companies like Wal-Mart — has been able to pass these laws in seven states and have them introduced in 27 others just this year.
The six Waltons are worth more than $100 billion — a wealth greater than the bottom 30 percent of Americans combined — and with that wealth comes power and influence. Since 1990 Wal-Mart's political action committee and the Walton family have given a total of more than $1 million to politicians with close ties to ALEC in state and federal races. Between 2006 and 2010, they gave more than $500,000 to the campaigns of ALEC alums currently serving in Congress.
For many years Wal-Mart has courted African-American and Latino shoppers in its stores, and the company has often spoken proudly of the diversity of its workforce. But when both Wal-Mart and the Waltons ally themselves with an organization such as ALEC that pushes laws that hurt our communities, we have to the judge the company based on its actions, not on its words.
It's time for Wal-Mart to stand up for the well-being of all Americans and withdraw support from ALEC today. But, that isn't enough. It's also time for Wal-Mart and the Waltons to go on the record saying they do not support laws like voter ID, which may lead to the death of democracy, and "Stand your ground," which led to the death of Trayvon Martin and countless others.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime labor, racial justice and international activist. He has also authored several books and is a senior scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.