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Tina Casey headshot

ALEC and the Limits of Corporate Transparency

Yum! brands quits ALECAs the list of major companies cutting their ties to the lobbying organization ALEC keeps on growing, a pattern has started to emerge. As tabulated by thinkprogress.org, among the most recent crop of self-disinviting corporations is Yum! Brands Inc., the parent of the iconic A&W Root Beer brand as well as other all-American staples such as Long John Silver's, Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. In giving ALEC the bum rush, Yum! joins Kraft, McDonald's, Wendy's, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. All of these brands are closely associated with mainstream, traditional Americana in the hyper-competitive retail food and beverage markets, so it's no surprise that a whiff of public controversy over ALEC's legislative agenda was enough to make them skittish. The question is, what will prod other companies into action? Activism and ALEC One obvious answer is the act of prodding itself: some of the companies that have severed ties with ALEC were action targets of the civil rights organization Color of Change. According to the group's website, Color of Change had its genesis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with the realization that "lack of a political voice has life-and-death consequences." ALEC got onto Color of Change's radar due to its promotion of controversial voter ID legislation, which has the effect of suppressing the vote in African-American communities and other populations including students and senior citizens. More recently, the Trayvon Martin shooting case has brought to light ALEC's involvement in "stand your ground" gun legislation. Color of Change's message to African-American voters is blunt: "ALEC’s voter ID laws are part of a longstanding right-wing agenda to weaken the Black vote. Major companies that rely on business from Black folks shouldn’t be suppressing our vote. Join us in demanding these companies stop funding ALEC." ALEC's corporate members were shielded in the past by the group's status as a non-profit organization, but when the membership list was made public that enabled Color of Change to start a public discussion. Of the dozen or so companies that have publicly left ALEC so far, many are directly exposed to the "crowd power" of the retail consumer market. For them, when controversy bubbled up the answer was swift damage control. Sustainability and ALEC When Triple Pundit first covered the ALEC issue, we noticed that companies like Coca-Cola were likely motivated to quit not only because of the corporate social responsibility issues raised by voting rights legislation, but also because ALEC's environmental agenda is at odds with the efforts of some major corporations to boost their sustainability branding. ALEC's legislative efforts include a heavy dose of actions designed to thwart greenhouse gas regulations and other forms of environmental progress, and even when it does lobby on behalf of alternative fuels it seems to be adept at picking the wrong ones. With sustainability thrown into the mix, it would seem likely that many additional companies will begin to cut their ties with ALEC. AT&T, for example, has been building a solid sustainability track record including the launch of a major Obama Administration electric truck initiative, and it appears to be next on Color of Change's radar. Johnson & Johnson is another company with a powerful sustainability message that is under pressure to disavow its relationship with ALEC. On the other hand, when we predicted a rush to the exits last month we were a little premature. Without that extra push from groups like Color of Change, other companies seem to have little motivation to cut their ties to ALEC, at least not swiftly and publicly. It could be the case that high-publicity damage control is not operative for companies that have a lower retail profile to begin with, and if they do exit ALEC it will be with little or no fanfare. The lesson so far is that shining a spotlight is an important first step toward change, but ultimately success depends on the follow-through. Image: Some rights reserved by dno1967b. Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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