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Tina Casey headshot

Why Enterprise Joined ALEC For a Hot Second -- Then Ditched

By Tina Casey

The powerful conservative lobbying organization ALEC is looking not-so-powerful these days. Some of its top corporate members have repudiated the group for its hardline policies on issues like climate change, gun control, local rights and the privatization of public land. In the latest development, the company Enterprise Rent-a-Car has joined the rush to the doors.

Enterprise is a top corporate sustainability leader, so its membership in ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) may seem like an odd choice. However, the company says it had a rationale for contributing to the group.

The problem for ALEC is that Enterprise, and many other companies, have an even better reason to cut ties.

Why Enterprise joined ALEC

Enterprise was "outed" as an ALEC member by an article in the Guardian early last summer. The paper acted on a tip from the organization Center for Media and Democracy.

In an August 26 article, TriplePundit's Leon Kaye detailed the many ways in which ALEC policy positions are at odds with the company's culture. In a follow-up article on August 30, Kaye wrote:

"Despite the baggage that comes with being a paid ALEC member, Enterprise refuses to budge. When a TriplePundit writer called out the car-rental giant on Twitter, the company posted this response:

"'Our work [with] ALEC is solely focused on fighting unfair car rental excise taxes on behalf of all car-sharing and rental customers.'”

Enterprise tried to make a rational case for fighting the car rental excise tax. As Kaye noted, municipalities have begun to use taxes on the hospitality industry to help make up for budget shortfalls. Typically, such taxes fall upon visitors, thus sparing local policymakers from the wrath of local voters.

(Note: Enterprise Rent-a-Car is one of three car rental companies under the Enterprise Holdings umbrella. The other two are Alamo and National.)

Outrage ensues over ALEC membership

Enterprise's defense was basically an attempt to compartmentalize. In the end, it failed miserably -- and quickly.

By Sept. 21, the Guardian was reporting that the "public outcry" over Enterprise's ALEC membership prompted the company to announce that it would drop its membership effective immediately.

The nut of the issue is ALEC's advocacy for policies that block strong action on climate change and other environmental issues -- issues that Enterprise claims are at the heart of its corporate culture.

Here's how a petition on act.climatetruth.org expressed it:

Tell Enterprise: Drive Away From ALEC!

Enterprise: Live up to your own sustainability values by cutting all ties immediately with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an extreme right-wing lobbying group that denies climate change and blocks climate action. It is hypocritical for you to make "green" commitments in public while funding ALEC in private.

Before Enterprise announced its decision to leave, ALEC attempted to steer public opinion over to its side.

One example is an article that appeared on Sept. 12 at the Daily Signal, a news organization run by the conservative think tank (and prominent ALEC supporter) The Heritage Foundation.

The ALEC climate change denial mindset is on full display in the article. As described by Daily Signal writer Kevin Mooney, the organization defends itself by claiming that it doesn't really take sides on the issue:

"ALEC actually hasn’t waded far into the debate over climate change, though it has made members aware of both sides, a spokesman told The Daily Signal.

"'Somehow our opposition to [the government’s renewable energy] mandates and subsidies has been conflated into climate change denial,' Bill Meierling, the organization’s vice president of public affairs, said in a brief interview last week."

Mooney cites another high-profile, ALEC-linked conservative source to back up the ALEC position:
"ALEC is the victim of 'identity politics,' said Sam Kazman, legal counsel to Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

“'When a scientific controversy becomes the rallying cry for a consumer boycott campaign, you know you’re in the wonderland of identity politics,' Kazman told The Daily Signal in an email. 'ALEC is one fine group, and here’s hoping that their supporters are fruitful and multiply.'”

That argument presupposes that "both sides" carry equal weight.

However, climate change is not a matter of philosophical debate. It is a measurable phenomenon that is subject to the same principles of scientific investigation and analysis as any other.

On that score, clearly there is no "both sides" to the climate change "debate."

Why Enterprise left ALEC

Though the Heritage Foundation blames "liberal pressure groups" for Enterprise's decision, the stakes were actually much higher for the company's corporate values.

In a recent interview with Glass Door, Enterprise CEO Pamela Nicholson lead off with this observation:

"... I’ve seen firsthand how steady, effective leadership built on a solid foundation of culture and shared values attracts top talent and creates a successful business."

After noting Enterprise's 60-year history as a family-managed company, Nicholson emphasized that "consistency and continuity of leadership is an important part of our lasting success."

Enterprise codifies those principles into eight statements, based on values first articulated by founder Jack Taylor. Take a look at No. 6 on the list, and it's clear that ALEC did not stand a chance against that "liberal" pressure:

Great things happen when we listen...to our customers and to each other.
Image (cropped): by Atomic Taco via flickr.com, creative commons license.





Tina Casey headshot

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey