ALEC is having trouble raising corporate cash following its connection to the Trayvon Martin controversy. (Photo by 401(K) 2013)

ALEC is having trouble raising corporate cash following its connection to the Trayvon Martin controversy. (Photo by 401(K) 2013)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is having some trouble raising money from its former corporate donors.

Many companies distanced themselves last year from ALEC once news circulated that the group was connected to Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which got a lot of attention following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed teenager, was initially not going to face charges because he was protected by the broad self-defense law. After protests around the country, state officials were forced to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder. He was acquitted this year.

However, public perception of the law – and ALEC by extension – had changed last year. ALEC, which is a group that creates conservative model legislation for state legislatures, began losing some of its many corporate donors in droves during the heat of the Zimmerman protests. Via MinnPost back in April 2012:

In the wake of the shooting, a number of grassroots and civil-rights organizations began pushing ALEC’s corporate members, whose dues underwrite the group’s activities, to cut their ties. Companies pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to join; ALEC routinely pays for lawmakers, whose dues are just $50 a year, to travel to meetings at resorts where they are handed policy playbooks.

…The list of corporations and nonprofits dropping memberships in ALEC [has] lengthened to 10 [as of April 2012] : Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars, Reed-Elsevier, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arizona Public Service Co.

“We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC,” said a Reed Elsevier spokesman.

“At this point, we’ve decided that it’s not the right environment to continue working with them,” a Gates Foundation spokesman told Reuters. Separately, the foundation said it did not intend to support ALEC’s ideological work but had thought it was paying for distribution of its education reform research.

Even corporations no longer affiliated with the controversial arch-conservative policy incubator appeared to be trying to distance themselves. Ticketmaster last week sent a letter to the Center for Media and Democracy, which operates the website ALECexposed, “advising” the organization to “cease and desist from including Ticketmaster on your site” and threatening to sue for libel and defamation.

More than a year and a half later, things haven’t gotten much better for ALEC and now they are launching an effort to get some of those donors back. According to reporting this week from The Guardian:

An influential US lobbying network of Republican politicians and big businesses is seeking to avert a looming funding crisis by appealing to major donors that have abandoned it over the past two years following criticism of its policy on gun laws.

The Guardian has learned that the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which shapes and promotes legislation at state level across the US, has identified more than 40 lapsed corporate members it wants to attract back into the fold under a scheme referred to in its documents as the “Prodigal Son Project”.

The target firms include commercial giants such as Amazon, Coca-Cola,General ElectricKraftMcDonald’s and Walmart, all of which cut ties with the group following the furore over the killing of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012.

The Guardian has learned that by Alec’s own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

The reference to the Prodigal Son Project is just one of many revelations contained in a batch of internal Alec documents that have been obtained by the Guardian. The documents, prepared for its most recent annual board meeting in Chicago in August, cast light on the inner workings of the group.

Stand Your Ground legislation is one of many ALEC-linked laws passed in Florida in the past several years. ALEC has had a lot of influence in the state and has affected education policy, health care policy and labor laws, among many other things.

Florida, however, was the first state to pass Stand Your Ground. Now about two dozen states have similar legislation.