With thousands of consumers expressing their concerns about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to corporations across America, even former supporters of ALEC are feeling the heat, and some are rushing to distance themselves from the organization. YUM! Brands (owners of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) became the 12th corporate member of ALEC to announce it is leaving the organization yesterday.
When the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released the ALEC Exposed website in 2011, staff worked to document and footnote every ALEC corporate member or supporter and former corporate member or supporter possible. CMD's extensive footnoted list has been cited by news sources and campaigners across the country, although no one knows all the corporations that have funded or helped lead ALEC in its nearly 40-year history. CMD has listed the following organizations as known former ALEC members or supporters on its website, SourceWatch.org, and these companies have taken steps to make sure the public knows they are not currently supporting ALEC:
Cargill: An ALEC brochure from its 1998 annual meeting in Chicago lists Cargill, Inc. as a new ALEC member and a "Director" level sponsor of the meeting. (In 2010, a "Director" level sponsor would pay $10,000 to ALEC, but it is unknown how much a corporation would have paid in 1998.) On April 17, a representative from the Cargill corporate affairs office contacted CMD to say that the company is not a member of ALEC and that it has no internal records of ever having been a member of ALEC. The spokesperson told CMD that she had even talked to lobbyists from 1998. The document search was prompted by press and public inquiries. ALEC is a hot topic in Minnesota due to Governor Mark Dayton's veto of seven ALEC-supported bills this session.
Ticketmaster: An ALEC brochure from its 1997 annual meeting in New Orleans lists Ticketmaster as an "ALEC Private Sector Member." As CMD recently reported, shortly after news broke that Coca-Cola had dumped ALEC, Ticketmaster sent CMD a letter "advis[ing]" CMD to "cease and desist from including Ticketmaster" on SourceWatch.org, objecting to "the suggestion that Ticketmaster is somehow affiliated with ALEC" and threatening to sue CMD for libel and defamation. For Ticketmaster, even being listed as a firm "known to be or to have been" an "ALEC member or supporter" is apparently a big problem.
Geico: The same ALEC brochure from its 1997 annual meeting also lists Geico as an "ALEC Private Sector Member." A Berkshire Hathaway stockholder contacted Geico (Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico) about its involvement with ALEC. A Geico spokesperson told the stockholder that Geico is not a member and does not support ALEC. Geico did not respond to CMD's requests for information about its status. For Geico, too, the association seems toxic.
General Mills Restaurants/Darden: General Mills Restaurants is listed as an "ALEC Private Sector Member" in ALEC's 1994-1995 prospectus. A General Mills spokesperson sent a letter to CMD requesting a correction because SourceWatch.org listed "General Mills Restaurants" as having been involved with ALEC but linked to the SourceWatch article on General Mills, the food processing company. General Mills used to own the Red Lobster chain and started the Olive Garden chain as well as the China Coast chain under its "General Mills Restaurants" subsidiary. In 1995, the subsidiary was spun off to shareholders as what is now the restaurant giant Darden Restaurants (Darden was a member of ALEC's corporate board in 2010). CMD has removed the link to the General Mills article on SourceWatch, as the restaurant group is no longer a subsidiary of General Mills.
Corporations are reacting to increased public scrutiny and the news that almost every day, another ALEC member corporation and funder decides to quit. The list includes YUM! Brands, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Mars Inc., Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonald's, Wendy's, American Traffic Solutions, Reed Elsevier, and Arizona Public Service. CMD and other groups are now urging State Farm, Johnson & Johnson and AT&T to reconsider their membership with ALEC.
This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at PRWatch.org. CMD also released the ALECexposed.org project in 2011, exposing the "model" legislation created behind closed doors by corporations working with state legislators in the American Legislative Exchange Council. This project has received the Sidney Award and the Izzy Award.
Rebekah Wilce has a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She is the lead writer for CMD's Food Rights Network, with expertise in food and agriculture issues.