Legislative group ALEC under intense scrutiny

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For years, the American Legislative Exchange Council was not well known but it has had significant influence in helping to shape and spread controversial legislation, such as pushing voter ID laws and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute.

For years the group of lawmakers and private sector officials worked closely to draft mainly pro-business legislation on issues including tax policy and cable TV regulations.

The organization received increased attention for its role in spreading passage of Voter ID and Stand Your Ground laws in Republican-controlled state legislatures nationwide.

The group came under the media spotlight after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman who claimed he acted in self-defense.

Sanford police did not charge Zimmerman, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.

For decades the group, which was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of state legislators and conservative policy advocates, was largely unknown.

“The past month has been the largest amount of exposure about ALEC probably in its history,” said Lisa Graves, a leader at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The backlash tied to the Martin case caused ALEC to lose support from several companies, including the Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods Inc. McDonald’s Corp., PepsiCo Inc., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and WalMart. The corporations cited the Stand Your Ground laws as their reasons for leaving ALEC. The companies no longer wanted to be associated with controversial laws that prosecutors and police have generally opposed for being too vague and dangerous.

On Monday, Procter & Gamble decided not to rejoin the American Legislative Exchange Council this year, according to a statement from Color Of Change, which launched a campaign against the shadowy right-wing front group.

A company spokesperson for the consumer product giant says ALEC is not helping them with customer loyalty and support.

ALEC recently announced that it was eliminating its public safety task force that had dealt with the “Stand Your Group,” and said it was refocusing those resources on economic matters. The elimination of the Public Safety Task Force hits at the heart of one of the group’s major champions and biggest supporters: the powerful National Rifle Association.

While ALEC’s decision to discontinue the task force is welcomed it was done only after increased media scrutiny and public pressure against unpopular laws.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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