By Ashley Portero
International Business Times, April 19, 2012
The once-obscure American Legislative Exchange Council reached out to the right-wing blogosphere this week to develop a media counteroffensive after losing several corporate sponsors over its role in a number of controversial laws.
ALEC partners corporations with state lawmakers to draft what is typically conservative-leaning, pro-business legislation -- the organization's website describes itself as promoting "the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise"-- in legislatures across the nation. The group recently came under fire after a coalition of progressive groups railed against its work promoting what they claim are discriminatory voter identification bills and "stand your ground" self-defense laws, the latter under particular scrutiny following the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
Since then, at least 12 major sponsors -- including McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association -- have been quick to disassociate themselves from ALEC, particularly as the Trayvon Martin case, as well as the national conversation it inspired regarding gun laws, continues to make headlines.
After announcing Monday that it would suspend its 30-year-old Public Safety and Elections task force, which focused on advocating non-economic issues such as "stand your ground," ALEC reached out to conservative bloggers on Tuesday during the Heritage Foundation's "Bloggers Briefing."
As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC's director of external relations, asked attendees for help in preparing "a very aggressive campaign to really spread the word about what we actually do." Korb said the organization plans to launch a website called "I Stand with ALEC" to challenge the criticism it has received from the so-called left-wing media.
Korb also asked for the support of any bloggers with connections to conservative institutions such as Americans for Tax Reform, in addition to making an appeal for assistance in an area where ALEC's presence is limited: social media.
"We're getting absolutely killed in social media venues -- Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest," Korb said, according to PR Watch. "So any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to use but to average people who don't know much about this fight but are seeing us get really heavily attacked with very little opposition."
Twitter hashtags such as #ALECexposed and #dumpALEC have been trending on the social media site, as sponsors continue to sever ties with the group.
The "Bloggers Briefing" was started by the Heritage Foundation -- also a member of ALEC -- six years ago and is broadcast online by Breitbart TV, a project developed by the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
Korb reportedly distributed a leaflet listing ALEC's positions on a range of issues. The document argues that ALEC is a nonpartisan resource that "respects a diversity of thought" -- even though the Center for Media Democracy reported there is only one Democrat among the 104 legislators who are members of ALEC and have leadership positions -- and that state legislators are in full control of ALEC's model legislation process.
The latter point can easily be disproved by the organization's public "Task Force Operating Procedures," which state that corporate members vote alongside legislators in ALEC task forces.
Even as ALEC resists the public pressure facing it for the first time, progressive groups are showing no sign of backing down from the fight. CREDO Action, People for the American Way Foundation and Common Cause have all released statements indicating they plan to continue their campaign.
"Corporations that currently support ALEC have a choice to make: They can continue to underwrite reckless assaults on our rights and well-being, or they can stand up for their customers by leaving ALEC immediately," Michael Keegan, the president of People for the American Way Foundation, said last week.
Meanwhile, ColorofChange.org, a black advocacy group, said its members are pushing companies such as Johnson & Johnson and State Farm to drop ALEC. In a statement, executive director Rashad Robinson said corporations including Coca-Cola and Kraft, both of which have ended their sponsorship, understand that continuing a business relationship with the organization "puts their brands at great risk in the black community."