Leading progressive organizers met on May 10 to coordinate their attack plan against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), discussing ways to pressure corporations into abandoning the group for its small-government advocacy and turn against what they call the "vast, right-wing conspiracy."
The participants, including representatives from such far-left groups as Common Cause, Color of Change, and ProgressNow, met for lunch in a conference room at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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The New Organizing Institute, a group that provides support and technology for political organizers, sponsored the forum.
"Never relent, never let up pressure, and always increase," said Aniello Alioto of ProgressNow Colorado, summing up the strategy.
ALEC is a private-public partnership of state legislators and businesses that works to advance free-market legislation. ALEC’s members craft model legislation that is introduced roughly 1,000 times a year in state capitals around the country by a group of about 1,600 to 2,000 legislators, most of whom are Republicans.
ALEC has long drawn the ire of labor and leftist groups for its pro-business and limited government politics. Only in the past year, however, has a coordinated effort against the group taken place.
Those efforts picked up steam after the Trayvon Martin shooting, when Florida’s "stand your ground" law was linked to similar state laws crafted by ALEC.
"The Trayvon Martin thing was like a gift," Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle recently told Businessweek.
At the May 10 summit, Common Cause Deputy Programs Director Doug Clopp called ALEC "a very powerful organizing tool."
One of the groups that attempted to forge a connection between ALEC and the Trayvon Martin shooting is Color of Change, a nonprofit founded by 9/11 Truther and former Obama green jobs czar Van Jones.
Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, Color of Change director of strategy, said the group began an online petition and phone-banking effort against companies in December 2011 to "to make sure they understood what it would look like for their brand to be publicly associated with ALEC’s policies."
Rey-Goodlatte also explained the group’s "escalating" intimidation tactics when companies refuse to leave ALEC.
"There’s a long list of companies that fund ALEC," Rey-Goodlatte said. "We decided early on it made sense to focus on a few targets at a time. That means we’re able to create a large discussion around a small group of companies, which helps other companies understand what it would look like if their brand is the next to be brought into the public conversation."
The current targets on Color of Change’s list include AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, State Farm, and Amazon.com, Rey-Goodlatte said.
Color of Change members are flooding these companies with "thousands of phone calls," and the group will "escalate pressure" with a series of radio ads and possible public actions against the companies, he said.
Fourteen corporations have severed their ties with ALEC to date.
Liberal groups are also challenging ALEC on legal grounds. Common Cause, which describes itself as a "citizen’s lobby" fighting for campaign finance reform and government oversight, recently filed an IRS whistleblower complaint alleging ALEC has skirted lobbying rules to hide its activities.
Common Cause is also asking the attorneys general in all 50 states to investigate ALEC, deputy director Clopp said.
Common Cause presents itself as a strictly non-partisan organization. Its president, Bob Edgar, is a former Democratic congressman. The law firm working with Common Cause in its complaint, Phillips & Cohen, also has a long history of donating generously to Democrats.
Color of Change will be challenging "stand your ground" laws at the state level across the country, Rey-Goodlatte said.
Previous requests by the Free Beacon to obtain information on ProgressNow and Color of Change’s donors were not returned. The groups do not disclose their donors.
The "vast, right-wing conspiracy" was also the subject of much discussion at the forum.
"The one thing I don’t want folks to forget is ALEC is able to exist because of the vast, right-wing conspiracy supporting it," said Lisa Graves, the executive director of the George Soros-funded Center for Media and Democracy.
Graves cited state policy groups such as the Mackinac Center in Michigan, the Freedom Foundation in Washington state, and the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. "These are groups that do a lot of the policy dirty work of ALEC," she said.
"When they talk about the vast, right-wing conspiracy, [ALEC] is it," Clopp said in the headquarters of one of the nation’s largest unions amid a group of non-profits funded by wealthy liberal foundations.