Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) sent a letter to companies that may have supported the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council this week asking about ALEC’s work on model legislation for "stand your ground" laws.
Critics say the senator is attempting to tie the free market nonprofit organization to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in a subsequent murder trial. People associated with the organization say it is less about policy than a political effort to criticize a prominent right-of-center group.
The letter sets the table for a Senate hearing announced last month on the laws, which eliminate the legal duty to retreat before individuals are allowed to defend themselves with deadly force.
Durbin and many other Democrats have attempted to tie the laws to the 2012 shooting of Martin, even though Zimmerman never invoked the law as a defense and instead relied on uncontroversial self-defense laws that exist in all 50 states.
A talking points memo, revealed by the Washington Examiner on Wednesday, circulated among congressional Democrats, advising them to use the shooting to push additional restrictions on firearms ownership.
ALEC was targeted last year by left-wing activists who attempted to tie the group, which works with private companies and state legislators to craft model legislation, to the shooting.
"The Trayvon Martin thing was like a gift," one anti-ALEC activist told Bloomberg News last year.
While ALEC has written model "stand your ground" legislation, the group says it played no part in Florida’s enactment of the law.
"Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was the basis for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation, not the other way around," the group said in a statement at the time.
Documents released by a liberal anti-ALEC group as part of a massive leak of internal communications from the group support ALEC’s contention. Florida’s "stand your ground" legislation was first introduced in December of 2004.
ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force adopted its model "stand your ground" legislation in August 2005. The group’s board of directors did not approve the model legislation until the following month, five months after then-Gov. Jeb Bush (R) had signed Florida’s version into law.
Durbin acknowledged this chain of events in his letter, noting that ALEC’s "model legislation was based on Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law."
He went on to ask recipient companies for "clarification [on] whether companies that have funded ALEC’s operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model ‘stand your ground’ legislation."
Given the irrelevance of "stand your ground" laws to the Trayvon Martin case, some are saying that Durbin’s effort is political in nature.
Durbin seems "focused on targeting groups he and the left disagree with," said a representative from one company that received the letter, who asked to remain anonymous due to the politically sensitive nature of the issue.
Durbin, the representative said, is likely targeting ALEC for its political leanings. "It seems like his hearing on [‘stand your ground’] issues will be a means to attack groups they disagree with for political purposes."
According to Roll Call, recipients of Durbin’s letter include Anheuser-Busch, BP, Comcast, and Koch Industries.
Charles and David Koch, the libertarian owners of Koch Industries, have frequently been targeted by the left for their political leanings. They insist that they had nothing to do with Florida’s "stand your ground" law.
"Any claim that Koch is in any way associated with the Florida law or the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is despicable and maliciously false," the company said in one statement.
MSNBC contributor Karen Finney claimed in 2012 that "the Koch Brothers," among others, "funded and ghost write these [‘stand your ground’] laws" through its support for ALEC.
Comcast, which owns MSNBC and employs Finney, has also contributed to ALEC.