The Left’s Corporate Shakedown

Anti-ALEC groups engage in extortion-like tactics to cripple conservative org

July 17, 2012

A host of progressive organizations have led an intense campaign to destroy the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for more than a year, not only through legal challenges but also through public shaming campaigns against corporations and state legislators connected to the group.

The methods employed by anti-ALEC groups could be described as not unlike extortion, experts say.

Color of Change, a "social justice" nonprofit headed by 9/11 Truther and former Obama green jobs czar Van Jones, has been at the front of the "name-and-shame campaign," which seeks to pressure ALEC’s corporate sponsors into dropping their membership in the organization.

"To date, we have not publicly highlighted [your] involvement with ALEC," Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson wrote to a corporate member of ALEC in a June 25 letter obtained by the Free Beacon. "However, we plan to do so and wanted to make you aware of the next steps in our campaign."

"We have commissioned a series of radio ads to make consumers aware of [your] relationship with ALEC and the policies it supports," Robinson continues. "We plan to begin running these ads soon on Black radio stations across the country. We will also make the media aware of this ad campaign."

"If [redacted] is reconsidering its relationship with ALEC, please contact Color of Change’s Director of Strategy, Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, as soon as possible," Robinson warns. "We would appreciate a response within one week."

Rey-Goodlatte was arrested in 2001 for buying merchandise with counterfeit $20 bills, according to news reports. The Jones lieutenant, then 18, was charged with three felony counts of first-degree criminal possession of a forged substance and misdemeanor counts of petty larceny, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported at the time.

When reached on his cell phone and asked if the news report was true, Rey-Goodlatte said, "No," and then announced he was heading into a meeting and hung up.

Color of Change did not return numerous requests for comment about its funders or its campaign against ALEC.

The anti-ALEC contingent has been effective. Just days before an anti-ALEC forum last Thursday in Arlington, Va., five more large companies, under pressure from left-wing groups, severed their ties with ALEC, bringing the total that have withdrawn their membership in the organization to 25 so far.

"We want to make ALEC toxic to be a part of," Diallo Brooks, the director of field mobilization for People for the American Way, told the crowd at the town hall-style forum. Brooks was explaining his organization and its allies’ strategy to dismantle the private-public partnership of state legislators and businesses that works to advance free-market legislation.

Around 100 attendees gathered to listen to Brooks and his fellow panelists decry ALEC’s alleged plans to privatize schools and prisons, roll back environmental regulations, and destroy unions.

According to AFL-CIO state government-relations director Naomi Walker, ALEC’s goal is no less than to "destroy our democracy."

Groups represented on Thursday’s panel included the National Education Association, Common Cause, ProgressVA, and the AFL-CIO. Several former and current progressive Virginia lawmakers also were on hand.

"Anyone who comes to you and says, ‘We have a great new innovative idea,’ stop and question it," said Kim Anderson, the advocacy director for the National Education Association. "Because I guarantee they’re not interested in equity and equal access for every kid in America."

"ALEC’s mechanics are second grade arithmetic," NEA vice-president Lily Eskelsen said at the Netroots Nation panel. "Deregulate, defund, and privatize."

While Color of Change works to harass ALEC’s corporate sponsors, Common Cause has been leading the fight on the legal front.

The non-profit group, which presents itself as a strictly non-partisan organization, has filed an IRS whistleblower complaint against ALEC, challenging the group’s tax-exempt status and accusing it of lobbying activities. It has also filed requests with more than 45 state attorneys general to investigate ALEC.

Common Cause’s 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.

The refrain among progressives is that ALEC is "shady" and crafts its laws in the shadows.

"ALEC is not a transparent organization, no matter what its members tell you," said Anna Scholl, the executive director of ProgressVA.

However, secrecy is the rule, not the exception, among the many groups who oppose ALEC.

When asked to disclose their funders by the Free Beacon during the Q&A session at Thursday’s event, both ProgressVA and People for the American Way declined to answer.

"As I told you before, as a c4 organization our donors aren’t publicly disclosed," ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl said. "Our funds come from a mix of individuals who support our work and grants funds. We don’t disclose names because that’s what our donors understand when they give us money."

ProgressVA is part of the national ProgressNow network. The umbrella organization promotes a variety of liberal causes, such as socialized healthcare and higher taxes on the wealthy.

Brooks declined to respond. People for the American Way does not disclose its donors on its website.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, Color of Change does not disclose its donors, and its tax filings are so vague that the scope of its operations and funding are impossible to determine.

Legally required disclosures show Color of Change is funded by a number of liberal philanthropy groups such as the George Soros-funded Open Society, which gave $250,000 to the Citizen Engagement Laboratory in 2010 "to support Color of Change."