By Dara Kam
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer – Updated: 7:56 p.m. Monday, April 9, 2012 – Posted: 7:49 p.m. Monday, April 9, 2012
TALLAHASSEE — A conservative advocacy group that promotes ready-made bills for like-minded lawmakers around the country — a version of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, among them — has come under fire since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
At least four major corporations have dropped funding commitments to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which also promotes voter registration laws that require photo identification.
A civil rights advocacy group, ColorOfChange, has been pressuring corporations nationwide through online petitions to drop ties to ALEC and is claiming success, though those that leave have not attributed the departures to the group’s political leanings.
“On one hand these companies have multimillion-dollar budgets geared towards black consumers,” ColorOfChange campaign and media director Dani McClain said. “So our conversation with the companies has been, ‘you can’t on one hand reach out to us for our dollars and on the other hand be subsidizing and supporting legislation that targets our communities in very negative ways, whether it be the voter ID bills or the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws.'”
Since Martin’s killing, ColorOfChange has let the corporations know that ALEC was behind a push for states to adopt legislation modeled after Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The law has come under criticism after the Feb. 26 shooting death of Martin.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense. The law allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened and gives them immunity from prosecution.
Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods Inc. last week announced they were not renewing their memberships in the organization and ColorOfChange is calling on ATT to follow suit. Hundreds of ColorOfChange supporters called the communication giant’s executives and asked them to break with ALEC, McClain said.
Coca-Cola made its announcement within hours of receiving up to 400 phone calls from ColorOfChange supporters. Kraft Foods Inc. said it was not renewing its membership for financial and other reasons. Neither company cited the Martin killing.
Coca-Cola and other ALEC member companies, including Pepsico and Kraft, were targeted last year by the group for their support of ALEC, which promotes voter registration bills that ColorOfChange leaders call “voter suppression laws,” which require registrants to show photo identification. Pepsico pulled its funding in January.
ATT has not yet responded the civil rights group’s request. Intuit, the maker of Quicken, this year did not renew its membership but was not a ColorOfChange target.
In 2005 Florida became the first state to approve a “Stand Your Ground” law. The National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the NRA, the next year made a presentation about the law at ALEC’s national meeting of lawmakers and business leaders, Hammer said. The group then used Florida’s law as model legislation for other states and at least 20 other states have since passed similar laws.
ALEC brings together state and federal lawmakers, who pay $100 for a two-year membership, and corporations, which pay between $2,500 and $25,000 for annual membership.
The legislators and corporate representatives draft ready-made bills that can be used by lawmakers and lobbyists as models for state or federal legislation. Many Florida Republican lawmakers regularly attend the Washington-based organization’s annual meetings.
Koch Industries, led by conservative political contributors Charles and David Koch, is one of ALEC’s largest corporate members. The group’s board of corporate advisers also includes executives from companies including Pfizer Inc. and Reynolds American, which, along with Proctor Gamble Inc., are sticking with ALEC.
ALEC spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss said the group’s main focus is on job creation and economic growth.
“Our private members and legislators are independent thinkers and don’t necessarily agree on all policy initiatives from ALEC,” Buss said in an email. “ALEC’s members are united by a common interest in free market enterprise and limited government.”
Florida Rep. Jimmy Patronis, ALEC’s state chairman, sponsored Florida’s controversial election law now being challenged in federal court by the Obama Administration. Patronis, R-Panama City, said he values the conservative group because it allows him to share good ideas with other lawmakers from Southern states.
He called the ColorOfChange campaign unfortunate. “It’s important to me to see what works in other states and what works in Florida and sharing that with other legislators,” he said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.