Google will stop working with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council because of its stance on climate change. Responding to a caller’s question on Diane Rehm’s National Public Radio show, the tech giant’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, said his company had funded ALEC in support of “something unrelated. … I think the consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake, and so we’re trying to not do that in the future.”
ALEC pushes model state bills on issues ranging from supporting charter school expansion and right-to-work laws to inhibiting lawsuits over asbestos or drug-testing. The group claims more than 2,000 state legislators and almost 300 corporations or private foundations as members. Right now, Google is one of those members. After Schmidt’s comments, Google confirmed it would not be renewing its membership once it expires at the end of the year.
Saying that people on the wrong side of the climate change debate were “making the world a much worse place,” Schmidt told Rehm he’d concluded “we should not be aligned with such people—they’re just, they’re just literally lying.” In a statement, ALEC Chief Executive Officer Lisa Nelson said: “It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership … as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free-market policy perspectives for climate change denial.”
Google isn’t the first to succumb to such public pressure. Microsoft confirmed last month that it had left ALEC, and the progressive group Common Cause says corporations including Coca-Cola, Bank of America, and General Motors have done the same. The Center for Media and Democracy, a foundation-funded progressive nonprofit, says at least 80 corporations have publicly dropped their ALEC affiliations since 2011, when it launched its ALEC Exposed website to track the group’s activities and the name-brand companies that help fund them. Common Cause and CMD were among 55 organizations, mostly labor and liberal groups, that sent a letter to Google earlier this month urging it to dump ALEC.
The success of the push against ALEC illustrates the effectiveness of going after what in labor circles are known as “secondary” targets: people or organizations that provide funding, support, or some kind of cover for an activist group’s primary opponent. Since those secondary targets have their own interests and reputations to protect, it’s often easier to cajole them into cutting ties than it is to get your primary target to change its ways. Peel off enough of the groups that bring their backing or their business to an organization, and you can cause it serious headaches. Unions made such effective use of “secondary boycotts” that Congress, in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, restricted their ability to use them.
As I’ve noted before, anti-abortion activists will never get Planned Parenthood to disavow providing abortions, but they did (temporarily) get breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen to distance itself from Planned Parenthood. Civil rights groups like ColorOfChange.org may never have changed Glenn Beck’s thinking, but they took a bite out of his show’s ad revenue by targeting its advertisers.
ALEC is never going to stop pushing right-wing policies in the states, but it did retrench on stand-your-ground laws once controversy following the killing of Trayvon Martin started costing it corporate support. By driving a wedge between ALEC and some of the big companies with more progressive reputations that back it, activist groups have a chance to make the rest of ALEC’s agenda more difficult to enact.