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Black group targets corporations over voting laws

By Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press / December 8, 2011
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WASHINGTON—An online advocacy group is urging corporations that market to African-Americans to stop giving money to a conservative organization working for stricter voting laws.

The group, ColorofChange, is targeting companies that support the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a nonprofit that has helped states pass photo ID laws, which are criticized by minority and civil rights groups. Its members include legislators and corporations, who pay higher fees to join.

Executive director Rashad Robinson is not yet naming the companies, but said Wednesday his group has already asked them once to drop their financial support of ALEC. ColorofChange also is asking its more than 800,000 individual members to sign a letter asking ALEC's corporate members, which include Coca Cola and Wal-Mart among others, to end their support for the group.

The intent, Robinson said, is to "place their brand next to these discriminatory voter ID laws and their impact."

"The corporations behind this can't come to us for our dollars 364 days of the week and disenfranchise us on the 365th," Robinson said.

Last year, 14 states approved 25 measures related to voting, from requiring photo IDs at the ballot box to restricting voting by ex-felons. Critics of the laws say they would have a negative effect on African-Americans, Latinos, students and the elderly.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said this week it will gather information on an new early voting law in Florida in order to make the case to the Justice Department that the stricter laws were a coordinated assault on minorities' voting rights at a time when their numbers in the population and at voting booths have increased.

Some of the voting measures gained momentum through ALEC, which provides "models" of bills to corporate sponsors and legislative members who can then tweak them and propose them in their state legislatures.

Some lawmakers who sponsored the legislation are members of ALEC. The Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported this month that half of the members of the Texas Legislature, which passed a law requiring specific types of photo IDs required to vote, have ties to ALEC and most used public money to pay dues or membership-related costs.

Kaitlyn Buss, an ALEC spokeswoman, said voter photo ID legislation was brought to ALEC by a state lawmaker and was "turned into a resource" for other state lawmakers. She said ALEC wasn't promoting it as an initiative and did not put a lot of effort or resources into the proposed legislation.

As for corporations' involvement, voter photo ID legislation "still has to go through the same process" as other bills and "it's really up to the people electing their legislators and the Legislature" whether such a law is passed, Buss said.

Although Koch Industries is the oft-cited corporate sponsor of ALEC and certainly one of its largest, there are others, including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and AT&T. Robinson would not say whether they were targets of his campaign.

Email and voicemail messages left Thursday with AT&T, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart media relations departments by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

ALEC's corporate sponsors and some foundations pay for the vast majority of its work, which includes holding conventions and meetings where lawmakers and corporations collaborate on draft legislation, according to an investigation by The Center for Media and Democracy, a corporate and government watchdog group based in Madison, Wis.

On its website ALEC claims nearly 2,000 legislative members -- lawmakers or whole legislative bodies -- who pay a $100 two-year membership fee. It also has 300 corporate and private foundation members, who pay between $7,000 and $25,000 a year to join, and between $2,500 and $10,000 to be on one of its nine task forces that develop the legislation.

ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. In its 2010 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, ALEC reported that $84,883 of its revenue, about 1.2 percent, came from membership dues and almost $6 million from other sources, which would include the corporate support and another $1.2 million from conferences and seminars, according to the tax forms it filed for 2010 and analysis by Center for Media and Democracy. ALEC's total revenue reported for 2010 was $7.2 million.

Robinson said his group's campaign is not targeting ALEC itself.

"Our target here is corporations and asking them where they stand, where they stand on democracy," he said.


Follow Suzanne Gamboa on Twitter at


Online: ColorofChange:

American Legislative Exchange Council:

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