Our Common Good

The coalition trying to force corporations to disassociate from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group responsible for modeling and writing a substantial portion of the bills that come through the Republican side of state legislatures, has notched a couple more victories. First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hooked up with ALEC on “education reform” issues, dropped their support.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.

The Foundation claims that their only grant to ALEC was “narrowly and specifically focused on … teacher effectiveness and school finance.” The Foundation never paid annual dues to ALEC, they say. But this limited grant amounted to over $375,000 over two years, and the Gates Foundation will not withdraw the grant money earmarked for this year.

However, the latest corporate benefactor to drop ALEC was a dues-paying member: McDonald’s.

The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. “While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012,” Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn’t mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company’s decision to leave ALEC.

But there was outside pressure. Just this week, the progressive coalition targeting ALEC, including Common Cause, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, singled out McDonald’s and two other corporations (Johnson and Johnson, and State Farm) over their membership. “The funding of these and other corporations makes ALEC’s operations and agenda possible, including closed door meetings where corporate and special interest lobbyists actually vote as equals with elected officials on ‘model’ bills to change gun laws and make it more difficult for American citizens to vote,” according to Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and the website ALECexposed.org. And just a couple days later, McDonald’s dropped its support. In fact, they were still planning on staying a member of ALEC as recently as February 29 of this year, according to a letter to the progressive group Color of Change.

So it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. Corporations want to hide behind the maze of sub-groups within ALEC to claim that they only fund their core issues. But the money is fungible, and the ALEC model keeps pumping out pro-gun, anti-woman and voter suppression legislation. And these corporations are necessarily associated with that. So they are quietly responding to pressure by dropping out, being protective of their brands.

Color of Change’s next target is AT&T, one of the 21 corporate board members for ALEC. While I still believe that there’s enough money in the conservative ecosystem to keep ALEC going – or to perhaps pull the plug on ALEC and reinvent something else just like it – this is a very successful accountability campaign that has reaped some real rewards.


Bob Perry

You may not know Bob Perry (no relation), but you certainly are familiar with his work. The Texan home-builder provided the seed money for the infamous Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads that helped tear down John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. He’s dropped millions on Republican candidates around the country, but has a special spot for the Texas governor, who he’s handed $2.5 million over the last decade, according to the money tracker Texans for Public Justice. Perry has also donated over $11 million to the Republican Governors Association, money that is currently the subject of a lawsuit by former Perry opponent Chris Bell, a Democrat who lost a bid for governor in 2006. Bell’s suit alleges that Bob Perry routed a $1 million donation to Perry’s campaign through the RGA, writing them two $500,000 checks only days before the organization committed similar amounts to the governor’s re-election.

James Leininger

Dubbed “the most influential Republican in Texas” in 2002, James Leininger has donated tens of millions of dollars to various conservative causes and founded the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right wing think tank that’s been generally supportive of Perry’s agenda. Leininger, who acquired a vast fortune through his medical supply company Kinetic Concepts, has been accused of being too cozy with Perry a number of times over the years. He and his wife have donated nearly $240,000 to his campaigns, a fact that the Dallas Morning News noted with interest last year after an Emerging Technology Fund championed by Perry awarded a $1.75 million grant to a company he invested in. A staunch social conservative, he hosted a meeting between Perry and evangelical leaders at his ranch last month.


The telecom giant, or at least its political action committee, is a longtime friend of Perry, having donated over $500,000 since he took office. In May, Perry sent a letter to the FCC urging them to approve a merger between AT&T and T-Mobil, a deal that’s been thrown into question this week after the Department of Justice moved to block it as an alleged violation of antitrust laws. After state Democrats accused him of “pay to play politics,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner defended the move, calling it “good for consumers, good for technology innovation, and good for American job creation.”

Harold Simmons

Harold Simmons’ $1.1 million in campaign contributions to Perry may sound like a lot, but given that the Texas industrialist is worth $5.7 billion by Forbes’ estimate, it’s relatively small change. His donations have been drawing attention over the last several years, however, as Perry, Texas legislators, and the relevant state agencies have signed off on a plan to construct a massive dumping ground for nuclear waste from around the country. Environmental groups are not happy and some engineers have complained to the press that the location isn’t suited for the task, but the project is moving forward as planned. The Los Angeles Times notes that in receiving a green light to build his nuclear waste site, Simmons’ is “poised to gain perhaps the most” of any major Perry donor who has dealt with state government under his administration.

Billy Joe “Red” McCombs

A co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs has also dabbled in sports as a former owner of both the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. He and his wife have donated nearly $400,000 to Perry’s various campaigns. Now he’s looking to bring Formula One racing to the state with the help of $25 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies per year.
He denies any connection between the funding and his donations, and explained to the Washington Post last month that the Formula One money was approved through the state comptroller’s office and not by Perry. “There’s no question he is a business-friendly governor,” he said. “But I don’t think there is any direct connection.”

All campaign figures are provided by Texans for Public Justice