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By Jonathan D. Salant
WASHINGTON - Five more companies are ending their financial support of a public policy group that has worked with state lawmakers to pass pro-gun ownership and voter-identification laws, a civil rights group said Tuesday.
Deere & Co., CVS Caremark Corp., SABMiller Plc’s MillerCoors LLC, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Best Buy Co. Inc. are no longer supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to New York-based ColorofChange.org, which has led efforts to get corporations to withdraw from the group.
“We want to thank these companies for making the right decision, and we continue to call on all major corporations to stop funding ALEC given its involvement in voter suppression and its work pushing policies designed to benefit rich and powerful corporations at the expense of people of color, workers and the environment,” said Rashad Robinson, the civil rights group’s executive director, in a statement.
A spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, Carolyn Castel, confirmed in an e-mail that the Woonsocket-based company was ending its involvement with ALEC.
“Over the last few weeks, we have closely followed the issues surrounding the American Legislative Exchange Council and have heard from numerous stakeholders expressing their views,” she said. “As a result, after careful consideration of the available information, CVS Caremark has discontinued its membership in ALEC.”
A spokesman for Moline, Ill.-based Deere, Ken Golden, said in an e-mail that the company ended its ALEC membership “as a result of our evaluation process.”
Best Buy “continually reviews and assesses its memberships in organizations to ensure efficient use of budget dollars and to make sure that our participation meets the current needs of our business,” said Susan Busch, a spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman for Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett- Packard, Winnie Lerner, said that the company decided not to renew its ALEC affiliation “as part of a routine evaluation of its association memberships last fall.”
MillerCoors didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Around two dozen other companies previously said they were ending their ALEC support, including Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which had representatives on the group’s Private Enterprise Board.
Kaitlyn Buss, an ALEC spokeswoman, said, “Like any membership organization, numbers will ebb and flow,” and her group’s membership is up.
“Many of the ‘victories’ our opponents are claiming are actually the result of financial realities and other internal considerations,” Buss said in an e-mail. “And many of the decisions were made months ago. It’s unfortunate that this corporate intimidation and bully campaign has gotten the attention that it has. The reality is it’s politics at its worst and should be ignored.”
ALEC charges companies as much as $25,000 a year in dues and enables them to help draft bills that lawmakers then try to enact in their state legislatures.
The effort to pressure companies into ending their support of ALEC came after the organization pushed for legislation allowing individuals who feel threatened to fight back rather than retreat, known as Stand Your Ground laws; and for laws requiring photo identification before voting, which the U.S. Justice Department has argued discriminates against minorities.
A Florida version of Stand Your Ground was cited by authorities in Sanford, Fla., when they didn’t initially arrest George Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman later was charged with second-degree murder.
Voter-ID laws are touted by proponents as needed to end voter fraud, though the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found such fraud occurred 0.00004 percent of the time in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.
Enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures, such voter-ID laws disproportionately affect groups that tend to vote Democratic, studies show. The Brennan Center found that 25 percent of voting-age blacks, 16 percent of voting-age Hispanics and 15 percent of voting-age Americans in households earning less than $35,000 lack the IDs required by the laws.
The Justice Department has blocked voter-ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, saying the measures unfairly burdened minority voters.
ALEC has since disbanded the task force that drafted the Stand Your Ground and voter-ID legislation and said it would focus exclusively on economic issues.
Common Cause, a Washington-based public policy advocacy group, has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether ALEC is entitled to its tax-exempt status, insisting instead that it is a lobbying organization.