In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father welcomes back his errant, spendthrift, sinning son with open arms and a party. For ALEC's Prodigal Sons targeted in their "come back" project, there was no fatted calf, but they did amend their rules for state chairmen to include a loyalty oath and promise that those chairmen, all legislators, would place the interests of corporations first. According to the documents released this week, state chairmen must sign a policy statement which includes a promise to "act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.1
The "organization" legislators who serve as state chairs are expected to put first is ALEC, and ALEC's interests are of those funding ALEC, which are major corporations and trade associations. It appears they needed some incentive to return, and so the loyalty oath and promise to place their interests first were born. For ALEC, the true prodigals are fleeing corporate sponsors, and they aren't going to let them go without making a play to lure them back.
Who are the prodigals?
According to the handy list2 sent with the packet, there are many household names in lots of different sectors.
Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, McDonald's, Wendys, Mars, YUM! Brands, Publix Super Markets, MillerCoors, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Brown-Forman
Health/Pharma: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Johnson & Johnson, CVS Caremark, Express Scripts/Medco, Amgen, Merck, Wellpoint, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Medtronic, Sanofi
Tech: Dell Computers, Hewlett-Packard, Intuit
Banking: Bank of America, Wells Fargo
Retail: Amazon.com, BestBuy, Walgreens, Wal-Mart
Education: Scantron Corporation, Kaplan
Energy ConocoPhillips, Entergy
Other companies included John Deere, American Traffic Solutions, General Electric, and Western Union.
Some of these companies dropped their memberships after they failed to get what they had joined to get. Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, "left after losing exchanges workshop." Coventry Health Care evidently joined because of a "single issue" which seems to no longer be an issue.
The most interesting on the list might be the State Policy Network members that dropped. Conveniently, they did that just before the blockbuster report that came out about how they coordinate across states was released.
Nonprofits kept the doors open
Corporate funding isn't ALEC's only source of funds. Large grants were paid by right-wing foundations, according to their accounting reports. 4 Major backers include the Gleason Family Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, the Koch and Koch-controlled Lambe Foundations, Bradley Foundation, along with the Scaife Foundation.
However, those grants came with a price. Bradley and Gleason are major backers of ALEC's education reform initiatives and gave large amounts of money to further those objectives. The Koch money targets state budgets, in order to garner tax preferences for corporations at the expense of the middle class. Other grant proposals are outstanding to fund efforts to push corporate interests in the energy sector and ramp their education reform efforts up further.
Finally, in an effort to lure the prodigals back into the fold, ALEC mounted an aggressive campaign to woo allied organizations, most of them embedded deeply in the Koch network. According to one report 5, efforts to coalition-build were undertaken with third-party organizations including American Majority, Heritage Foundation, Franklin Center, NRCC, and even Common Cause, the non-partisan organization that maintains the database of model legislation and other ALEC-related documents. It appears they were also trying to do some bridge-building after the Zimmerman case blew up, because they also held meetings with Latino and African-American groups.
Was it damage control or spin? According to that same report, "coodinated outreach across all external channels developed opportunities to cultivate understanding and develop credibility." ALEC further claims that their damage control efforts turned things around. The writer brags that "whereas one year ago stories about the organization contained little factual information, today the media and public are more interested in the facts." Taking it one step further, ALEC claims they are "increasingly recognized as a conservative, free-market think tank, rather than a 'corporate bill mill' that secretly manipulates thousands of legislators.'"6
Their public relations turnaround, if there actually is one, can be attributed to Bill Meierling, the Edelman alumnus ALEC hired to help repair the damage. He has brought the full portfolio of public relations spin tools to the table to help with rehabilitation.
It doesn't seem to be helping all that much. When examined in the cold light of day, ALEC is still what it was back in 2011: A bill mill with a renewed mission to serve the corporations who create and maintain it.
Update: Credo has a petition available for you to sign asking these companies NOT to return to the fold. I encourage you to sign it.
1 Page 10 approves bylaw changes to state chair position which include adoption of a State Chair Agreement. Page 19 has the full text of the State Chair Agreement which contains the loyalty oath and pledge to place interests of ALEC members first.