Saturday, April 7, 2012

Soda Pop and Politics

After reading multiple contradictory articles and blog posts regarding Pepsi and Coke withdrawing support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), I decided to do my own fact-checking and research.
The articles in question-
When consumers push soda companies out of politics (CNN)
Kraft Foods, Coca Cola to discontinue membership in conservative ALEC group (
Stand Your Ground Against Coca-Cola (facebook group)

The Facts:
Pepsi withdrew its membership from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in January. (Source)
CocaCola renounced its membership from ALEC this week. (Source)
Kraft Foods is allowing its ALEC membership to expire. (Source)
There is no statement anywhere to be found about ALEC, or any of the associated issues, on the CocaCola corporate website, or the PepsiCo website.
ALEC said the following regarding the Trayvon Martin death, and the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida. (SOURCE: ALEC)
Trayvon Martin’s death was a great tragedy that brings sadness to all of us. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and community.
It is a great shame that some are using this tragedy to further their political ends. Indeed, Paul Krugman describes advancing his political goals as the “silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing.” That is as callous as it is cruel, and it is also incorrect. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was the basis for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation, not the other way around. Moreover, it is unclear whether that law could apply to this case at all. “Stand Your Ground” or the “Castle Doctrine” is designed to protect people who defend themselves from imminent death and great bodily harm. It does not allow you to pursue another person. It does not allow you to seek confrontation. It does not allow you to attack someone who does not pose an imminent threat. What it does is allow you to defend yourself and your family from immediate and real danger.
In the end, we will always respect people who disagree with us in matters of policy, but it is simply wrong to try to score political points by taking advantage of a great tragedy like Trayvon Martin’s death.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize winner, NY Times op-ed columnist, and economics professor. He is a self-proclaimed liberal, and was the chief economic adviser to Pres. Reagan.
Here is what Krugman said about ALEC in his NY Times column, entitled Lobbyists, Guns and Money, on  March 25, 2012.
Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.
Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.
The article then ceases to discuss anything about Trayvon Martin, and goes on to cover how ALEC's mission is to push privatization and to"pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy." He goes on to say, "In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism."

If you are confused about why three major corporations would withdraw support from a non-profit that helps promote tax breaks for corporations and capitalism, it comes together in Krugman's closing statement.
...we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.
Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.
The Florida "Stand Your Ground" bill was signed into law on April 26, 2005 by Gov. Jeb Bush. 
In August 2005, ALEC’s “Criminal Justice Task Force” reviewed and adopted the Florida “Castle Doctrine” bill as an ALEC model bill.
In September 2005, that bill was adopted by ALEC’s National Board of Directors as a "model bill."
That "model bill" has since been taken to many state legislatures for consideration.
By following links backwards from article to article, to figure out who is citing what, and where this all began, to go from long time memberships in ALEC, to Krugman's (false) claims, to Trayvon Martin, I finally found what appears to be the source. This all seems to have started with a suggested boycott by the group "Color of Change."
From their site-
Today, ColorOfChange members are making calls to Coca-Cola to demand that the company stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has pushed voter ID laws that disenfranchise large numbers of Black voters. Along with the NRA, ALEC also pushed a bill based on Florida's "Shoot First" law – which has shielded Trayvon Martin's killer from justice – into two dozen states across the country.
So somehow what began with a suggested boycott over Voter ID laws (we'll get to those actual laws and ALEC in a moment), turns into corporations supposedly being afraid of appearing to support the defense of George Zimmerman. NOTE- nowhere, have I found any statements by the companies to suggest that is the case. I have only found opinion columnists and bloggers suggesting it.
Here is the ONLY statement I have found by Coke on ALEC at all-
"The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry."
That statement was made to the Washington Examiner's "Secrets" column
So what is so bad about the Voter ID laws?
First and foremost, yes, ALEC model bills were introduced in several states. No denying that.
The Voter ID laws were created to prevent voter impersonation fraud. They require such things as photographic identification in order to vote. Opponents of such bills claim these laws make it harder for young people, people of color, low-income people, the disabled, and older Americans to vote.
I'll break with my non-biased fact giving here, and flat out admit, I just don't get it. Seriously? Your problem is that states passed a law requiring that you have to prove who you are before voting? Is that really so difficult to do? Are there really that many people out there who are incapable of proving identification that it requires a boycott? I have a dozen different ways of proving who I am sitting on my dresser right now. I really struggle to understand how this is a major problem. I am so confused over it that I really do open the lines of communication on this one. Please, someone explain to me how this is a problem for people?
As for everyone out there who has a problem with ALEC and model bills, I highly encourage you to get MORE involved in the legislative process. Because this is exactly how all forms of legislative government works. Legislators, whether they be US Senators, state representatives, or US Congressmen, do not sit down with a pen and paper and write a new law up from scratch. Incredibly experienced representatives from corporations, lawyers, former lawmakers, and yes, even citizens, sit down with highly skilled lawyers (because they are the ones who know what a law looks and sounds like, and how to write them, hence the name LAW-yers), usually in the offices of a non-profit organization just like ALEC, and write these things together. That organization then takes the bill to the legislators. The staffs and committees of the legislators then take out their red pens and make changes, submit it to committee, it gets approved, goes to the hopper, and eventually becomes a bill. I'm sorry that when Schoolhouse Rock made their little song about it, that they didn't include the part about lobbyists being the ones who actually write the laws first.

Now that I have gotten all biased and opinionated, I'd like to conclude with this-
There is nothing more capitalist, consumerism based, and patriotic than the boycott of a corporation. When a company is forced to change behaviors because of the demands of the people, it is a great and wonderful thing.
It is rather ironic that in this case the boycott is being called for a corporation being a part of the democratic system.
Nothing is more powerful than a well-informed, well-educated public. And for that reason it is important to always dig deeper and understand the root of a problem, and what is really happening. CocaCola has in no way, shape, or form gotten involved in the Trayvon Martin case. According to the company, they were also never involved in anything regarding criminal justice and ALEC. ALEC had nothing to do with the passing of the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida. But yes, ALEC did have an influential hand in the passing of Voter ID laws in several states.
But let's keep one thing in mind here- the most important thing- ALEC didn't pass the laws. The legislatures did. The legislatures made up by representatives voted in by citizens. (now, one more piece of irony- they were voted in by people who at that time obviously were not yet required to prove their identities!) If your problem is with a law - CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS! That is what makes the biggest difference.
Boycotts are great, and people making demands of corporations are great. But the real power comes from the ability to vote, and control your own government. Why stop drinking Coke when you can control a government instead?

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