Top tech companies ditch climate denier group
This week, both Google and Facebook announced they were cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC. In an interview with NPR's Diane
This week, both Google and Facebook announced they were cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC. In an interview with NPR's Diane Rehm, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that ALEC had been "literally lying" about the reality of climate change — a fact that led Google to reconsider its financial contributions to the organization.
Never heard of ALEC? That’s not surprising since the group tries to keep a low profile.
It defines itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” Although their actions might sound like those of a lobbyist, what they say they do in practice is bring together state legislators and representatives of corporations to develop model bills that lawmakers introduce and try to pass in their state legislatures. Through these model bills, ALEC has worked to privatize public education, cut taxes, reduce public employee compensation, oppose Obamacare and resist state regulations to reduce global warming gas emissions.
ALEC has been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg Businessweek because so much of its model legislation tracks the economic interests of the firms that are members of the group. Bring together 2000 state lawmakers with 200 private sector groups and you get a lot of success. In 2009, ALEC noted that states enacted 115 of its bills.
The group, however, lost some of its glow following the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, when it became known that the “Stand Your Ground” legislation in Florida, that was said to have empowered George Zimmerman, was written by ALEC.
This week’s defections by Google and Facebook come in the wake of huge climate change protests around the world.
Google’s Eric Schmidt said, "The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts…And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they're just, they're just literally lying."
Good for Google, but what took them so long?
All you have to do is “google” ALEC and climate change and details about the group’s position on the issue are pretty easy to find. Almost a year ago, the Guardian obtained a trove of internal ALEC documents that revealed the organization’s plans to promote a bunch of bills and resolutions aimed at blocking the Obama White House from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.
The Guardian reported:
“Documents obtained by the Guardian show the core elements of its strategy began to take shape at the previous board meeting in Chicago in August, with meetings of its energy, environment and agriculture subcommittees. The group sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year. The measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and barring oversight on fracking…”
As Dave Smith points out in Business Insider, Google and Facebook joined ALEC just last October, so they knew of the group’s efforts to give tax cuts to tobacco companies, privatize schools and for-profit education companies, repeal state taxes for the wealthy, and oppose renewable energy efforts.
In an effort to explain why Google had aligned itself with ALEC, Smith cites a book by Robert McChesney entitled, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy,
“Any qualms about privacy, commercialism, avoiding taxes, or paying low wages to Third World factory workers were quickly forgotten. It is not that the managers are particularly bad and greedy people — indeed their individual moral makeup is mostly irrelevant — but rather that the system sharply rewards some types of behavior and penalizes other types of behavior so that people either get with the program and internalize the necessary values or they fail.”
There has been a lot of pressure on corporations to cut ties with ALEC. In August Microsoft severed its connections, saying ALEC’s stance on some issues including climate change “conflicted directly with Microsoft’s values.”
Looks like Google and Facebook decided they also valued their public profile more than their private access…or they just didn’t want to be the last tech company left in the ALEC club.