Once upon a time, corporations seemed pretty adept at keeping their political activities quiet. But as reps from Lowe's, Kraft, and Chick-fil-A will quickly tell you, that ain't the case no more: thanks to the internet and today's 24-hour news cycle, corporate lobbying maneuvers are increasingly easy to uncover and share with folks around the world.
Which may explain why General Motors has decided to cancel its sponsorship of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
On paper, ALEC describes itself as a nonprofit organization that "works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public."
In reality, ALEC lobbies for conservative legislation. That in itself isn't problematic, but according to the Detroit Free Press, ALEC has recently been aligned with two very touchy subjects:
1. "Stand your ground" gun laws, which have been the cause of much controversy since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin; and,
2. Voter ID laws, which have been decried by activists as ploys to disenfranchise low-income voters, who may not have driver's licenses.
GM has now cancelled its membership in the group, as well as its annual contribution, which a GM spokesman confirmed was less than $25,000.
However, GM isn't the first company to back out of ALEC. If anything, GM seems a tad late to the game. Amazon, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Walgreens, Walmart, and Wendy's are just a few of the corporations that have already stepped down -- in part due to pressure from left-leaning groups like Progress Michigan.
Corporations have always had a hand in politics. That only makes sense, since so many of the laws passed at the local, state, and federal level affect those companies. It's in businesses' best interest to ensure that laws are favorable to their practices.
But the days of corporations being able to hide their lobbying activities from the general public are quickly coming to an end. Now, companies of all stripes are held accountable for their support of political organizations: if those organizations stir up controversy, the brouhaha will inevitably bleed over and affect their corporate supporters.
Debacles like this one with ALEC won't end corporate lobbying efforts. If anything, they'll probably make the situation more obscure, with lobbying groups hiding their activities behind sub-groups and generally rendering it harder for consumers and the press to follow the proverbial money.
Do you think corporations have an obligation to publicize their lobbying efforts? When should companies back down from certain causes? Is GM's withdrawal from ALEC a good thing or bad? Feel free to drop us an email, or leave a note in the comments below.