A new fundraising email from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business organization that helps conservative state legislators and corporate interests draft model state legislation to fight the minimum wage, deny climate change, and disenfranchise voters, is targeting the “Unitarian Universalist Church” for running a “misleading smear campaign” against it.
The fundraising appeal appears to be in response to an October 7 public letter signed by more than 80 organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), asking e-commerce giant eBay to end its affiliation with ALEC. ALEC’s leaders may also be aware of a petition being circulated by the UUSC—which has already garnered 3,000 signatures—asking eBay to cut its ALEC ties.
The eBay letter, signed by the Sierra Club, Catholics United, the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, and many others, says that other technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! have dropped their memberships in ALEC in recent weeks “because of their concerns about the harmful role ALEC has played in our democratic process,” including its policy stands, “secretive practices, and its effort to treat what most people consider a lobbying operation as ‘charitable’ activity.” On October 24, eBay CEO John Donahoe said the company is “open” to reconsidering its ALEC ties and said eBay is “not with them” on climate change, according to Forecastthefacts.org, an organization fighting climate change.
Just days after the eBay letter, Laurel Buckley, ALEC’s director of Development and Midwestern Relations, sent a fundraising appeal that said, in part: “Professional activists ranging from Common Cause to the Unitarian Universalist Church just won't stop. As part of their misleading smear campaign, these activist groups demand members stop working with ALEC. Now we are standing up.”
It is unknown why ALEC singled out Unitarian Universalists and Common Cause from among the many organizations that oppose it and the 83 that signed the letter to eBay. It also is unclear whether ALEC leadership realizes that there is no such entity as “the Unitarian Universalist Church.” The Unitarian Universalist Association is a movement of more than 1,000 congregations in the United States.
Numerous phone calls and emails to ALEC by UU World seeking comment were not returned.
UUs involved in efforts against ALEC are delighted to be named in the fundraising appeal. “When ALEC feels threatened by Unitarian Universalists and our allies, we know we’re doing something right,” wrote Pamela Sparr, the UUSC’s associate director for Advocacy, Activism, and Engagement, in an October 22 email to those who’ve already signed the petition. The UUSC is continuing to collect signatures, she told UU World, and will deliver it when it can have “maximum impact.”
Paul Twitchell, director of Communications and Knowledge Management at the UUSC, added, “We were pleasantly surprised we got their attention.”
ALEC, which drafts model legislation that state legislators can then introduce in their home states, describes itself as “a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.” It supports “free markets, limited government, and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments,” according to its website, and says it does not lobby state legislators.
Opponents point out that the “Stand Your Ground” law that prevented the shooter of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin from being charged was based on model legislation endorsed and promoted by ALEC, and that Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant law, SB 1070, was based on a model bill drafted by ALEC. It has also drafted model legislation against renewable energy efforts and that disenfranchise voters, including people of color, young people, and the elderly. ALEC also supports efforts toward the privatization of prisons; one of its members is the Corrections Corporation of America.
In the past few years, under pressure by environmental, consumer, religious, and other groups, more than 80 corporations, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Kraft, have withdrawn their ALEC memberships. In a TV interview, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt discussed ALEC’s position on climate change and said, “We should not be aligned with such people—they’re just, they’re just literally lying.” ALEC has moved from offices on K Street, in Washington, D.C., to suburban Virginia, and the IRS has received at least three formal complaints that contributions to ALEC should not be treated as tax-deductible.
A number of UU-affiliated individuals and groups, including congregations and supporters of Standing on the Side of Love (SSL), have been active against ALEC by participating in shareholder resolutions, petitions, and protests. They object not only to the substance of ALEC’s work but that it is funded by big business interests such as the Koch brothers and oil companies that stand to gain financially from its efforts. They also object that its meetings—which often include elected officials—are held behind closed doors.
In the past several years, the UUA has signed on to a number of shareholder petitions related to ALEC, and UUA officers have met with corporate leaders to ask them to cut their ALEC ties, said Tim Brennan, the UUA’s treasurer, who himself has blogged against ALEC on the SSL website.
The UUSC, which has a strong focus on workers’ rights and climate justice, has been particularly active in recent weeks in working against ALEC, including through the eBay petition.
“Given UUSC’s ongoing commitment to promoting a living wage for workers and our growing work around climate justice, this was a natural move for us,” said the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, president and CEO of the UUSC. “As a human rights organization, we believe that a healthy democracy requires above-board policy advocacy and lobbying. We all have a right to know who is doing the lobbying, how much they are spending, which politicians are involved, and how that affects what our representatives do.”
In November 2011, members of Phoenix-area congregations in yellow SSL shirts joined several hundred protestors in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was the keynote speaker at a closed ALEC meeting that included 900 predominantly Republican lawmakers from around the country. UUs also participated in a related rally at the Arizona state capitol building, where the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, was among the speakers. SSL has also circulated petitions urging corporations to end their association with ALEC.
For several years, the UUA has worked with other investors, including Walden Asset Management—which holds a significant percentage of the UUA retirement fund—to promote UU values by urging companies to disclose their financial relationships with organizations like ALEC. In August, Walden Asset Management sent a letter and background brief on ALEC to the boards of 36 companies, asking them to assess whether its mission was compatible with their own corporate philosophies.
Correction 11.3.14: An earlier version of this story misstated the full name of ALEC.