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October 07, 2014

Why Lisa Cried When Eric Dumped ALEC

Exactly 54 days after Lisa B. Nelson, the new CEO of the American Legislative Council (ALEC), started her job, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, dropped the bomb: Google wanted out of its relationship with ALEC. "That was some sort of mistake," Schmidt said on The Diane Rehm Show when a caller asked why Google was supporting the organization. "We're trying to not do that in the future."

"It's like breaking up via text with your girlfriend when you're 16," said Nelson, presumably before throwing out the mixtapes and Google hoodie Eric gave her and unfriending him on Facebook. Wait a minute, she couldn't do that, because Facebook is also leaving ALEC. Well, then maybe she could post a picture of her trashed hoodie and mixtapes to Yahoo's Flickr site? Nope, Yahoo's ditching ALEC, too.

How about leaving mean reviews of Google, Flickr, and Yahoo on Yelp? Sorry, Yelp already gave ALEC the thumbs down. And before she opens Outlook to send some "actually-I'm the-one-who-broke-up-with-YOU" emails, she might recall that even Microsoft has Ctrl-Z'd its relationship with ALEC.

Any way you look at it, Lisa B. Nelson's first 60 days on the job were, as they say, character building. But, really, she shouldn't take it personally. It's not her -- it's ALEC.

What is it about ALEC that has given so many Big Tech firms cold feet? For that matter, what is ALEC, exactly? It calls itself a nonpartisan organization that focuses on the principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism. Not quite. The New York Times, reporting on Google's defection, described ALEC as "a conservative-leaning group that has urged repeal of state renewable power standards and other pro-renewable policies." And the Times was being kind.

ALEC is actually one of the most brazen attempts to steal our democracy that corporate interests have yet conceived. The "council" is composed of representatives from corporations, along with state legislators. Corporations like Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries pay fees along with other generous financial contributions. The legislators pay nominal dues but are forced to bring their families on all-expenses-paid vacations, where they mingle with their corporate benefactors and receive "model" bills (written by the corporations for the corporations). The rested-and-relaxed lawmakers can then take these Stepford bills home and introduce them in their state houses. The only way to make this easier would be to cut out the middleman and just let the corporations pass the laws themselves.

Because this all happens at the state level, it tends to fly under the national radar. It's also aimed dead at the heart of our absolutely critical local campaigns to develop clean energy and combat climate change.

ALEC exists solely to do the will of the corporations that bankroll it, which is how technology firms got seduced into supporting it in the first place. They hoped ALEC could help them with issues aligned with their own values, such as an open Internet.

What changed? The Climate Movement, which reared its head and roared on September 21 around the world, has made it a lot harder for some companies to keep turning a blind eye to the harm that ALEC does by undermining clean energy and funding climate denial.

Eric Schmidt was blunt: ALEC is "literally lying" about the reality of climate change, he said. "[They] 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." I can see how that would be a problem for a company whose official corporate motto is still "Don't be evil."

"Our citizens keep marching," said President Obama at the UN Climate Summit last month, one day after hundreds of thousands around the world mobilized to demand climate action. "We cannot pretend we do not hear them."

That is the strength of a movement like this one. It blazes a light that makes it impossible to miss the difference between what is good and what is evil. And here's how strong we have grown: Last week, Occidental Petroleum -- an oil company! -- announced it was leaving ALEC rather than be associated with its positions on climate change and EPA regulations. Other tech (and non-tech) companies that have severed ties with ALEC include Amazon, General Electric, Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble. Many of these companies left a few years ago after Color of Change and other grassroots organizations called out ALEC for its support of voter-suppression and "stand your ground" laws around the country.

Unfortunately, ALEC still has plenty of corporate funders who are willing to ignore the difference between what's good and what's evil. Perhaps Lisa Nelson shouldn't have been so quick to toss that Google hoodie -- she could have sold it on eBay!

That's right: eBay is still supporting an organization that Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yelp, Yahoo, and Facebook have all unfriended.  

Send a message to CEO John Donahoe today and tell him that it's about time eBay, too, opened its eyes and saw the light.

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