The American Legislative Executive Council is responsible for the Florida law and continues to work closely with conservative lawmakers and corporations.
The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges related to the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sent shockwaves through the U.S., applauded by some and vociferously protested by others.
In the wake of the jury’s dismissal of all charges, Rev. Al Sharpton has called for a national day of action across 100 cities on Saturday, demanding justice and accountability from Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice.
At the root of the controversy is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which was employed by the defense to successfully convince the jury that there was reasonable doubt and insufficient evidence to convict Zimmerman.
Although it abandoned its support for the law after a spate of corporate sponsors withdrew support, the American Legislative Executive Council is responsible for the 2005 Florida law and continues to work closely with conservative lawmakers and corporations. ALEC helped lawmakers introduce 71 bills in 2013 that the Center for Media and Democracy believes will reduce corporate accountability. Collectively, corporations represented on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board spent more than $77 million on lobbying in 2011.
ALEC and ‘stand your ground’: the roots of the Zimmerman verdict
“ALEC is responsible for some of the worst laws in the country. Bills they have championed include ‘shoot first’ and voter suppression laws, policies which marginalize African-Americans. ALEC should proactively work to repeal these laws.” said Forrest Brown, senior organizer for Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in a written statement to Mint Press News.
As ALEC gears up to celebrate its 40th annual meeting, Republican legislators and corporate executives will gather in Chicago, where Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be among the featured speakers.
For now, though, it appears the bulk of national protests will center around the conviction of Zimmerman rather than a repeal of “stand your ground” laws and the organizations that promoted them. At the protests this weekend, Sharpton will be joined by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s parents. The event is expected to draw thousands to the streets.
“It’s not over. And we are going to make sure it’s not over, that’s why we’re calling people to organize in your city. I don’t care if it’s 20 people, we want to show the nation that over 100 cities a week later is still demanding justice. We’re not having a fit, we’re having a movement,” Sharpton said.
The Justice Department could pursue charges against Zimmerman if it believes that he violated Martin’s civil rights. Attorney General Eric Holder has not announced whether he will pursue a civil rights case against Zimmerman, but he has come out publicly against “stand your ground” laws.
“The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent,” said Holder, addressing the NAACP conference earlier this week.
Will this set the tone for an immediate change in laws? Probably not. Most Americans believe that the jury made the correct decision in the case. According to a recent Rasmussen opinion poll, 48 percent of Americans believe the ruling was correct, while 34 percent disagree. Eighteen percent remain undecided or unsure.
Similarly, a majority of Floridians still back “stand your ground” laws. According to a new poll released by the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and Bay News 9, nearly 65 percent say the 2005 law does not need to be changed. The law allows people who believe they are in serious danger to use deadly force to defend themselves. They can use force even in cases when it is possible to retreat to safety.
ALEC marches on
What could change is public perception of ALEC, which is charged with crafting “stand your ground” legislation and a bevy of other laws in closed-door meetings with corporate executives.
The Center for Media and Democracy, which runs the ongoing ALEC Exposed campaign, reported last year that Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association helped draft the Florida law in 2005.
After the law was passed, Hammer took the law to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force, where it was approved as model legislation in a closed-door meeting. Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer of long guns in the U.S., voted to approve the bill as an ALEC “model bill.” Since then, 30 states have passed some form of “stand your ground” law.
At the time of Trayvon Martin’s death in February 2012, ALEC opponents were already lining up to decry the organization’s support for “shoot first” laws.
“This bill, the ‘shoot first’ bill, was brought to a closed-door meeting in Grapevine, Texas, of ALEC. At that closed-door meeting, politicians and corporations and private-sector interests voted behind closed doors to unanimously embrace this law as a model for passage across the country. Wal-Mart co-chaired that meeting,” said Lisa Graves, the executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy, during a public demonstration.
Regardless of any final outcome in the Zimmerman case, the long-term focus of the NAACP and gun reform organizations will likely be to counter the influence of ALEC and corporations that have poured millions into passing pro-business initiatives across the U.S.
What exactly is ALEC? It’s a group that “promotes free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism.” It has grown from a small interest group 40 years ago to a lobbying behemoth with 2,000 Republicans legislators as members and dozens of corporate sponsors, including Pfizer and Exxon Mobil.
On paper, ALEC does relatively little direct lobbying, but it has become a vessel for corporations and business interests to craft “model legislation” and persuade elected officials to pass it into law.
ALEC invites any number of the 2,000 elected officials who are members to attend all-expense-paid retreats and seminars every year. While they are on these excursions, corporate executives have the opportunity to present lawmakers with model legislation on a variety of policy issues ranging from guns to voter ID laws.
Unconvinced of the corporate influence? The Center for Responsive Politics says just follow the money. The nonpartisan watchdog group, which monitors the influence of money in politics, reported in 2011 that 23 corporations — including AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Koch Industries — compose ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board.
The group still receives roughly 98 percent of its funding from corporate sponsors, even though a few key sponsors — including Coca-Cola, Mars Inc., Wendy’s, McDonalds and the Gates Foundation — dropped their support shortly after Trayvon Martin’s death in February 2012.
The strong corporate influence appears to be working. According to ALEC’s own statistics, the organization introduced 826 “model bills” in 2009 that were introduced in state legislatures, and 115 of those bills were enacted into law.