By Barbara Liston and Martinne Geller
ORLANDO, Fla./NEW YORK, April 5 Coca-Cola Co
is dropping its membership in a conservative national
advocacy group that supports "Stand Your Ground" laws such as
the one being used as a defense in the Florida killing of an
unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.
The move by the world's biggest soft drink maker comes as
corporate America faces increased scrutiny from consumers and
shareholder activists over lobbying and political spending.
PepsiCo Inc ended its relationship with the group -
the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - in January.
In a statement on Thursday, Coca-Cola made no direct mention
of the controversial self-defense law pushed by ALEC that
provides shooters with wide latitude for claiming self defense
when they perceive a threat.
"The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its
membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council
(ALEC)," the statement said.
"Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose
discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have
no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing
policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our
company and industry."
Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford,
Florida, by George Zimmerman, 28, a white and Hispanic
neighborhood watch volunteer who has claimed he acted in self
defense and has not been charged with a crime.
At a rally in Sanford on Saturday, civil rights leaders said
they were considering economic boycotts of national companies
that support "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Coca-Cola and other ALEC member companies were targeted last
year by the civil rights group ColorOfChange for their support
of ALEC, which is also behind what ColorOfChange Executive
Director Rashad Robinson calls "voter suppression laws" in many
states. The laws require voters to show identification.
Since Martin's killing, Robinson said ColorOfChange has let
the corporations know that ALEC was behind a push for states to
adopt legislation modeled after Florida's "Stand Your Ground"
Robinson declined to name which other companies the group is
pursuing, saying their strategy is to give corporations a chance
to withdraw from ALEC before escalating the issue publicly.
ALEC's private enterprise board includes executives from
companies including Pfizer Inc and Reynolds American
, which stood by the group on Thursday along with Procter
& Gamble Co, a member company.
"We don't agree with every ALEC position, but we participate
in ALEC's healthcare forums because state legislators that are
the members in ALEC, they make decisions that impact our
business and the country's business every day," said Peter
O'Toole, a spokesman for the world's largest drugmaker.
Pfizer reviews its membership in outside organizations
regularly, he said.
Reynolds, the maker of Camel cigarettes, said ALEC provides
"a valuable forum for sharing of ideas and fostering better
understanding of a broad range of both legislative and business
Cigarette-maker Altria Group, which has an employee
on the ALEC board, said its involvement is focused on
Exxon Mobil Corp declined to comment as did Diageo
Plc, which makes Johnnie Walker whisky and Smirnoff
Late on Thursday, Kraft Foods Inc said in an emailed
statement: "We belong to many external groups, including ALEC, a
nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes growth and
"ALEC covers numerous issues but our involvement has been
strictly limited to discussions about economic growth and
development, transportation and tax policy. We did not
participate in meetings or conversations related to other
"Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number
of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the
decision not to renew."
Companies that were not immediately available for comment
included Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart Stores Inc,
United Parcel Service Inc, among others.()
Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political
Accountability in Washington, said he was not surprised that
Pepsi and Coke were ahead of the pack in distancing themselves
from ALEC, because they could be more vulnerable to a consumer
boycott than other companies.
"Companies recognize that political spending poses a risk,"
said Freed, whose group is also pressing companies t o disclose
more about t heir spending.
ALEC, which describes its mission as to advance the
principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and
individual liberty, said it would welcome back Coke if it ever
had a change of heart.
"We definitely respect differences of opinion and ideas and
whatever people want to do...," said Kaitlyn Buss, spokeswoman
ALEC develops model bills, but one of the group's insiders
said it does not actively lobby.
"The legislators often have an idea, a concept or a thought
and they go to ALEC to implement that thought," said Victor
Schwartz, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist who serves as
co-chairman of the ALEC task force on civil justice. He was not
speaking as an ALEC spokesman.
The investment firm Walden Asset Management in Boston gave a
tally of a dozen large companies earlier this week that recently
agreed to make new disclosures around their lobbying efforts,
including: Coke, General Electric Co and Johnson &
In a letter to ColorOfChange dated Jan. 25, 2012, PepsiCo
told Robinson the company had decided to drop its
decade-long membership in ALEC after its membership expired.
"We review all organizations in which we have membership
each year to assure they serve a critical purpose for PepsiCo
and its priorities," Paul Boykas, vice president of public
policy and government affairs said in the letter.
Robinson said Coca-Cola made its decision on Wednesday after
ColorOfChange posted a Web page criticizing Coca-Cola's
continued support of ALEC. Robinson said the Web page was up for
eight hours before ColorOfChange removed it based on Coca-Cola's
change of heart.