| WASHINGTON, April 10
WASHINGTON, April 10 The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation has become the latest big-name financial supporter to
back away from a group that pushes conservative and corporate
priorities in U.S. state capitals.
The foundation said it would not award another grant to the
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the face of
criticism of the council's involvement in voting laws and in
"stand your ground" gun laws such as one under scrutiny in the
Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
"At this point, we've decided that it's not the right
environment to continue working with them," Gates Foundation
spokesman Chris Williams told Reuters on Tuesday.
The split will take effect once the Gates Foundation pays
the balance of a $376,000 education grant that it awarded to the
conservative group last year, Williams said.
The foundation joins at least three other corporations that
have said since January that they would cut their ties to ALEC.
ColorOfChange, a political group that advocates for black
Americans, has led a public campaign to persuade corporations to
distance themselves from ALEC. ColorOfChange's executive
director is Rashad Robinson, who previously worked for a
voting-rights group and a gay-rights group.
ColorOfChange and its allies have said they are pressuring
other companies to do the same. Their targets include AT&T
, which has declined to comment.
Some corporations that are ALEC members have said they stood
by ALEC's work in policy areas that are important to their
businesses and that are unrelated to guns or voting laws.
Sprint Nextel Corp, for example, said on Monday that
its participation is limited to discussions about
telecommunications policy. It has not been involved in "any
other issues before the council," spokesman John Taylor said.
ALEC does not release membership numbers, but its website
lists 21 companies with representatives on its "private
enterprise board." A public tax form says ALEC had $7.2 million
in revenue in 2010.
Williams said no one issue prompted the Gates Foundation's
decision, but "the broader criticisms of ALEC have certainly
contributed to our thinking about this."
The foundation was not a dues-paying member of ALEC, but
Williams said it will "continue to work with partners across the
The Gates Foundation, established by Microsoft Corp
co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, counts education
among its priorities. It said its grant of $376,000 to ALEC was
intended to "educate and engage" its membership on education
budgeting and on teacher effectiveness.
It was a one-time grant that paid for workshops at ALEC
events, Williams said. The foundation would not attempt to
cancel the remainder of the grant, he said, adding: "A grant is
a contract, and they have met their objectives and milestones."
The foundation paid out $2.6 billion in worldwide grants in
2010, the most recent year for which data is available.
News of the foundation's decision to cut off ALEC was
reported earlier by Roll Call, a newspaper in Washington.
ALEC did not respond to a request for comment on the
foundation's decision, but spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss said in an
interview on April 5 that the group's membership increased more
than 20 percent during the past year or two.
ALEC, a favorite group of conservative Republicans, is a
resource for state lawmakers who believe in "free markets,
limited government and federalism," Buss said.
Lawmakers and the corporate representatives who make up
ALEC's committees do not always agree on policy, she said.
Corporate America is facing increased scrutiny from
consumers and shareholder activists over lobbying and political
Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed on Feb. 26. The
suspect has not been charged and a Florida law allows him
increased leeway to claim self defense. ALEC has helped to
spread the law to other states.
Civil rights advocates have said they are considering
economic boycotts of companies that support so called "stand
your ground" laws that permit civilians to carry and use weapons
in cases of self defense.
Corporate backers of ALEC were also singled out last year
for the group's support of state laws requiring that voters show
identification when they vote. ColorOfChange says the laws
unfairly burden racial minorities and the poor.
Three companies that have said since January they are
cutting their ties with ALEC are the Coca-Cola Co, Kraft
Foods Inc and PepsiCo Inc. A fourth company,
Intuit Inc, said it left ALEC near the end of 2011 but
declined to comment further.