By Jessica Wohl
ROGERS, Ark. May 31 Wal-Mart Stores Inc
, the world's No. 1 retailer and the biggest seller of
firearms in the United States, is dropping out of a U.S.
conservative advocacy group that has been a lightning rod over
voting and gun laws.
Wal-Mart said late Wednesday it is suspending membership in
the American Legislative Council (ALEC), which the retailer
joined in 1993.
ALEC sparked controversy recently because of its involvement
in voting laws and in "stand your ground" gun laws, including
the one under scrutiny in the Florida killing of unarmed
17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.
A coalition of liberal advocates targeted the group for its
support of the self-defense laws.
ALEC, which serves as a forum for corporations and mostly
Republican state lawmakers and lobbyists to discuss model
legislation, has been criticized by liberals for promoting laws
that require photo identification to vote.
ColorOfChange, a liberal advocacy group for black Americans,
has said the voting laws put the poor and minorities at a
In April, ALEC said it was abandoning the committee that
worked on "public safety and elections" to focus on the economy.
Despite the change, Wal-Mart decided it was no longer focused on
the same issues as the council.
"Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC's decision
to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission 'to
advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets,'" Maggie
Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government
relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC's national
chairman and executive director.
"We feel that the divide between these activities and our
purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are
suspending our membership in ALEC."
Sans, who is also giving up her role as secretary of ALEC's
private enterprise board, did not specify the issues that caused
Wal-Mart has benefited from ALEC campaigns involving taxes,
commerce and technology.
"While we are disappointed in Walmart's decision, we
understand the unique pressures they are under," said
spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss.
"However, as we announced in April, ALEC is solely focused
on limited government, free-market solutions in the states that
create jobs and improve the economy."
ALEC believes its member companies are being targeted with
campaigns that produce "manufactured outrage and the facade of
grassroots support," she added.
Wal-Mart is the latest group to back away from supporting
ALEC, including Coca-Cola Co, Kraft Foods Inc,
McDonald's Corp, Procter & Gamble Co and the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Wal-Mart's announcement comes as it grapples with recent
allegations of bribery at its Mexican unit and a management
decision to squelch an investigation -- a likely subject at the
annual shareholders meeting on Friday.