Acton Institute Powerblog

Provoking Backlashes to Shut Down ALEC, Political Debate

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alec-logo-smI listen to National Public Radio nearly on a daily basis even though I know there are far-more productive ways to spend one’s time. On today’s “Diane Rehm Show,” the discussion was on the American Legislative Exchange Council, how much cash it received from bogeymen-of-the-left Charles and David Koch, and climate change. ALEC Chief Executive Officer Lisa B. Nelson appeared on the program and predictably endured rude interruptions from her host, and comical charges from fellow guests, Tom Hamburger, Washington Post national desk reporter, and Miles Rapoport, president of the progressive advocacy group Common Cause. Of course, the program featured a plethora of outraged NPR junkies who apparently have nothing better to do during the workday than burnish their liberalism on a publicly funded broadcast.

Boy, do progressives despise ALEC and the Kochs! For those in doubt, I recommend reading the shareholder resolutions submitted on an annual basis by religious activist investment groups Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow (many authored by the Center for Political Accountability’s Bruce Freed, who also authors the annual CPA/Zicklin Index).

Rehm’s producers evidently thought Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt’s recent comments on climate change (also made on Rehm’s show) relative to pulling his company from ALEC. Of the nine policy areas ALEC covers, the one Schmidt disagreed with prompted his taking all of his marbles and heading back to Silicon Valley, an act your author’s mother would declare “cutting off one’s nose to spite his face.”

That one issue putting a burr under Schmidt’s saddle, of course, is climate change. ALEC doesn’t take a stand on the issue, but does oppose renewable energy mandates as economically harmful. As noted Oct. 1 by Wall Street Journal opinion writer, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.:

ALEC does oppose renewable-energy subsidies, but that doesn’t require having an opinion on climate change, since, despite the considerable expense of taxpayer money, handouts to solar or wind have no discernible effect on climate change. And, yes, Google has been helping itself to these subsidies as a two-fer, to get taxpayers to pay for its considerable energy consumption and to clothe itself in appealing green….

Even if you suppose the range of future temperature predicted by climate models is reliable, that range still is the difference between efforts to affect climate change being a plausible use of money and a terrible waste of it – which means a debate must be had.

Debate? Heaven forfend! The last thing many progressive groups want is a fruitful debate. On the contrary, Freed, ICCR, AYS and Rehm’s guests want nothing more than to stifle any contrary opinion under the guise of “transparency.” Translation: If the Koch brothers are for it and it’s a net positive for corporate America, it’s ipso facto bad, a travesty and an inherent crime against all humanity. As for ALEC and its members, may the secular gods of environmentalism grant mercy on its collective soul.

Forcing companies to resign from ALEC has been the end goal of shareholder activists ostensibly seeking greater transparency from the companies in which they invest. In a Sept. 30 WSJ editorial, David M. Primo, a University of Rochester associate professor of political science and business administration and academic advisor to the Center for Competitive Politics, wrote an indictment against progressive shareholder calls for corporate transparency. Primo lambasts Freed’s CPA-Zicklin Index specifically, but also targets Media Matters:

Lower stock prices and higher volatility aren’t good for shareholders. So why do the Center for Political Accountability, the Zicklin Center and others argue that disclosure policies serve shareholder interests? One reason: Disclosure proponents are expressing concern for shareholders as a pretext for restricting corporate activity in politics.

Yet others genuinely believe that disclosure would help shareholders. This view misses the fact that these tools are not reserved for those who have the company’s interests at heart. “Activist” investors are often more concerned with their ideological goals than with stock returns.

For instance, while a union pension fund wants investments to perform well, other things being equal, it may be willing to accept lower investment returns if limiting corporate involvement in politics leads to valuable political advantages elsewhere. In fact, any group, including non-shareholders, can use the information gleaned from disclosure reports to attack the company and advance the group’s political goals.

Most frightening is Primo’s subsequent statements:

Attacking corporations through the governance process is now a popular tactic, and activists, politicians and unions would take full advantage of the new [disclosure] rules. In July, Bruce Freed, the CPA’s founder and president, bragged to a group of graduate students that the center had succeeded in pressuring companies to implement disclosure rules: “By going outside the political process we’ve been able to achieve change that never would have been possible” through government.

Meanwhile, the progressive nonprofit Media Matters has developed an entire strategy built on existing disclosure requirements to “provoke backlashes among companies’ shareholders, employees, and customers, and the public-at-large,” according to a 2012 leaked strategy memo. Imagine what Media Matters could do with more disclosure requirements. Would that benefit shareholders?

Not in the slightest. This is why the so-called “religious” shareholder activists of AYS, ICCR and other groups should rethink their stance before signing on to corporate disclosure resolutions in 2015.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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