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Activists Pressure Walmart to Drop Support of ALEC

The boycott ALEC movement has turned its sights on Walmart, finding new allies among the retailer’s longtime opponents.

Civil rights activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson are demanding that Walmart cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that’s come under fire for promoting Stand Your Ground laws such as the one at the center of the Trayvon Martin case.

They are working with Making Change at Walmart, a coalition of activists that launched a petition drive Wednesday demanding the nation’s largest retailer drop its financial support of ALEC.

“A lot of people don’t know their role in pushing for stand your ground laws and voter suppression activity,” said the Rev. Eric P. Lee, the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who will take that message public tonight at a rally in honor of Martin in Los Angeles. “When you buy something at Walmart, you’re potentially investing in a bullet that could kill a young black man.”

Walmart was also one of 15 firms targeted late last year by Color of Change, an African-American advocacy group that has led the charge to persuade corporate supporters to abandon ALEC. Corporations pay as much as $25,000 in annual dues to participate in the group.

In recent weeks, Yum! Brands Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield, Procter & Gamble Co. and at least nine other companies have announced they will no longer support ALEC, including two of the organization’s 21 private enterprise board members. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also told Roll Call that it would no longer give the group grants.

But Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart has held firm. Its vice president of public affairs, Maggie Sans, is the secretary of ALEC’s private enterprise board.

The petition comes in the wake of reports in the New York Times that Walmart bribed Mexican officials as it expanded south of the border. The activists hope the company will act swiftly and drop support of ALEC instead of having to deal with more unfavorable publicity.

A spokesman for Walmart declined to comment for this story.

The activists said that the company’s support of ALEC is evidence of its insensitivity to African-American and Latino communities.

“They are supporting civil rights causes on one hand and anti-civil rights causes on the other,” Jackson told Roll Call. “The Trayvon Martin case has exposed their duplicity.”

In recent years, Walmart has worked hard to court Democrats, particularly those with ties to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The groups note that Walmart, the largest firearms retailer in the United States, could benefit from gun-friendly laws like Stand Your Ground.

“They might like ALEC’s politics, but they’d also reap financial benefits from excessively punitive ALEC-backed bills,” the Making Change at Walmart petition reads.

Walmart executive Janet Scott served as the co-chairwoman of ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force in 2005, according to an ALEC spokesman, when the panel approved the model language for Stand Your Ground laws. Since then, Tara Mica, an National Rifle Association state liaison, and Stacie Rumenap, the president of Stop Child Predators, a sexual assault advocacy group, have co-chaired the task force.

Last week, ALEC announced it would disband the task force, though its website was still available as of this afternoon.

Statements from several of the companies that cut ties with ALEC said that the group had waded too far into social issues.

“I think they went away from their core principles,” one lobbyist familiar with the situation said.

ALEC’s treasurer, Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R), told Roll Call that social issues were always a small part of the group’s agenda, adding ALEC is “refocusing our efforts and our interests in the area in which we have expertise.”

ALEC leaders were quiet at first but have become increasingly aggressive with their counterpunches.

“This is a golden opportunity to have the ALEC message get out,” he said. “We are here waiting with open arms to have them come back and join us again.”

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