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Silicon Valley Companies Follow Google's Lead By Cutting Ties with ALEC

In a mass exodus, top firms like Google, Facebook, and Uber have all left the free-market focused organization with ties to the Koch brothers.
Image via Flickr

One after another, tech industry titans announced this week that they have, or intend to, sever ties with a libertarian, free-market organization seen by many as one of the most influential forces opposed to action on climate change.

The companies announcing that they will no longer participate in the organization — Alexandria, Virginia-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — are Google, Facebook, YELP, Yahoo, Uber, and Lyft.


ALEC's corporate members pay dues ranging from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. In exchange, they participate in task forces focused on promoting free-market based health care programs, environmental protections, or education systems. These task forces help to construct the organization's political agenda and strategy. ALEC's annual conference attracts leading libertarian thinkers, conservative politicians, and corporate executives.

And according to critics like Nick Surgey of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the group is a leading purveyor of misinformation about climate science, as well as a major obstacle to legislative efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With the recent tech announcements, though, he said ALEC's influence may be waning.

"There seems to be a rush out the door this week and it's clearly a result of the large number of people talking about climate change," Surgey told VICE News. "And there's no accident that this follows the big climate march in New York City and the UN climate summit. Companies are becoming increasingly mindful of the association between their stance on climate change and their brand."

How much climate-change denial can the market bear? Read more here.

The tech company exodus began on Monday, when Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said ALEC was "lying" and his company's membership was "sort of a mistake."

During an interview with National Public Radio's Diane Rehm, Schmidt cited specifically ALEC's statements on climate change.


"[Google] has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts. What a shock. And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring," he told NPR. "And the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people. They're just literally lying."

"ALEC is increasingly an anti-environmental organization because of who's left funding and participating in the group — the big oil companies: Exxon, BP, and Shell."

Facebook was next in distancing itself from ALEC, telling the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, "While we have tried to work within ALEC to bring that organization closer to our view on some key issues, it seems unlikely that we will make sufficient progress so we are not likely to renew our membership in 2015."

Following these high-level departures, Yelp revealed it had previously cut ties with ALEC. On Wednesday morning, in a statement to the liberal, government reform organization Common Cause, YELP's director of public policy Luther Lowe said, "Yelp is not a member of ALEC."

Lowe added that the company's membership expired and it decided to sever connections with ALEC several months ago.

Beginning in 2011 Common Cause and CMD, along with other groups focused on campaign finance reform, environmental issues, and labor rights, began to pressure companies to abandon their participation in ALEC. With three companies distancing themselves from ALEC in just three days, the coalition took to the internet, encouraging members to contact Yahoo and demand it also cut ties with the free-market group.


Yahoo responded on Wednesday afternoon with a statement to Common Cause, confirming it was a member of ALEC but offering no information on it's views of ALEC's policy positions. Later that evening, in a second statement, the company said, "We've decided to discontinue our membership in ALEC. We periodically review our membership in organizations and, at this time, we will no longer participate in the ALEC Task Force on Communications and Technology."

Uber and Lyft told Common Cause on Thursday evening that they, too, would no longer participate in ALEC.

Reistenberg and Surgey say that Aol and eBay remain active in ALEC and have now become the focus of the coalition's work.

ALEC did not respond to VICE News requests for comment.

Give it up, 'skeptics' — America is no longer debating climate change. Read more here.

Jay Riestenberg, a policy analyst at Common Cause, told VICE News that the potential reputation-damaging risk of being associated with ALEC has likely become too great for companies to withstand.

"After enormous pressure these companies have decided it's just not worth it anymore," he said. "It says a lot about ALEC, about their underlying problems, especially its positions on climate change and net neutrality, issues that tech companies particularly seem to be conscious of."

Riestenberg estimates that roughly 90 companies have left ALEC since 2011. But the current exodus, he said, is in large part due to the heavy influence of fossil fuel companies and the billionaire libertarians David and Charles Koch within the organization. The Koch brothers are top donors to foundations, politicians, and organizations opposed to action on climate change.

"ALEC is increasingly an anti-environmental organization because of who's left funding and participating in the group - the big oil companies: Exxon, BP, and Shell," Reistenberg said.

"I think with the departure of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp — some of the most respected companies in the world, ones seen on front edge of corporate America — people aren't going to take ALEC seriously," he said. "When Eric Schmidt is calling them liars on national radio and their membership was a mistake there's a big shift underway."

Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman

Image via Flickr