Ebay Is the Latest Tech Giant Under Pressure to Cut Ties to Climate Deniers

Will the auction giant join the ALEC exodus?

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Oct 7 2014, 3:00pm

Sept. 14 climate march in London. Image: Garry Knight/Flickr

Over the last few weeks, several major tech companies and other corporate giants have cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial conservative group that has come under fire for its opposition to climate change initiatives championed by environmental activists.

Ebay is the latest corporate giant to feel the pressure to leave ALEC. On Tuesday, more than 80 advocacy groups, including several of the nation's largest environmental groups, sent a letter to eBay officials asking the company to cut ties with ALEC.

The letter, whose signatories include Common Cause, Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club, represents the latest salvo in a multi-year campaign to bring attention to ALEC, which develops so-called "model legislation" that has been adopted in state legislatures around the country. Among other things, ALEC has helped to develop and promote legislation that would require public schools to water down climate science education.

Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Yelp have all recently cut ties with ALEC. Last month, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said the tech giant no longer wants to be associated with a group that is "lying" about climate change. Shortly thereafter, Uber and Lyft, the nation's largest ride-sharing companies, said they have no plans to join the group. Even oil giant Occidental Petroleum has cut ties with ALEC. 

"It's no wonder why leading tech companies are fleeing ALEC in droves," Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement. "Associating with climate deniers is bad for any 21st century business. Now, eBay can make the same smart decision as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, or they can continue backing a front group that is auctioning off our air, water, and health to the highest bidder. The choice should be easy."

A corporate lobby that masquerades as a charity, ALEC uses its non-profit tax status to evade lobbying disclosure laws.

ALEC, whose private enterprise advisory board includes representatives from Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, insists that it does not deny that climate change is occurring, but rather believes that renewable energy "should expand based on consumer demand, not as a result of a government mandate."

Is human activity, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, contributing to climate change?

"I don't know the science on that," Lisa Nelson, ALEC's CEO, recently told National Journal, echoing the statements of other conservative ideologues that have pled ignorance when asked about the role human emissions play in global warming. This despite the overwhelming global scientific consensus that the Earth is getting warmer due to human activity, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels.

On issue after issue, ALEC has taken the side of the major corporate interests who are among its top donors. That's why Common Cause, a progressive advocacy group, has filed complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that challenges ALEC's status as a nonprofit, charitable organization and argues that the group functions as a lobbying arm for its corporate members.

"A corporate lobby that masquerades as a charity, ALEC uses its non-profit tax status to evade lobbying disclosure laws," Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, said in a statement. "It supports a radical policy agenda that would have government ignore climate change, block localities from guaranteeing workers a living wage, and dismantle programs that offer a helping hand to victims of racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination. Ebay should join the dozens of companies that have severed ties with ALEC."

A spokesperson for eBay did not immediately return a request for comment. According to Politico's Tony Romm, eBay has said it will remain in ALEC for "the time being."

Image: US News & World Report

Last month, after Google said that it was cutting ties with ALEC, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page attacked Google as a "charlatan" that uses climate change as a "pretext for corporate welfare." 

In an editorial entitled "Google Kills Birds," the Journal's editorial writers accused Google of "avian-cide" because the companies solar and wind energy projects have been found to have a negative impact on some local bird populations.

Who knew that the Wall Street Journal editorial page was such a fierce defender of wildlife? Not surprisingly, the Journal's editorial writers neglected to point out that bird fatalities from solar and wind energy are drastically lower than bird deaths from oil, gas and coal-based energy sources.

ALEC's efforts to combat renewable energy initiatives have faced longstanding criticism from environmental groups. But ALEC has faced criticism over its stance on other issues as well, including its opposition to net neutrality and its support for Comcast's $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

ALEC has publicly opposed a campaign to convince the Federal Communications Commission to preempt state laws that the group has supported to allow local governments to create their own broadband networks. Some 20 states have laws on the books that pose barriers to community broadband efforts—laws that in many cases were pushed by cable and telecom industry lobbyists, with ALEC's support.

ALEC has advanced so-called "model legislation" that would limit "the authority of municipalities to own and operate telecommunications and advanced service and cable television facilities and to provide public and advanced telecommunication and cable television services to a municipality's inhabitants."

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