By Anthony Castillo
The image that relatively new Venice resident Google puts forth to the general public is one of a progressive company guided by it’s company motto “Don’t Be Evil. “ Former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said in an interview with NPR recently “I thought it was the stupidest rule ever.” What Google co-founder and current CEO Larry Page thinks of the motto he is said to have come up with along with Sergey Brim, is anyone’s guess. But if the funding choices Google has made this past year and up to the present are any indication, Google reality is very different from the Google image.
In 2013 Google, along with other tech giants such as Facebook and Yelp, joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC. This, in the same year that over 60 major U.S. corporations abandoned ALEC (including Wal-Mart) along with over 400 U.S. state legislators.
Who is ALEC and what do they do? The web site www.alecexposed.org describes ALEC as follows:
“ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through secretive meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit corporations’ bottom line at public expense. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers.
Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve ‘model bills’. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations.
Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations – without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills.
ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a state legislator had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed people out the door.”
In other words, ALEC has institutionalized corruption, plain and simple. If you live in a state that has a Republican Governor and a statehouse and senate under Republican control, you can expect ALEC legislation to be introduced and enacted regardless of how unpopular they my be with the people of that state. But even blue states are not immune from ALEC. It’s just that their ’model bills’ have less of a chance for passage.
Why did so many corporations and state legislators decide to leave ALEC in 2013?
ALEC is now in its 40th year. Until recently ALEC had done its work in secret and was almost unknown to the vast majority of U.S. citizens outside of ALEC’s membership. But the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of racist vigilante George Zimmerman changed that. Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that Zimmerman used to justify his murder of unarmed teen Martin was born from ALEC. In fact those laws were one of ALEC’s proudest accomplishments, having gotten them passed in 24 U.S. states. Nearly half the country! Though they go by different names such as ‘Shoot First’ laws, or ‘Make My Day’ laws, they all have similar wording and purpose; to increase gun sales on behalf of the gun manufacturers that wrote the bills to begin with. But thanks to public outrage over the blatant brutality of these laws after Martin’s murder, ALEC’s hand in crafting them was exposed. Thus began the mass exodus from ALEC. Corporations that wanted to maintain a friendly public image (i.e. McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Pepsi, even Wal-Mart) worked to distance their names from ALEC.
But these gun laws are only the tip of ALEC’s legislative iceberg. In the 80’s ALEC was a huge supporter of South Africa’s system of Apartheid. Yes you read that correctly, ALEC was on the side of the White minority rulers and their racist system of Apartheid. ALEC used its influence to discourage South Africa divestment plans that were being put forth in state houses across the country at the time, as well ALEC worked to keep Nelson Mandela in prison. The administration of Ronald Reagan welcomed ALEC’s help in this fight till the end of Apartheid and after. ALEC has worked to successfully pass ’Right To Work’ laws in blue states such as my home state of Michigan. ALEC has over-turned worker safety regulations in state after state, passed laws to end Collective Bargaining, expanded prison construction and its funding, cut funding for public education, fought immigration reform, enacted laws that make it illegal to document animal cruelty on factory farms and slaughter houses (Ag-Gag bills), passed voter ID laws that strive to suppress the vote in state after state, blocked increasing the minimum wage, and basically worked to privatize anything and everything it can possibly get its greedy hands on. This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of ALEC’s roll-back of public rights in favor of corporate profits.
ALEC’s former and current membership, featured speakers, and past award winners reads like a who’s who of far right-wing radical, politicians and operatives. Names like Tom DeLay, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Jessie Helms, Gov. Scott Walker, Milton Friedman, Andrew Card, Gov. Jan Brewer, Newt Gingrich, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Canter, Pete Coors, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Gov. Rick Perry, Tommy Thompson, Gov. John Kasich, George H.W. Bush, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and of course the Koch brothers, Charles and David, to name but a few. In fact the Koch brothers have been and continue to be a major driving force behind ALEC.
When ALEC met in Washington DC at the end of last year to mark it’s 40th year, it was leaked that the new thrust of ALEC is to stall the switch to clean energy by getting laws passed in state after state that would make it so home owners would be charged for putting solar panels on their homes and not be given tax breaks or credit for the surplus energy they produce and put back into the grid. It was also found out that tobacco companies like Altria/Philip Morris USA wrote ‘model bills’ that would change how moist tobacco products are taxed (such as fruit flavored “snus”) to make them cheaper and more attractive to younger users. These are just a couple of the newest ALEC ideas, and for the first time, Google was there.
If Google’s ALEC membership wasn’t bad enough, it’s not the only far right-wing group Google has thrown its support and its money behind. While Google lists the groups it gives money to, it does not say how much money it gives, as U.S. corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding to political advocacy groups. Google only lists its financial support as “substantial.” But since Google hired former Republican House of Representative member Susan Molinari back in March of 2012 as its Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations, the swing to the far right has begun. Some of the other groups Google has given “substantial” grants to in the past year include: American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, CATO Institute, Federalist Society, Heritage Action, Mercatus Center, National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute, Texas Public Policy Foundation.
For those readers not familiar with what these groups are all about, here’s a bit of detail on a few of them. Heritage Action is the political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation. This Tea Party styled group has worked consistently to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pushed for the fall federal government shutdown. (FYI, the Affordable Care Act originated from the Heritage Foundation as a response to the Clinton task force on revamping the U.S. health care system back in the 90s. Now it fights tooth and nail to repeal its very own idea.) In August of 2013 TX Senator Ted Cruz further cemented his Tea Party street cred by addressing cheering crowds on the nine city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour” that Heritage Action put together. Speaking of Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, Google has a track record of supporting him through its Political Action Committee, Google Inc. Net Pac. This PAC gave Cruz a $10,000 contribution in 2012, and has already contributed to his next reelection campaign.
Americans for Tax Reform is the group run by anti-government, fundamentalist, zealot and Republican operative Grover Norquist. He and his group are responsible for the “Tax Protection Pledge” that any Republican who cares to call himself a Republican must sign. The signatory pledges to never vote to raise taxes no matter what the circumstances. This has made it impossible to roll back the Bush tax cuts, raise any new revenues, balance state budgets, or to fairly tax the 1%. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, ATR received 85% of its funding in 2012 ($26.4 million) from Karl Rove’s ultra partisan, dark money group, Crossroads GPS.
National Taxpayers Union has an agenda much like that of ATR. It’s headed by Duane Parde, who was an ALEC Executive Director for eleven years.
The CATO Institute is the think tank behind much of the past and present far right Republican pro-corporate strategies.
The Federalist Society is a network of right-wing judges and lawyers. You may recognize the names of these members: Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. In fact Google sponsored a gala fundraiser for the FS in Washington DC honoring Justice Thomas. At this event Google was listed as a top-tier “gold” sponsor. Google lists the FS as a group receiving its most “substantial” grants in 2013. There’s no need to go into detail as to what the five conservative Supreme Court Justices have been doing to our rights. Their ruling on the Citizens United case (go to www.movetoamend.org for more info) and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act says enough.
In addition, the Washington Post reported that Google provided a $50,000 sponsorship to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another far right group doing its best to thwart any efforts to address climate change. And Google has also funded “Google Policy Fellows” at CEI for at least the last three years. All this while Google installs solar panels on many of its ‘campuses’ and surrounding buildings. Image vs. reality.
Google has not commented on why they decided to join ALEC when so many other corporations were rushing to leave it, or why they choose to give grants to other far right-wing groups. Google might point out that they also give grants to left leaning groups such as the American Constitution Society, NAACP, and People for the American Way, which they have. But when you rub shoulders with the likes of Exxon-Mobil, the Koch brothers and gun manufactures, the we’re just playing both sides stance doesn’t hold up. Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy puts it this way: “There really aren’t two proportionate sides to the facts about climate changes that are underway, as to whether working people should be paid a living wage, and whether corporations should have to pay taxes just like working people do. By funding extreme groups on the right under the guise of a false equivalency, Google is enabling groups that seek to undermine government.”
Google is a company looking to the future. But it is funding far right-wing groups that are organized, powerful, and well funded and that are actively working to turn back the clock on our rights as private citizens, deregulate and/or privatize everything, take away what little democracy is left in this country, and deny that climate change is even a possibility, let alone a fact. To learn more about ALEC, Google‘s involvement, and sign online petitions urging Google CEO Larry Page to leave ALEC, go to the following web sites. If you have to, you can Google them.
By Anthony Castillo