German software giant SAP has become the latest tech company to abandon the American Legislative Exchange Council, the 40-year old group known for quietly advancing business-centric, often conservative, bills through state legislatures.
The technology firm "has decided to immediately disassociate itself from ALEC," according to a statement obtained by National Journal. When asked why, SAP pointed to ALEC's approach to the issues of climate change ("free market environmentalism"), gun control (in favor of "Stand Your Ground" laws) and voting rights (in favor of voter IDs).
SAP is only the latest high-profile tech company to abandon ALEC. In late September, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced on local public radio in Washington that his company was pulling support from the group, saying that the "consensus within the company" was that backing of ALEC was "some sort of mistake." Fellow brand-name U.S. tech companies, such as Yahoo, Facebook and Yelp, soon followed suit.
An ALEC spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.
One twist in the exodus? Companies like Google created the conditions that are making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to stay in ALEC.
How's that? ALEC pitches itself as a place for business and government to work together to advance legislation, and for a time, the tech community saw it as that, too -- particularly during the last decade, when West Coast Internet-based companies were just starting to engage in politics and still finding their footing.
But in the last few years, those same tech companies have found their political strength and savvy (not to mention giant bank accounts). Instead of partnering with groups that represent broad interests, such as, say, the defense industry, in recent years they've been retreating to organizations such as the Internet Association that focus on what matters to them most.
There's also something else behind the retreat. ALEC's main skill set is working in a distributed fashion, advancing legislation state by state -- including bans on municipal broadband like the one just rejected by voters in seven Colorado communities. By the time an issue emerged on the national stage, ALEC's take on it had the air of accepted fact. For decades, ALEC's involvement has happened below the radar.
But in recent years a site called ALEC Exposed has trawled the Internet looking for signs of ALEC's influence on bills and its supporting memoranda, pulling the evidence into an online wiki that has served as fodder for countless blog posts, articles and radio news segments. That site has made it difficult to ignore ALEC's clout.
ALEC Exposed successfully tied ALEC to "Stand Your Ground" laws across the country after the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Digital-savvy online advocacy groups like Color of Change leveraged that evidence to persuade some of ALEC's corporate backers to withdraw support.
Throw in the sentiments of Google CEO Schmidt -- who said ALEC was "just literally lying" about climate change --and for companies in the tech industry, where Schmidt is something of a thought leader, those words likely sounded like permission to get as far away from ALEC as possible.
"That was very much a catalyst kind of event," said Dale Eisman, communications director Common Cause, the D.C.-based advocacy group founded more than 40 years ago that has long seen ALEC as a foe.