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Legislative committee moves away from ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws

Under pressure from activist groups and corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council on Tuesday announced a reorganization plan that will shutter its Public Safety and Elections Committee, which encouraged passage of “Stand Your Ground” laws and other controversial measures.

The Stand Your Ground statute brought calls for a national boycott of ALEC following the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

The reorganization drew muted cheers from groups on the left that have for years been waging a campaign against ALEC, which describes itself as advocating “free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism.”

The move comes after half a dozen major corporations — including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Intuit and McDonald’s — announced they had decided not to renew membership in the group, which drafts “model bills” for state legislators. The corporate withdrawal of support was made public after the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin, though several companies said they had made their decisions earlier.

In addition to backing Stand Your Ground legislation, ALEC has drawn criticism for laws requiring voters to show identification, tough immigration proposals and resolutions calling for an end to the regulation of carbon emissions.

In a news release, the Indiana state representative who serves as chair of ALEC said that “today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades.” The chair, Rep. David Frizzell (R), added that the group is “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.”

The decision drew a range of reaction.

Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, labeled the announcement a “PR maneuver” designed by ALEC “to try to distance itself from its record of extremism.” However the president of Common Cause, a reform advocacy organization, called the decision a sign that “the American public has wised up to ALEC’s misguided and secretive attempts to co-opt state legislators for corporate profit.” The Common Cause president, former Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar, said that “ALEC is abandoning under pressure the most controversial part of its agenda. That’s an important victory for the American public.”

ALEC’s members also included the National Rifle Association. Officials there declined to respond to requests for comment.

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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