Microsoft cuts ties with right wing climate change deniers ALEC. But what about Facebook, Google, and Yelp?
It might come as a surprise to liberal-leaning observers, but Microsoft, a corporation known for its efforts toward environmental stability, has been working with the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), acting as a member of its Communications and Technology Task Force.
Since that relationship was struck, groups devoted to sustainability efforts, corporate responsibility, and equal rights have taken issue with this arrangement. After all, the right wing public policy group, which (surprise!) is backed by the oil and gas magnates Charles and David Brothers, have a list of greatest hits that includes pushing climate change denial in schools, calling gay people a "health risk," advocating for controversial Voter ID laws, and crafting a piece of piece legislation that would enact Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law on a federal level.
But today, under pressure from the Sustainability Group and Walden Asset Management, Microsoft has officially ended its relationship with ALEC, and will no longer offer any financial support to the organization. Here's what the Sustainability Group had to say in its announcement:
Microsoft is a leader on carbon issues – in 2012, it committed to becoming carbon neutral, and is one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy. Thus, we believe that its affiliation with ALEC, which is actively fighting policies that promote renewable energy, was incongruous. In addition, there were numerous other ALEC actions that conflicted directly with Microsoft’s values.Microsoft isn't the only company to hop into bed with Koch-backed climate changer deniers. We've reported on Google's strong ties to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an organization that brands climate change as not only a hoax, but an excuse for President Obama to tighten his iron dictatorial grip on the nation and ruin America or something. Google was the top donor at CEI's annual fundraising dinner (other donors from the tech world included Facebook and, yes, Microsoft), and the search giant also sends a college student every year to work at CEI as part of its Google Policy Fellowship.
But back to ALEC -- it turns out, many high-profile tech companies still have representatives on the group's task force, including Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Yahoo. The reason why is not as devious as you might think -- ALEC is working on model legislation to fight "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" or SLAPP suits. These lawsuits can be used to target a person who posts a negative Yelp review or a complaint about an airline on Facebook. And while Yelp or Facebook wouldn't be stuck with the lawyer fees, it doesn't want to create any disincentives for its users to post all that precious (and free) user-generated content on their sites.
So despite ALEC's ugly past and present, the anti-SLAPP model legislation sounds perfectly reasonable. So who cares if tech companies partner up on a shared interest?
Well, for one, companies pay dues to be involved with ALEC's task force, so they are financially backing an organization that's guilty of supporting some pretty nasty legislation. As the American Federation of Teachers' Michelle Ringuette told the Daily Beast last year, ALEC is “a vehicle to move corporate and conservative interests in this country. That doesn’t mean that every single mock bill that they put forward moves that agenda, but money is fungible. Anyone who buys into ALEC is buying a piece of voter suppression, denying women access to abortion, the privatization of education.”
These strange partnerships are becoming a common theme in the growing ties between tech firms and politics. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently partnered on an ineffectual NSA protest with the Tenth Amendment Center, a group of extremists that want to dismantle eighty years of environmental, infrastructural, and social welfare programs. Last week, it was revealed that Facebook donated $10,000 to Utah's Attorney General, whose support of open Internet policies is matched only by his distaste for gay rights legislation. And perhaps the most high-profile example, and one that resulted in the biggest fallout, was when Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us organization bankrolled two anti-environment ads, alienating pro-sustainability Silicon Valley heavies like Elon Musk and Vinod Khosla.
As tech companies continue to engage in political gamesmanship, there will certainly be a need to create dialogue with organizations and individuals across the political spectrum -- that's just bipartisanism. But aligning with groups like ALEC that look to deny the rights of women and gays, disenfranchise minorities, and attack science, is far too out-of-sync with Silicon Valley's values (and in this writer's mind, human decency) to make much sense.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]