Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt appears to have infected Silicon Valley with a sudden bout of corporate consciousness this week, after telling The Diane Rehm Show that ALEC, the powerful conservative lobbying group, was "literally lying" about climate change.
On Monday, Google confirmed plans to sever ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council. Yesterday Facebook followed suit. In response to a caller on Rehm's show, Schmidt said "consensus within the company was that (the investment in ALEC) was some sort of mistake and so we're trying to not do that in the future."
He did not specify which issue prompted Google to fund the "stealth business lobbyist" masquerading as a non-profit in the first place. Other corporations left the group for its support of "Stand Your Ground" laws after the death of Trayvon Martin. But Schmidt's statement about ALEC was unequivocal:
"Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place," Schmidt told Rehm. "And so we should not be aligned with such people — they're just, they're just literally lying."
It's wonderful that the multibillion corporations who want to influence our future have seen the error of their ways. But let's not pretend Facebook and Google didn't know exactly what they were funding. Sourcewatch says Google has been a member of ALEC's "Communication and Technology Task Force" since 2011 and Facebook joined in 2013. I've reached out to both companies about when they joined and whether they offered any other support for ALEC besides membership and will update if I hear back.
Google's involvement with ALEC seemed to contradict its commitment to renewable energy: the company is aiming to power its offices with 100 percent renewable energy, and has pledged to invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy investments. ALEC, with donors that include billionaires Charles and David Koch, works by publishing model legislation on a range of policies, including mock bills to repeal or weaken states' renewable energy standards and bills to promote the teaching of climate skepticism in schools.
We recently told you about how the enviro group Forecast the Facts Action was calling out corporations — including Google — for talking a good game on climate change, but then contributing $641 million to a list of 160 "climate deniers" in Congress. Specially, it called out Schmidt for talking the right stuff on climate, while his fellow Googlers and those who love them were contributing $699,195 to members of the "climate denier caucus" in Washington.
Then there's Facebook, which began its grand political movement by funding ads that backed oil drilling in Alaska. In its rather tepid statement cutting ties with ALEC, Facebook also failed to explain why it joined in the first place, stating that Facebook tried to influence the very lobbyists it was funding.
"We re-evaluate our memberships on an annual basis and are in that process now," a company representative wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper. "While we have tried to work within ALEC to bring that organization closer to our view on some key issues, it seems unlikely that we will make sufficient progress so we are not likely to renew our membership in 2015."
Most of the attention has focused on ALEC's role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.
Microsoft stopped providing funds to ALEC last month, and before Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Walmart, and Kraft decided to end their ALEC memberships. The majority of these companies left after teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 and the public learned that ALEC supported controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Here's another instance when Silicon Valley's herd mentality—exemplified in releasing diversity numbers en masse—might do some good.