ALEC's Corporate Backers Silent On “Shoot First” Law

In recent days, a growing number of national pundits, columnists, and politicians have weighed in on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood watchdog vigilante. Much of the commentary has centered around the controversial legislation that has kept George Zimmerman from being arrested: Florida's so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, known by its critics as “Shoot First,” which has the effect of laying a heavy burden of proof not on the perpetrators of gun violence, but on prosecutors seeking justice for its (sometimes dead) victims.

Among the voices absent from the national debate over Florida's law are those of the major corporations and industry groups who provide the bulk of the funding for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy right-wing organization that adopted Florida's statute as a model for states around the country.

As Media Matters has reported, after Florida passed its law in April 2005, ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force and Board of Directors ratified nearly identical Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as their new gold standard and began promoting it through their nationwide network of conservative state legislators. The National Rifle Association (NRA) played a key role in both the bill's passage in Florida and its subsequent acceptance by ALEC, of which NRA is reportedly “a longtime funder.”

Media Matters reached out to the corporations and groups like PhRMA and Verizon that were reportedly represented on ALEC's Private Enterprise Board at the time the organization adopted the model legislation, asking if they regretted their association with the bill. Every one denied responsibility, declined comment, or did not respond to repeated inquiries.

In the nearly seven years since the model legislation was adopted, at least 23 states have reportedly passed Florida-style “Shoot First” laws.

ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force was co-chaired in 2005 by Republican Texas State Representative Ray Allen and Wal-Mart executive Janet Scott. Neither has had anything to say about ALEC's Castle Doctrine despite being there at the creation. When contacted yesterday by phone, Allen claimed not to have heard about Trayvon Martin's death. “I can't say I'm familiar with [the shooting], I've been traveling for the last six days,” Allen told Media Matters. Allen left the Texas statehouse in 2006 and now runs his own lobby shop with the subtle name GovBizPartners. The Wal-Mart press office did not provide an interview with Jane Scott, Allen's co-chair of the 2005 task force.

Allen and Scott -- a state representative and a corporate executive -- demonstrate the public-private partnership comprising ALEC's leadership, which combines a voting Board of Directors comprised of state legislators and a non-voting Private Enterprise Board. The organization has structured and marketed itself in such a way as to draw as much attention away from the latter as possible. “ALEC pushes the press to ignore the corporate voting on the task forces by stating that only the legislators have the final say,” says Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch, which tracks ALEC closely. “While there have been a few occasions where the public sector board did not back a task force vote, which ALEC trots out to the press, that is rare.”

Florida state senator and ALEC member Durell Peaden introduced Florida's “Stand Your Ground” bill early in 2005. Following a heavy lobbying campaign by the NRA, Governor Jeb Bush signed it into law in April. The NRA's leading lobbyist in Tallahassee, Marion Hammer, presented nearly identical legislation based on Florida's bill before ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force (now known as the Public Safety and Elections Task Force) in August of that year. This Castle Doctrine Act sailed through ALEC's task force in a unanimous vote and officially became ALEC Model Legislation a month later without objection from the group's Board of Directors.

At the time, ALEC's Private Enterprise Board included some of America's best-known brands. The below list (courtesy of PR Watch) lists their names and then-position on the ALEC board:

Kurt L. Malmgren, PhRMA

Jerry Watson, American Bail Coalition
First Vice Chairman

Scott Fisher, Altria Corporate Services, Inc. (Philip Morris)
Second Vice Chairman

Pete Poynter, BellSouth Corporation

Michael K. Morgan, Koch Industries
Immediate Past Chairman

Allan E. Auger, Coors Brewing Company
Chairman Emeritus

Ronald F. Scheberle, Verizon Communications, Inc.
Chairman Emeritus

Media Matters approached each of the above corporations to see if they regretted their association with the Castle Doctrine Act, given that the legislation on which it was based has become the centerpiece of a firestorm very similar to the one predicted at the time by its critics.

Of those contacted, only PhRMA would comment, with a spokesperson saying that the company only participated in ALEC's activities in the public health realm and had nothing to do with the Castle Doctrine Act. “And in any case,” she said, “we can't vote.”

The other corporate giants either did not respond or declined comment.