Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, McDonald's Drop Support of ALEC

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Common Dreams

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, McDonald's Drop Support of ALEC

Activists continue push for sponsors to drop "corporate leviathan"

by
Common Dreams staff

UPDATE: Mother Jones reports today that McDonald's has also dropped its support of ALEC.

Andy Kroll writes:

The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. "While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012," Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald's spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn't mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company's decision to leave ALEC.

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EARLIER: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the latest group to drop its support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The foundation announced yesterday that it would no longer provide grants to the group Katrina vanden Huevel describes as a "corporate leviathan."

Roll Call reports that the foundation had "contributed more than $375,000 to ALEC in the past two years."

The announcement comes days after Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kraft dropped their support of ALEC. 

The Nation notes that ALEC still has the support of Wal-Mart, FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and State Farm, and advocacy group Color of Change currently has a campaign to pressure AT&T into dropping its support of ALEC.

ALEC's agenda has come under increased scrutiny for crafting model legislation including pushing education privatization, restrictive voter ID laws and "kill-at-will laws that prevent police and prosecutors from effectively investigating shootings such as that of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Bo Morrison in Wisconsin and others."

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Mary Bottari of PR Watch: Gates Foundation Drops ALEC

Roll Call reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will join Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and Intuit in withdrawing its financial support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Roll Call rarely writes about ALEC, but did have an exhibition booth at the ALEC 2011 meeting in New Orleans.

Gates spokesman Chris Williams, while careful to note that Gates has never been a formal ALEC member, told the paper that it does not plan to renew its financial support for ALEC’s education initiatives. “We have made a single grant, narrowly and specifically focused on providing information to ALEC-affiliated state legislators on teacher effectiveness and school finance,” said Williams.

Gates, ALEC and For-Profit “Virtual” Schools

In November 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a $376,000 grant to ALEC and promptly came under heavy fire from bloggers and advocacy groups. At the time, the Foundation’s Director of Policy and Advocacy who develops educational and “investment” strategies for ALEC was Stefanie Sanford a former staffer for Texas Governor Rick Perry. Tom Vander Ark, former education policy director at the Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for online course requirements as a partner to an education tech venture capital company Learn Capital.

ALEC has long pursued a radical agenda to privatize every aspect of public education to benefit for-profit education firms. ALEC’s huge array of education “model legislation” include bills that expand charter schools, voucher schools and now “virtual” online academies. ALEC’s educational proposals have a common agenda: to drain public education dollars to support private for-profit schools, to avoid federal and state education requirements, and to weaken certification standards for teachers. Lee Fang documented for the Nation how tech and education firms profit off of children while failing to educate them. Fang also connects ALEC to the explosion of choice, charter and online school bills in thirteen states in 2011. In Wisconsin, ALEC legislators lifted a previously agreed upon enrollment cap for online school students.

ALEC corporate members such as K12, Inc. and Connections Academy put the interests of their corporate shareholders over the interest of children. The New York Times recently studied one K12, Inc. school which was failing to educate kids “by almost every educational measure” but “by Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success,” profiting off of federal and state taxpayer dollars. A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by Standford University showed that online students performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. The University of Colorado conducted a study that found only 27 percent of virtual schools met minimum federal standards.

This week the progressive online activist group Progressive Change Campaign Committee or PCCC decided to target the Gates Foundation and AT&T and ask that they withdraw from ALEC. Hours later, the Gates Foundation made its announcement that it would no longer support ALEC financially. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten applauded the move telling the Center for Media and Democracy: "ALEC doesn't help kids, and we are glad the Gates Foundation discontinued the relationship."

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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Deepening the progressive bench

For nearly forty years, ALEC has quietly and successfully pushed its extremist agenda in state assemblies across the country. As The Nation and the Center for Media Democracy exposed last summer — work recently cited by The New York Times’ Paul Krugman — ALEC literally writes state laws by providing fully drafted model legislation to more than 2,000 state legislators. This corporate leviathan backed the recent national conservative push to further enrich the one percent while rolling back workers’ rights, inventing new ways to harass and debase women and suppressing the vote. They also wrote the so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun bills that now blight some 20 states across the country and are implicated in the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

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