WASHINGTON: The recent backlash against the American Legislative Exchange Council for its advocacy of “Stand Your Ground” and voter identification laws illustrates the need for brands to thoroughly examine the positions of potential partners, said industry experts.
Coca-Cola, Kraft, and McDonald's recently pulled their support for ALEC after online advocacy group Color of Change called on companies to withdraw their partnerships due to its support of “voter ID” and “Stand Your Ground” state laws.
George Zimmerman reportedly cited Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law after allegedly shooting Trayvon Martin in late February. Color of Change also contends that state voter identification laws, which require voters to bring identification to the polls, disproportionately affect minority voters.
“More than anything, it's a wakeup call for brands to be bit more vigilant and constantly assess where these organizations are and what they are advocating for,” said Joseph Farren, SVP for global public affairs at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide in Washington.
Corporations often partner with organizations like ALEC to advocate for pro-business policy and tax issues. Yet to avoid similar situations in the future, companies should insist on having a seat on these groups' boards so they have a say on the issues the groups will embrace, Farren added.
However, while companies are severing ties with the conservative organization, none have specifically said it is because of ALEC's stance on the two laws. For instance, Kraft said the decision came down to finances.
“Our membership in ALEC expires this spring, and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew,” said Susan Davison, director of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods, via email. Pfizer has thus far resisted calls to pull support for ALEC.
In some cases, the benefits of ALEC's business-issue advocacy may outweigh any potential consumer backlash, said Maria Cardona, a principal at the Dewey Square Group.
“It all depends on where they stand,” she said. “The average consumer probably has no idea what ALEC is.”
ALEC has called the client pullouts the result of a “well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign” in a statement on its website. The group's director of communications, Kaitlin Buss, has also penned op-eds in The Detroit News and the Star-Ledger of New Jersey.
Buss did not respond to requests for comment on whether ALEC has retained a PR firm to assist with its communications efforts.
Jonathan Jaffe, managing principal of Jaffe Communications, questioned the strategy of the op-eds, noting that local partners of ALEC should have written the columns.
“A third-party endorsement is critical when you are in a crisis mode,” Jaffe said. “ALEC defending itself isn't as beneficial.”