Why Did Google Support ALEC, A Giant Organisation That Denies Climate Change?

Eric schmidt at d

Google on Monday announced it would pull its support from The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) due to the organisation’s ongoing denial of climate change.

“The facts of climate change are not in question anymore, everyone understands that 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, and we should not be aligned with such people,” Google chairman Eric Schmidt said in a statement.

But some people might be wondering: Why did Google support this organisation in the first place?

For those who don’t know, ALEC was founded in 1973 as “the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators,” but its current goal is to further “the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism.”

Among its various campaigns, ALEC has focused on opposing abortion in the US; expanding “Stand Your Ground” gun laws that allow citizens the right to self-defence if they feel their property is under attack; opposing the individual health insurance mandate enacted by the Affordable Care Act; prohibiting cities from building public broadband networks; advancing the cause to privatize state prisons; forcing states to demand that voters produce state-issued IDs; and much more.

Last October, Google (and Facebook, too) joined ALEC, a group that has initiatives to give tax cuts to tobacco companies, privatize schools and for-profit education companies, repeal state taxes for the wealthy, and oppose renewable energy efforts.

But Google didn’t just join ALEC; it also funded it.

According to the watchdog group Common Cause, “In addition to paying to be a member of ALEC ($12,000 – $US25,000 per year), Google and Facebook both pay to be a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force ($5,000 per year). If they sponsor a workshop, training, or party during ALEC’s conferences, that is an additional amount (somewhere around $US40,000 per event), plus conference fees to send their lobbyists/executives to ALEC conferences, plus any additional funding they give to ALEC or ALEC scholarship accounts. All of this funding is considered charitable contributions to a 501(c)(3). Google may write it off as a tax write-off.”

In a column for The Huffington Post, author Norman Solomon cited a book by Robert McChesney in hopes to explain why Google had aligned itself with ALEC:

“Any qualms about privacy, commercialism, avoiding taxes, or paying low wages to Third World factory workers were quickly forgotten,” McChesney writes. “It is not that the managers are particularly bad and greedy people — indeed their individual moral makeup is mostly irrelevant — but rather that the system sharply rewards some types of behaviour and penalizes other types of behaviour so that people either get with the program and internalize the necessary values or they fail.”

Solomon believed Google joined ALEC so it could remain in a position of power, which would allow the company to impact — or at least know about — future changes to national policies and legislation.

“Google’s involvement in ALEC is consistent with the company’s mega-business model that relentlessly exploits rigorous data-mining of emails, online searches and so much more,” Solomon writes.

Another theory from Todd O’Boyle, director of Common Cause: “[Google] might be concerned about right-of-way and video franchising related to Google Fibre, or maybe they want to work on state tax issues.”

It’s unclear why Google initially joined ALEC — there are theories, but the company offered no official statement. That said, it’s pretty clear why Google decided to back out of its deal with ALEC on Monday.

On Sept. 3, more than 50 different labour, watchdog and advocacy groups wrote a letter to Google asking to cut its ties with ALEC. A Google spokesperson initially told Ars Technica, “We aren’t going to be commenting on this letter.” However, with Microsoft cutting its ties with ALEC just weeks prior, Google may have foreseen a bigger controversy stirring, and severed ties in an attempt to save face.

We’ve reached out to Google for an official explanation for its change of heart — besides the statement produced today by Schmidt — and we’ll update this story when we learn more.