Did Google plan to publicly shame ALEC just ahead of this week’s UN climate summit, or is it a case of the most serendipitous timing in enviro-political history?
On Monday, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, appeared on the Diane Rehm Show to speak about his company and his new book. Late in the program, a listener called in to ask if Google still supports ALEC, which she accused of funding climate change denial.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has denied allegations that it is a lobbying group. It considers itself a libertarian, free market organization whose corporate members pay dues to provide input on model U.S. legislation. It is, in its own words, “one of America’s most dynamic public-private partnerships.”
Documents leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy have also revealed the organization to be urgently pushing state and government officials to oppose climate change initiatives in favor of fossil fuel interests.
So, in a surprisingly frank confession or well-calculated pronouncement, Schmidt told the listener that his company joined ALEC “as part of a political game for something unrelated.” He added that Google viewed the partnership as the kind of mistake it intends to avoid in the future.
Rehm pressed Schmidt further on the subject, asking if he was disappointed with the involvement. Schmidt explained that Google “has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts. What a shock.”
The facts of climate change, Schmidt said, “are not in question anymore.”
He concluded his remarks and the program by saying: “And the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people. They’re just literally lying.”
And with that, other Silicon Valley companies began leaping from ALEC like rats fleeing a sinking ship. On Tuesday, Facebook told the San Francisco Chronicle, “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.”
On Wednesday morning, Yelp wanted everyone to know that they had in fact let their membership with ALEC expire several months ago.
On Wednesday evening, Yahoo released a statement saying, “We’ve decided to discontinue our membership in ALEC. We periodically review our membership in organizations and, at this time, we will no longer participate in the ALEC Task Force on Communications and Technology.”
On Thursday, Uber and Lyft informed Common Cause, a group focused on campaign finance reform, that they would be leaving ALEC.
Jay Riestenberg, a policy analyst at Common Cause, told VICE News that ALEC’s policies are finally beginning to grind against public opinion.
“After enormous pressure these companies have decided it’s just not worth it anymore,” he said. “It says a lot about ALEC, about their underlying problems, especially its positions on climate change and net neutrality, issues that tech companies particularly seem to be conscious of.”
In response to Google’s public brush-off, ALEC’s executive director, Lisa Nelson, said that the company was beholden to “public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate-change denial.”