ALEC under fire as Coke drop its membership

File shot of Coca Cola bottles. AP Photo/Thibault Camus

AP Photo/Thibault Camus

(CBS News) -- An influential group known for pushing conservative laws at the state level -- including voter ID laws and Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law -- is under fire for its views, and at least one of its major backers has dropped its membership in the organization.

Coke said Wednesday it was withdrawing from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a non-partisan organization working to promote free markets and limited government through state legislators after a liberal leaning group started a petition to urge ALEC's member companies to drop their financial support of the group.

"The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business," company spokeswoman Diana Garza Ciarlante said.

Progressive groups have criticized ALEC for pushing state laws that require voters to present government identification before voting. Such laws have traditionally been used to suppress voter turnout among certain demographics. Conservatives discount those claims and say voters should be required to prove who they are before voting. There is little evidence of voters pretending to be someone else when they head to the ballot box.

The Stand Your Ground law, which allows the use of deadly force by those who feel threatened, has come under fire in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed Florida teen, Trayvon Martin.

"We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our company and industry," Garza Ciarlante added. Pepsi reportedly dropped its ties to the group earlier this year.

The leading organization behind the boycott, Color of Change, said it first contacted Coke about the issue last year and it would continue to put pressure on ALEC's other members to drop their ties to the organization.

"We welcome Coca-Cola's decision to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which has worked to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor," said Color of Change, an organization that aims to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans.

Other members of ALEC include AT&T, Bayer, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, State Farm Insurance, UPS and Wal-Mart Stores.

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