The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has disbanded a task force that had advocated for state Stand Your Ground laws as well as voter identification laws.
The move to axe the Public Safety and Elections task force came as ALEC was besieged by liberal and civil rights groups angered by the case of Trayvon Martin, the Sanford, Fla., teenager shot to death on Feb. 26 by a local security watchdog.
Last week, a Florida special prosecutor charged George Zimmerman, 28, with second-degree murder in the Martin case. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense under the Florida Stand Your Ground Law.
Groups including Credo, Color of Change, the NAACP, the Urban League, Common Cause and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee claim to have obtained more than 400,000 signatures protesting Washington, D.C.-based ALEC.
They also urged corporate sponsors including AT&T (NYSE: T) to quit the conservative group that lobbies state legislatures. Others getting complaints include Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) and State Farm.
Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP). McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), Wendy's Co. (Nasdaq: WEN), Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT) Mars, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Arizona Public Service Co. and Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU), have already quit. In response, ALEC last week denounced coordinated intimidation against its members.
The pro-business trade group, which says it aims to connect state legislators with other state legislators, said companies join because they're more interested in solutions than in rhetoric.
Nevertheless, ALEC Chairman Dave Frizzell, a Republican Indiana legislator, announced Tuesday the group is refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles and would abandon advocacy of the other controversial issues.
Meanwhile, Credo and Color of Change, said AT&T had given ALEC more than $150,000 to sponsor state voter identification laws, which they charge are racist.
ALEC's board is top-heavy with conservative Republicans, including former chairmen Owen Johnston, a New York state senator with Republican and Conservative Party backing, and Tom Craddick, a former Republican speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Its board of scholars includes Arthur Laffer, the inventor of the Laffer curve in economics, as well as Stephen Moore, a former president of the Club for Growth, which backs Republican candidates, who now writes for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (NYSE: NWS).
AT&T, McDonald's and Johnson & Johnson and State Farm have not commented on the controversy. Shares of AT&T fell 11 cents to $30.78, while Johnson & Johnson fell $1.10 to $63.13 in midday Wednesday trading.