Amid the backdrop of last week’s People’s Climate March and the UN Climate Change Summit, tech giants Facebook and Google have cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The companies cite the lobbying group’s stance on climate change–i.e., denial–as the reason.

ALEC is a Koch-funded, right-wing think tank that champions states’ rights. On the group’s website, they explain that their projects “focus on free markets, limited government and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments.” Among some of their previous campaigns, ALEC has opposed insurance coverage for birth control, worked with the National Rifle Association to expand “Stand Your Ground” laws, and lobbied state legislatures to require state-issued IDs at voting polls.

When it comes to climate change, the organization has pushed for legislation limiting states’ response to the EPA’s recent greenhouse gas regulations and opposed state laws promoting renewable energy development. They have described the EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan as a “Regulatory Train Wreck” and an “Assault on State Sovereignty.”

Google and Facebook are not the first to oppose the group’s missions. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting, Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald’s and Walmart, all cut ties with the organization due to its support of “stand your ground” laws. Yelp and Microsoft have also recently disassociated themselves, and pressure is mounting for Yahoo and eBay to follow suit.

Facebook and Google generally tout their progressive business practices; Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, funded $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects, and their data centers use 50% less energy than the average data center. Facebook has the explicit goal of being 25% powered by renewable energy by 2015.

So why did these seemingly green companies join ALEC in the first place? Representatives have not explicitly explained their companies’ motivations, but speculators have suggested that the companies wanted to retain some power to influence state policies, legislation, and tax issues. Video franchising for their Google Fiber may have been an additional incentive.

Regardless, the reason they’ve left is pretty evident. On September 3, over 50 left-wing advocacy groups wrote a letter to Google corporate management asking them to terminate their ALEC membership. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt became a media sensation when he told NPR’s Diane Rehm that ALEC was “literally lying” about climate change. He elaborated, “The people who oppose it are really hurting our children and grandchildren and making the world a much worse place.”

The ALEC mass exodus demonstrates that public reputation and branding have become top business priorities for large corporations, and represent opportunities for advocacy groups to drive social change. The timing of Facebook and Google’s separation is particularly noteworthy – only a few days after their ALEC announcement, 73 countries and over 1,000 corporations signed a World Bank-organized statement calling for a price on carbon dioxide. Environmentalists are hopeful that these private initiatives will influence world leaders at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.


–Lorraine Baer

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One Response to Facebook, Google Cut Ties with Climate Change-Denying Lobbyists

  1. Neil Issar says:

    Given the scientific consensus regarding the causes and progression of climate change, I was surprised to read that national-level organizations such as ALEC would plainly deny climate change. While many organizations have supported Facebook’s and Google’s dissociation, as you said, there have also been critics of the move. These critics argue that the ALEC model policies do not deny the existence of climate change, and that ALEC has in fact published a model bill that supports an interstate commission to research climate change. In addition, ALEC supporters claim that Google’s decision was pressured by parties that “conflate climate change denial with having significant concerns over government mandates, subsidies and climate regulations.”

    So, is this an example of “advocacy groups driving social change” (as you wrote), or merely tech giants “creating opportunities for politically mediated profit-making” (as argued by the Wall Street Journal, which criticized Google’s moves by pointing out that nearly all of the company’s renewable energy investments were in states with renewable energy mandates)? I’m inclined to agree with you, given the history of Google’s progressive business practices that you outlined, but it will be important to pay close attention to Google’s future energy investments.