Targeting Right-Wing Extremism, Citizens Challenge Corporate Ties
ATLANTA, Georgia, 23 May
A coalition of advocacy groups is targeting corporate support for the right-wing Heartland Institute after the organisation took out a controversial billboard in Chicago comparing people who believe in global warming to a serial killer and mass murderer.
On Tuesday, the group protested outside the Heartland Institute's Seventh International Conference on Climate Change, a conference for climate change deniers being held at the Hilton hotel in Chicago.
Heartland's billboard featured a photograph of Ted Kaczinski, the mass murderer known as the Unabomber, with text, "I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?" Heartland Institute ran the billboard on May 3 but removed the ad a day later.
The coalition includes such organisations as 350.org, Forecast the Facts, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and Sum of Us.
Over the last two months, the coalition has been successful in convincing some eleven companies to withdraw their support for Heartland Institute, including Allied World Assurance, the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, BB&T, Diageo, Eli Lilly, General Motors, PepsiCo, RenaissanceRe, State Farm, USAA and XL Group.
"The main thing we're upset by is the corporate sponsorship of the Heartland Institute's extreme climate denial. The billboards are just the latest example of the Heartland Institute's attacks on science and the science of climate change and people who believe in reality," Brad Johnson, campaign manager for Forecast the Facts, told IPS.
"That's why...corporations like Pfizer and Comcast need to cut their ties with the group," Johnson said.
The Heartland Institute did not immediately return inquiries from IPS seeking comment.
However, Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, said in a press release on Tuesday, "Whether knowingly or not, these protesters are trying to stifle academic freedom and free speech."
"That would be laughable if the science of climate change wasn't so serious," Johnson said in response to the statement. "That's what they do, they demonise scientists, they attack, their entire argument is the entire global scientific community is entirely a communist conspiracy."
"Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants," the Heartland Institute said in a press release from May 3. "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."
In reality, though, the international scientific consensus is that climate change is real, it is anthropogenic, or man-made, and it is problematic. Not a single peer-reviewed, academic scientific study questions the existence of manmade nature of climate change.
The coalition plans to continue targeting corporations such as Comcast, Microsoft and Pfizer, which continue to support the Heartland Institute. Their campaign is only the latest in recent efforts lobbying corporations to withdraw their support for right-wing think tanks.
Taking on ALEC
The last couple of months have also seen a successful campaign to challenge corporate support for another right-wing group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of legislative and corporate members that creates model legislation for passage in state legislatures across the United States.
ALEC's legislative priorities include regressive taxation policies and anti-immigration policies. In May 2011, IPS was one of the first news organisations to cover ALEC's role in anti-immigration policies at the state level.
Lately, however, the group has come under scrutiny for a variety of legislative initiatives ranging from voter ID laws, which make both registering to vote and voting more difficult, to the so-called Stand Your Ground law.
Stand Your Ground is an ALEC-supported law in Florida that allows individuals who feel that they are physically threatened by another person to use deadly force against them, ultimately allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later.
The law has risen in prominence due to the recent controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in Florida.
Voter ID laws and Stand Your Ground were a tipping point at which a group called ColorOfChange decided to organise a campaign to target corporate sponsorship for ALEC. The speed at which people became aware of ALEC and decided to take action was surprising to those who have been watching ALEC or years.
"When we saw these cookie cutter pieces (of legislation) coming through (the Georgia legislature), it was obvious for years that ALEC was big trouble for representative government," Larry Pellegrini, executive director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, told IPS.
"It was almost like a bully coming in with all the strings tied and the edges wrapped up and their people who were gonna muscle it through, like agents," Pellegrini said.
In the state house and senate, legislators would appear organised and informed, Pelligrini said. In reality, though, "legislators that would go to ALEC meetings were basically taking a trip to be spoon-fed this stuff, it wasn't something they'd go to having done any homework, or having any ideas in their head of having model legislation," he added.
Garnering public interest
Johnson of Forecast the Facts said there was a renewed interest in corporate ties to right-wing think tanks.
"The American public really recognise(s) that corporations are playing a major role in influencing our political system and therefore have a responsibility to act as responsible citizens. If, as Mitt Romney says, corporations are people, then they need to act ethically," Johnson said.
According to the ColorOfChange website, corporations that have withdrawn their support from ALEC include American Traffic Solutions, Arizona Public Service, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Coca- Cola, Intuit, Kaplan, Kraft Foods, Mars Inc., McDonald's, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Reed Elsevier, Wendy's and Yum! Brands.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards have also left ALEC.
In an apparent retreat, ALEC wrote in a statement dated April 17, "We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."
However, instead of declaring victory, ColorOfChange criticised the move as a public relations stunt. With or without the special tax force, ALEC will continue its work on election and gun issues, the organisation claimed.
Opponents of ALEC and similarly focused right-wing groups are not giving up, however. As Pelligrini noted, "There should be more exposing of things that bother us that haven't gotten on the radar screen. Maybe we can get some more things changed or make things better by shining more light."