Arizona’s largest energy company will join the growing ranks of corporations that are severing ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Arizona Public Service lobbyist Jessica Pacheco said the company will not renew its membership in ALEC, a conservative state lawmakers’ organization known for drafting model legislation for members to sponsor in their respective states.
The company’s membership expires this summer, she said.
Pacheco said the decision was economic, not political. She said APS’s new lobbying team, which formed about nine months ago, is reviewing all of its organizational memberships. The company is cutting costs, Pacheco said, and that cost-cutting includes ending APS’s memberships in organizations that don’t bring sufficient value.
“We did an assessment of the organizations that we belong to and the value that they bring to our company, to our customers and our shareholders. And ALEC was one of the organizations that we were not receiving a commensurate amount of value for,” Pacheco said. “We have been working very diligently toward certain cost-cutting goals. And that means that we have less to spend on organizations and memberships, and we feel those dollars are better spent supporting organizations here in Arizona.”
Pacheco said APS, whose parent corporation is Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, is ending its membership in other organizations as well, though she did not know which ones.
APS’s decision comes as corporate giants across the country are leaving the conservative legislators’ organization, which has come under increasing pressure and scrutiny from liberal activists in recent years. Coca-Cola, Intuit Inc., Kraft Foods, McDonald’s and PepsiCo have all recently severed ties or declined to renew their memberships.
Pacheco said APS hasn’t come under pressure to distance itself from ALEC and said the decision had nothing to do with the increasing controversy and anti-ALEC advocacy. She emphasized that APS is simply declining to renew its membership and is not withdrawing from the group.
“It really has nothing to do with the state that ALEC is currently in,” she said.
Salt River Project is also considering ending its membership in ALEC, according to SRP lobbyist Russell Smoldon. The energy giant will make a decision whether to renew its membership, which currently runs through the end of 2012, in the next few weeks, he said.
Smoldon, who serves as one of ALEC’s Arizona chairmen – each state has a private sector and public sector chair – defended the organization, but acknowledged that it has come under increasing nationwide scrutiny.
“You have to consider it, considering all of the negative press that’s out there,” Smoldon said. “We’re looking at everything at the moment, trying to figure out what want to do, just trying not to be too quick to jump into the fray, so to speak.”
Smoldon said SRP still believes ALEC is a worthwhile organization, but has faced mounting pressure from liberal advocacy groups, public employee unions and the “spending lobby.” He said SRP has not received much pressure itself to distance itself from ALEC, outside of a few letters to the company.
“George Soros’ guys are the ones kind of driving the boat on this thing. So there’s a lot of misinformation at the moment associated with what ALEC does,” he said of the wealthy liberal financier. “This has been an ongoing assault on ALEC for the last couple of years by those folks who basically don’t want political discourse that disagrees with them.”
Smoldon said SRP would consult with many of the 56 Arizona legislators – all Republicans – who are ALEC members before making a decision. He said APS’s decision surprised him, considering how many Arizona lawmakers are ALEC members.
Arizona Working Families, a coalition of liberal interest groups, held a press conference on Thursday on the Senate lawn to denounce ALEC and decry its influence over the Legislature. Coalition members took specific aim at several education-related bills and HB2571, Gov. Jan Brewer’s personnel plan that would eliminate many civil service protections for state employees.
Coalition member John Loredo, a former Democratic legislator, said ALEC woos lawmakers with trips, fancy meals and expensive gifts to promote its “extremist agenda.” Loredo predicted that more of ALEC’s corporate sponsors would follow the lead of companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
A call to ALEC’s Arizona public-sector chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Lesko, was not immediately returned.