OLYMPIA — A conservative organization that helped spread a Florida law that recently gained national attention after the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin said Tuesday that it was abandoning the task force that championed the measure.
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s move comes as the group has been criticized for the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force rather than retreat when they feel threatened.
The group said it wants to refocus resources away from public safety and toward economic issues.
“We believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work,” the group’s national chairman, Indiana Rep. David Frizzell, said in a statement.
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Liberal advocacy groups who have long targeted ALEC cheered the decision, viewing it, in part, as a victory for their campaign to get corporations and other groups to drop their support for the Washington, D.C.-based organization. In recent weeks, several major companies, including Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald’s Corp., have said they did just that.
ALEC believes it has been unfairly targeted as part of a broader campaign against its conservative agenda.
“This is an all-out intimidation campaign designed to promote government-based solutions rather than the free-market principles that we have seen work,” said Ron Scheberle, the group’s executive director.
The practical effect of ALEC’s announcement may be small. The group has already had plenty of success exporting the Florida law in recent years, and similar statutes now exist in two dozen other states.
“They’ve already created a lot of damage, and this step is not going to undo that damage,” said Lisa Graves, a leader at the Center for Media and Democracy who has been targeting ALEC over the past year.
Graves said the announcement was unexpected but likely a public relations move.
The advocacy groups have criticized ALEC because, they say, it enables private companies to get undue access to state lawmakers and plays a questionable role in the development of legislation. Graves said she still has concerns about ALEC’s views on issues such as climate change and tort reform.
Advocacy groups have also criticized ALEC for helping develop state voter ID laws that Democrats and minority groups believe will suppress some voters.
ALEC said Tuesday it was also getting rid of its task force on elections.
Along with the major companies that help fund ALEC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been forced in recent weeks to defend a $376,000 grant to the group.
Chris Williams, a spokesman for the foundation, said they sought to engage policymakers across the political spectrum but don’t plan to give another ALEC grant in the future. That decision was made in part because of the outrage linked to the Martin case, Williams said.
ALEC said it did not back the Florida law but did use it to develop model legislation for other states. The group said it is designed to prevent people who are trying to defend themselves from serious danger.