- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Coca-Cola Co. has terminated its relationship with a conservative group seen by some as an incubator for a string of new state voter ID laws and a marketer of laws such as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense statute.

The Atlanta-based soft-drink maker said its focus with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, was on combating “discriminatory” food and beverage taxes, not on issues “that have no direct bearing” on its business.

The decision to “discontinue its membership” came Wednesday, just a few hours after the black online advocacy group ColorofChange began a campaign against the company’s support of ALEC.

Coca-Cola declined to respond to additional questions, including whether it had already paid membership for the year.

ALEC brings together state and federal lawmakers, who pay $100 for a two-year membership, and corporations, which pay between $2,500 and $25,000 for an annual membership. The legislators and corporate representatives draft templates of legislation that can be used by lawmakers and lobbyists as models for state or federal legislation.

Koch Industries — whose top executives, Charles and David Koch, are prominent supporters of conservative causes — is one of the largest corporations supporting Washington-based ALEC.

ALEC spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. A phone query went to voice mail.

Ms. Buss previously has said the group did not put a lot of effort or resources into promoting voter identification legislation. She also has said ALEC had no involvement in the “Stand Your Ground” law when Florida enacted it. She has criticized people who turned the “tragedy” of teenager Trayvon Martin’s death into politics.

Several states have passed laws requiring voters to show specific ID, toughening voter registration or reducing early voting days. The voting laws have been seen by civil rights and other groups, as well as many Democrats, as an attempt to suppress the votes of blacks, Latinos, the elderly and students.

The Justice Department has blocked voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina after finding they violated the Voting Rights Act. The Florida “Stand Your Ground” statute is under scrutiny following the fatal shooting of Martin. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has said he fired in self-defense and has not been arrested or charged.

Rashad Robinson, ColorofChange executive director, estimated that 300 to 400 calls and emails were made in the few hours of the Coca-Cola campaign, based on written reports from participants. In a statement, Mr. Robinson thanked Coca-Cola for its decision.

“Our message has been clear: These corporations can’t come to black folks for our money by day and support laws that try to take our vote or potentially our lives by night,” Mr. Rashad told the Associated Press on Thursday.

In December, ColorofChange began targeting corporations that financially support ALEC as a campaign against the passage of voter ID laws. The group also started an online petition regarding the Martin youth’s death.

Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, which ColorofChange asked in letters and emails to end its ALEC membership, said in a Jan. 25 letter to Mr. Robinson that its membership had expired. PepsiCo said it reviews its membership organizations each year and would keep the concerns raised by ColorofChange in mind.

Other corporations also have been asked to end their memberships.

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