Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

When consumers push soda companies out of politics

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
April 6, 2012 -- Updated 2304 GMT (0704 HKT)
This week, both Pepsi and Coca Cola renounced their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council.
This week, both Pepsi and Coca Cola renounced their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: Coke bowing out of ALEC shows how accountability looks in election year
  • She says American Legislative Exchange Council pushed voter ID, "stand your ground" laws
  • She says in post-Citizens United world, people don't tolerate mix of corporations, politics
  • Hogue: Look for more consumers to seek democracy amid corporate influence

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org. She has been a senior strategist to a number of Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- As election 2012 heats up, the question of how corporations will figure into the first presidential election post-Citizens United is a hot topic.

This week, both Pepsi and Coca Cola renounced their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, giving us a hint of what corporate accountability might look like this election year. The companies quit the trade group, which had been pushing restrictive voter ID laws, after being targeted by prominent African-American progressive group Color of Change.

With the controversial 2010 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court declared the corporate expenditure ban unconstitutional, holding that independent expenditures could not be constitutionally limited in federal elections, and implicitly that corporations could give unlimited amounts to other groups to spend, as long as the expenditures were made independently from the supported candidate.

The president criticized the move in his State of the Union address that year, and a poll shortly after the decision demonstrated that 80% of Americans, from both sides of the aisle, opposed the ruling. Subsequent polls show consistent concern about the amount of corporate money being spent in our political system. The soda giants' announcements indicate that corporate fallout in 2012 may extend well beyond ad spending enabled by Citizens United.

Social media has enabled consumers to register opinions with unprecedented speed and visibility and, in the ever-competitive marketplace, companies are responding in real time. Coca-Cola announced it would leave ALEC a mere five hours after Color of Change went public with its complaint. Pepsi followed suit on Thursday.

At issue are two hot-button topics: voter suppression and the "stand your ground" law that has been invoked as defense in the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Both are timely and relevant, both disproportionately affect the African-American community and both were hatched in closed-door sessions at ALEC meetings.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

ALEC is not a new group; it predates the Citizens United decision by almost four decades. ALEC brings together corporations, conservative think-tanks and Republican legislators to collaborate on model legislation generally introduced through state houses. The voter ID laws at the center of the controversy have passed several state houses and face challenges from the Justice Department for racial bias. An estimated third of African-Americans do not hold state registered identification, so would be prevented from voting under these laws.

Voting rights advocates claim these laws would effectively keep millions of Americans from the polls. Yet studies show that voter fraud is exceedingly rare and where it does exist, it is not likely to be remedied by instituting ID laws.

This sharp protest against ALEC laws comes on the heels of the institution being spotlighted for its role in the stand your ground legislation at the center of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Stand your ground was unveiled by the National Rifle Association at a 2005 ALEC gathering and since the initial meeting, 24 states have passed the law.

News: NRA's role with ALEC

Americans generally co-exist peacefully with the corporations whose activities pervade our daily lives. There is a mutually recognized symbiotic relationship. But, at a time when American confidence in government is at an all-time low, voters have little tolerance for displays of affinity between elected officials and powerful corporate interests.

Early on in the Republican primary, presumed nominee Mitt Romney was skewered for a response to a question at the Iowa State Fair, where he proclaimed, "Corporations are people." This is a sentiment almost 60% of Americans disagree with, and it reinforces that Romney's history of wealth and corporate elitism put him out of touch with the common concerns of most Americans and casts doubt on where his loyalty would lie if elected.

Coke and Pepsi are hardly the first to face the wrath of disgruntled citizens. In 2010, Target Corp. came under intense fire after Minnesota campaign disclosure laws revealed that it had given a contribution on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer was known as a social conservative who opposed civil rights for gay and lesbian people and opposed immigration reform. Weeks of backlash followed, included demonstrations at more than 1,000 Target stores nationwide, hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and an intense social media campaign.

In the race to command the marketplace through brand loyalty, the corporations' own marketing strategies can make them vulnerable to consumer backlash. Target had positioned itself as the family friendly, all-American department store. It was a place people could feel good shopping after Wal-Mart became a target for its union busting. Similarly, "Have a Coke and a Smile" doesn't fit as a slogan for a company involved in robbing Americans of their democratic right to vote. Color of Change is a perfect emissary to Coke. The company established a dedicated marketing group for African-Americans in 2006 and just this year promoted a campaign targeting black teens to celebrate Black History Month. So, Color of Change represents a critical business demographic and its concerns must be taken seriously.

Republican leaders have and will continue to cry foul about these kinds of efforts. However, as 2012 unfolds, we'll see more of them. These campaigns have become the embodiment of democratic principles in a country where consumer choices matter and the government is seen as too close to corporate interests.

This power of the pocketbook has the potential to invigorate the free market by investing more people in its outcome and to crowd-source our cultural norms by reflecting the values of a diverse country. This is something all Americans should embrace.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT