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Business stays true to gun-law activists

– Johnson & Johnson and Altria Group are among the corporations keeping their membership in a policy group that helped pass the Florida gun law being scrutinized after the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin.

“Our involvement is focused on issues related to our business,” said Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc. “As with all organizations with which we work, we regularly evaluate our support to ensure that the organization effectively addresses the issues of concerns to our business and our shareholders.”

Altria and J&J are among the corporations on the private enterprise board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization in Washington that links state lawmakers with corporate representatives and policy advocacy groups to draft pro-business legislation. Other members include Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries Inc., whose executives have funded organizations spending millions of dollars on political ads to support Republican candidates.

ALEC began in 1973, and its founders include former U.S. Rep.Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who later led the unsuccessful effort in Congress to remove President Bill Clinton from office, and Paul Weyrich, the first president of the Heritage Foundation, a policy organization in Washington that supports tax cuts for upper-income Americans and an end to traditional Medicare.

ALEC has championed legislation that would allow states to limit the effects of President Obama’s health-care law, which will expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, and to block efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists say contribute to global warming.

A coalition of ALEC opponents, including, Common Cause and People for the American Way, has targeted the group’s corporate members, which pay dues of as much as $25,000 a year, urging them to withdraw their support.

“For these corporations who have sponsored ALEC, they have done it behind closed doors,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, a black civil rights organization in New York. “If a light is being shone on ALEC and their relationships are no longer private and they have to answer for it publicly, does it still work?”

The boardroom discussions shed light on the risk companies face as they are being pressed by an increasing number of politically active groups for donations.

The group is under attack because “our support for free markets and limited government stands in stark contrast to their state-dependent utopia,” said Ron Scherberle, ALEC’s executive director. “This is not about one piece of legislation. This is an attempt to silence our organization, and it has been going on for more than a year.”

At issue is ALEC’s role in helping to draft the so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation enacted with the backing of the National Rifle Association. That law in Florida allows individuals who feel threatened to “meet force with force” rather than back away, and was cited by authorities in Sanford, Fla., when they did not arrest George Zimmerman when he claimed self-defense after shooting Martin.

“ALEC did not write Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar, a former Democratic representative from Pennsylvania. “But it collaborated with the National Rifle Association, its member corporations including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Koch Industries, and spread this tragic mistake into nearly two dozen states.”

Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are among those companies that have decided not to renew their ALEC memberships.