Coca Cola executives who recently decided to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) did so in response to demands from an obscure left-wing activist group, Color of Change (COC). So were executives of giant candy-maker Mars, Inc. when they announced a similar decision earlier today.
That is why Color of Change may be the most powerful group in America you've never heard about.
The demand that Coke, Mars and other corporate donors stop making contributions to ALEC - a long-established conservative legislative group that researches and writes model legislation that is often adopted by state legislatures - is only the latest COC campaign to hit a nerve.
Previous COC successes include pushing advertisers on Glenn Beck's Fox News Show to withdraw their ads, a campaign that played a role in the cable news and opinion network'a decision to drop the controversial production in June 2011.
Others who have felt the wrath of COC include now-former MSNBC opinion analyst Patrick Buchanan, Fox Business News anchor Eric Bolling, Lou Dobbs when he was on CNN, and the late Andrew Breitbart.
On its web site, COC said ALEC should be boycotted because "the right wing has been trying to stop Black people, other people of color, young people, and the elderly from voting — and now some of America’s biggest companies are helping them do it. Demand that these companies stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)."
The conservative group's model Voter ID laws require those seeking to vote in state and local elections to present photo IDs, just as commercial airline passengers are required to do when going through security or when customers in a pharmacy buy certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Rob Scheberle, ALEC's executive director, responded to COC's charges:
“Over the last 24 hours, ALEC has been inundated with letters of support from elected officials, community leaders and concerned citizens in response to the intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda.
“I am thankful for the support and want to take this opportunity to remind people what we are facing:
“First, the people now attacking ALEC and its members are the same people who have always pushed for big-government solutions. Our support for free markets and limited government stands in stark contrast to their state-dependent utopia. 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.
“Second, ALEC is one of America’s premier ideas laboratories when it comes to advocating free market reforms. We are a target because our opponents believe they have the opportunity to attack an effective, successful organization that promotes free-market, limited government policies that they disagree with.
Go here for the rest of the ALEC response to COC.
More recently, the group has sought to apply its influence to lobbying Congress against passage of anti-Internet piracy legislation and to prevent cuts in funding for student loans.
But for all of its successes in generating public pressure against conservative advocacy groups and media figures, COC remains something of a mysterious organization.
The organization was not forthcoming about details of its operation when approached earlier this week by The Washington Examiner. No response was received to two emails sent to one of the individuals indentified in a news release as spokesmen for COC.
Though it claims to have more than 81,000 "members," the group, which is registered with the IRS as a 501(C)(4) advocacy organization, has a small paid staff of four people and revenues of $515,219, according to its 2010 Form 990 tax return. Only $21,000 was listed for employee salary and benefits costs.
James Rucker is named by the 990 as executive director, but no compensation figures are included for him, even though he is listed as devoting 40 hours per week to the organization. Only one other officer is listed, Heidi Hess, who is named "director," but spends only two hours per week on COC business and receives no compensation, according to the 990.
Rucker is described by Huffington Post as "co-founder of ColorOfChange.org. Founded in the wake of Katrina, ColorOfChange.org is the leading online citizen lobby for African-Americans and their allies. Formerly, Rucker was director of grassroots mobilization at MoveOn.org."
Rucker and Hess are jointly listed on Key Wiki as having contributed $10,000-$14,999 to Dream Reborn, a project of Green for All, which is described as "a national organization that aims to build a green economy 'strong enough to lift people out of poverty.' Its goal is to secure $1 billion in funding for green-collar job training." Former Obama White House green jobs czar Van Jones was a founder of Green for All.
The group's largest single expense - for $197,486 - is listed as "Other," with no further details provided.
The group does have significant liabilities, including a debt of $110,084 owed to "GetEqual," and repayment of a loan by Rucker to the organization in the amount of $72,040 "to temp. fund operations." Other accounts payable and accrued expenses totalling $269,795, for total liabilities of $451,949.
Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.