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NPR Touts Leftist Campaign Against 'Hardline Conservative Policies'

Peter Overby, NPR Correspondent; Screen Cap From YouTube.com | MRC.orgOn Thursday's Morning Edition, NPR's Peter Overby slanted towards a left-wing coalition targeting the conservative group ALEC. Overby trumpeted how Coke and Pepsi succumbed to pressure from the "campaign to put a spotlight on companies that sell products to a public that might object to hardline conservative policies, such as 'stand your ground' laws or requirements that voters show a photo I.D."

The correspondent featured representatives from two of the groups in the coalition- ColorOfChange and Common Cause- and labeled them as a "civil rights group" and a "good government group" respectively. He also made only one passing reference to their political ideology- that they were part of "progressive groups and shareholder activists."

Co-host Renee Montagne noted in her introduction to Overby's report that "two of America's best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in a low-profile conservative organization called ALEC- the American Legislative Exchange Council. That group promotes business-friendly legislation. It's also been pushing more controversial measures, such as voter identification laws and that 'stand your ground' law, the one linked, we've just heard, to Trayvon Martin's slaying."

The NPR journalist, who once worked for Common Cause (and didn't disclose this detail during his report), first noted how Coke ended its involvement with ALEC after "a civil rights group, ColorOfChange.org, launched an online drive calling on Coca-Cola to stop underwriting the ALEC agenda on voter I.D." He continued with his "hardline conservative policies" phrase, and played a clip from ColorOfChange's director, Rashad Robinson. Before working for the "civil rights group," Robinson worked with the radical homosexual activist group GLAAD, according to his profile on his group's website

Overby continued with a summary of how Pepsi ended its affiliation with ALEC, which included his "progressive groups and shareholder activists" line. He also played a clip of Doug Clopp of the organization he used to work with, Common Cause, who claimed that "everything up until now had been done behind closed doors, and these memberships were not known to the American people." It should be pointed out that former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, chairs Common Cause's national governing board.

Later in his report, the correspondent did play a soundbite of House Speaker John Boehner speaking to ALEC's 2009 conference. But Overby then added a slanted outline of the group's agenda: "Until recently, ALEC was best known for its volumes of pro-business legislation: bills to weaken labor unions, as in Wisconsin; to privatize government operations, and reduce regulation. But this new anti-ALEC campaign comes at a time when some investors have already been pushing for more transparency on corporate political activities."

At the end of the segment, the NPR journalist spotlighted how a major company decided to side with ALEC: "Yesterday, another well-known company, Kraft Foods, said it's keeping its membership in ALEC. A spokeswoman for Kraft said its only concerns at ALEC are business related, and have nothing to do with 'stand your ground' or voter I.D."

Almost a month earlier, on the March 7, 2012 episodes of Morning Edition and All Things Considered, NPR boosted another protest targeting a conservative individual or group. The MRC's Tim Graham pointed out how the programs highlighted a dozen protesters of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, but ignored the annual March for Life where tens of thousands demonstrated against abortion.

The full transcript of Peter Overby's report from Thursday's Morning Edition:

RENEE MONTAGNE: And in a related story, two of America's best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in a low-profile conservative organization called ALEC- the American Legislative Exchange Council. That group promotes business-friendly legislation. It's also been pushing more controversial measures, such as voter identification laws and that 'stand your ground' law, the one linked, we've just heard, to Trayvon Martin's slaying.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Coca Cola's announcement came yesterday afternoon.

DIANA GARZA CIARLANTE, COCA-COLA SPOKESWOMAN: The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with ALEC.

OVERBY: Spokeswoman Diana Garza Ciarlante said the company was involved with ALEC on business issues only.

CIARLANTE: We have a longstanding policy of not taking positions on issues that don't have a direct bearing on our company or on our industry.

OVERBY: The announcement came hours after a civil rights group, ColorOfChange.org, launched an online drive calling on Coca-Cola to stop underwriting the ALEC agenda on voter I.D. It's part of a much broader campaign to put a spotlight on companies that sell products to a public that might object to hardline conservative policies, such as 'stand your ground' laws or requirements that voters show a photo I.D. at the polls.

Rashad Robinson is the director of ColorOfChange.

RASHAD ROBINSON, COLOROFCHANGE.ORG: The clear and simple message was that you can't come for black folks' money by day and try to take away our vote by night.

OVERBY: As for Pepsi Cola, PepsiCo belonged to ALEC for 10 years. In January, a company vice president told ColorOfChange that it wouldn't renew for 2012. He didn't say it was because of voter I.D., but in an email to ColorOfChange, he said that issue would be considered if PepsiCo ever weighs rejoining ALEC. PepsiCo said it had no further comment. At ALEC, a spokeswoman said the company told them it pulled out just for budgetary reasons. ALEC declined requests this week for a broader interview. Progressive groups and shareholder activists want to drive a wedge between ALEC and its corporate members.

Doug Clopp is with the good government group Common Cause, which is also part of the campaign.

DOUG CLOPP, COMMON CAUSE: There was no real downside because there was no public accountability. There was no transparency. Everything up until now had been done behind closed doors, and these memberships were not known to the American people.

OVERBY: Some of the most controversial ALEC efforts are good examples of how the organization works. In 2005, lawmakers and lobbyists took Florida's brand new 'stand your ground' statute, turned it into model legislation, and produced a surge of similar laws in other states. Later, ALEC did the same thing on immigration. Its model: the unusually tough bill from Arizona.

House Speaker John Boehner was once an ALEC member himself. Here he is addressing an ALEC conference in 2009.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Not only does it bring like-minded legislators together, but the private sector engagement and partnership in ALEC is really what I think makes it the organization that it is.

OVERBY: And private sector engagement is definitely what makes ALEC financially viable. State legislators pay annual dues to belong, but that's only about one percent of the $7 million budget. Corporate members account for almost all the rest. Until recently, ALEC was best known for its volumes of pro-business legislation: bills to weaken labor unions, as in Wisconsin; to privatize government operations, and reduce regulation. But this new anti-ALEC campaign comes at a time when some investors have already been pushing for more transparency on corporate political activities.

Tim Smith is a vice president with Walden Asset Management, which does what it calls 'socially responsive' investing. He says corporate boards and top management are paying closer attention now.

TIM SMITH, WALDEN ASSET MANAGEMENT: They're scrutinizing their trade association memberships; their relationships with controversial institutes.; and certainly, I think that companies are scrutinizing their ALEC relationship more carefully, too.

OVERBY: But certainly not every corporation. Yesterday, another well-known company, Kraft Foods, said it's keeping its membership in ALEC. A spokeswoman for Kraft said its only concerns at ALEC are business related, and have nothing to do with 'stand your ground' or voter I.D. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.