The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Tuesday it will not make future grants to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that has come under fire for promoting controversial legislation—including “stand-your-ground” self-defense laws like the one that drew national attention after an unarmed black teenager was shot to death in Florida.
However, liberal activists want the foundation to go further and stop payment on a 22-month grant for $376,635 that it awarded to the council in November to educate lawmakers about school finance and teacher effectiveness—something the grant maker does not plan to do.
They have been trying to get corporations and others to end ties with ALEC for some time, charging that it is anti-union and supports voter-identification laws that would harm minorities, the elderly, and young people. They stepped up their pressure after Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law was cited as a defense after a Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer killed Trayvon Martin in February.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cannot claim to be socially responsible while cutting checks to a voter-suppression and union-busting group like ALEC for the next 17 months,” says the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
That group has started a petition drive and online ad campaign asking the Gates foundation to end its existing grant to ALEC.
Chris Williams, a foundation spokesman, defended the grant in a blog post in December. “We feel strongly that we can’t just engage one political party or type of organization in order to improve America’s schools,” he wrote.
However, he said in an interview on Tuesday that the foundation has now decided not to provide the council another grant because “it’s tough to do good work with an organization that’s under the kind of fire that they’re under.” He said the award was “narrowly focused” on the education issues and had “nothing to do with ALEC’s other agenda, which is not something we’re interested in and we don’t support.”
But he said Gates will honor the existing grant, much of which has already been paid. “A grant’s a contract, and they’ve met their deliverable and their milestones,” he said.
Several corporations have cut their ties to ALEC, including Coca-Cola, which pulled its membership in the council last week after facing criticism from an African-American advocacy group, Color of Change.
An ALEC spokeswoman did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.
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