04/16/2012 05:46 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2012

ALEC Tries Humor as Defense

Did you know that some of the biggest, baddest names in American business have funnybones?

Walmart, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, even the Koch brothers -- plus hundreds of others, actually -- are cut-ups. Who'd have guessed?

But it's true. Last week, as tens thousands of Americans voiced our collective outrage at the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying front underwritten by these and other major companies, they delivered a side-splitting response.

"This is an attempt to silence our organization... This is an all-out intimidation campaign," groused Ron Scheberle, ALEC's executive director. "America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way and not fall back on bullying, intimidation and threats."

Scheberle's comment was written, so I can't tell if he was grinning when he uncorked it. But the notion that people like me, who've been publicly taking on ALEC and its political/policy agenda, are somehow intimidating, is a laugher. And the suggestion that ALEC fosters open, transparent debate is absolutely hilarious.

Think of it. We're just a bunch of everyday folks -- working moms and dads, students, retirees, small business owners, a cross-section of Americans -- who object to the way that multi-billion dollar companies, through ALEC, have been pushing laws that encourage vigilante justice, threaten to block millions of people from voting, attack our public schools and deny climate change. And somehow, because we dare to speak up and challenge these behemoths, we've become fearsome intimidators?

C'mon man! Nobody's trying to silence ALEC. Silence and secrecy are ALEC's biggest weapons. At Common Cause, where I work, we're trying to amplify -- not suppress -- ALEC's voice. That's what they don't like.

For years, ALEC's corporate members have quietly poured money into the campaign funds of thousands of our elected representatives, entertained and lobbied them at resort hotels far from the eyes and ears of the public and press, and used them to advance ALEC's "model" legislation. It worked because nobody knew about it.

Well, now folks are learning. Because Common Cause and other groups have picked up a megaphone and spread ALEC's message and tactics, companies are re-thinking their involvement with ALEC.

And some of them -- smart, responsible companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Wendy's, Kraft Foods and Intuit, are getting out.

That's not bullying. It's democracy.