Dick Durbin calls in Trayvon Martin’s mother for anti-ALEC testimony

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin was set to bring Trayvon Martin’s mother to the Senate this week as part of his longstanding fight against the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Durbin has been targeting right-leaning groups and nonpartisan private businesses with demands for information about their ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its model ‘stand your ground’ legislation, prompting concern and pushback from some of his targets. (Related: Durbin under fire for ‘Stand Your Ground’ inquiries)

Durbin sent letters to approximately 300 organizations and businesses, including AT&T, demanding information about their financial ties to ALEC, an organization that designs model legislation at the state level to promote free-market and small-government principles. (Related: ALEC rebukes Durbin’s ‘stand your ground’ inquiries)

Durbin, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights, and human rights, was set to hold a hearing Tuesday on ALEC called, “‘Stand Your Ground Laws’: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force,” featuring slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton. The hearing was postponed due to the deadly shooting at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard.

“I write to seek information regarding your company’s position on ‘stand your ground’ legislation that was adopted as a national model by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),” Durbin wrote in his letter.

“ALEC describes itself as a think tank that develops model bills for state legislators. In 2005, ALEC approved the adoption of model ‘stand your ground’ legislation entitled the ‘Castle Doctrine Act.’ This model legislation was based on Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law, and it changes the criminal law regarding self-defense and provides immunity for certain uses of deadly force,” Durbin wrote.

“Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model ‘stand your ground’ legislation in 2005 and the present day,” Durbin wrote.

“I acknowledge your company’s right to actively participate in the debate of important political issues, regardless of your position, and I recognize that a company’s involvement with ALEC does not necessarily mean that the company endorses all positions taken by the organization. Therefore I am seeking clarification whether companies that have funded ALEC’s operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model ‘stand your ground’ legislation,” Durbin wrote.

“I ask that you please reply to this letter by answering yes or no in response to the two questions below. Please feel free to provide additional information explaining your yes or no response,” Durbin wrote, asking, “Has [company name] served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?” and “Does [company name] support the ‘stand your ground’ legislation that was adopted as a national model and promoted by ALEC?”

“Please provide a response to this letter by September 1, 2013. Note that I am sending similar letters to other companies that have been identified as ALEC funders at some point between 2005 and today. In September, I plan to convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to examine ‘stand your ground’ laws, and I intend to include the responses to my letters in the hearing record. Therefore, please know that your response will be publicly available,” Durbin wrote.

AT&T, which supports ALEC for its “state legislation aimed at achieving and maintaining a favorable business climate,” shot back with a sharply worded letter to Durbin from senior vice president James Cicconi saying that it’s “inescapable that any response to your request will be used by those interests whose purpose is to pressure corporations to de-fund organizations and political speech with which they disagree.”

“’Because members of the Senate want to know’ is simply not a valid reason for the government invading an organization’s privacy or the privacy of its supporters,” the Center for Competitive Politics, a targeted Virginia-based nonprofit conservative think tank, said in a response to Durbin. “You file financial reports and campaign finance reports because you are a public servant. Citizens do not have to report on their beliefs and activities to the government. The two are not comparable.”

“How did Durbin get ahold of these 300 organizations?” Center for Competitive Politics media manager Joe Trotter asked The Daily Caller. “It wasn’t limited to just organizations. He also sent letters to private businesses.”

Trotter said that bringing Trayvon Martin’s mother into the debate is just Durbin’s ploy in a “long smear campaign against ALEC.”

Sen. Durbin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Follow Patrick on Twitter