Merck & Co. to leave ALEC

Merck & Co. to leave ALEC

September 17th, 2012 // 1:52 pm @

Global pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co. said today it is leaving the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council — which drafts model bills that are replicated in state legislatures across the country — because of “budget constraints and policy priorities.”

ALEC, a group of nearly 2,000 state lawmakers and 300 companies and advocacy groups, is a nonprofit advocating fiscal restraint and fewer regulations, but critics have called it a national lobbying group that skirts disclosure requirements while pushing a conservative agenda.

“Merck reviews its memberships every fall to decide which will be retained for the upcoming calendar year based on budget constraints and policy priorities,” said Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty. “As a result of this review, the company will not be renewing its membership for several organizations. ALEC is one of these groups.”

Based in Whitehouse Station in Hunterdon County, Merck had been an ALEC member for more than a decade and will leave the group next year, Dougherty said. The company did not have a seat on ALEC’s board, she added.

With $48 billion in revenue in 2011, Merck is among the largest ALEC members. The company is known for making Singulair, the asthma treatment, as well as a range of heart medications and vaccines.

ALEC has been embroiled in national controversy this year for its role pushing bills that toughen voter-identification requirements and loosen self-defense laws to allow more instances of deadly force. An example is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which figures prominently in the ongoing case over 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s shooting in February.

New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson, another huge pharmaceutical, which left ALEC in June, said those initiatives deviated from the business agenda it joined to support. After a backlash from liberal groups and public officials earlier this year, ALEC vowed to focus only on economic issues.

Merck is the second New Jersey company to leave ALEC.

“I think Merck’s statement stands for itself,” ALEC spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss said. “Their decision not to renew is due to budgetary constraints.”

Common Cause, a Washington watchdog group, has filed a complaint with the IRS saying ALEC is a lobbying group that should lose its tax-exempt status. A Star-Ledger investigation in April found several similarities between ALEC bills and proposals written in Gov. Chris Christie’s office. The administration said there was no connection.

More than three dozen companies have left ALEC this year, including, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Kraft.

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