Wal-Mart Stores Inc. dumped its membership in conservative advocacy group ALEC ahead of what is expected to be a contentious annual shareholders meeting.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, known for its role-shaping controversial legislation, has been hemorrhaging members this spring. Major companies such as Coca Cola Co., McDonald's Corp., Amazon.com Inc., Kraft Foods Inc. and more have fled amid heavy activist pressure.
At issue: ALEC's backing of voter ID laws that liberal groups accuse of suppressing the minority vote. Critics also dislike the group's support of "stand your ground" gun laws that have become a hot rod in the killing this year of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
In a Wednesday letter, Wal-Mart's public affairs vice president Maggie Sans wrote that ALEC had strayed from its core mission "to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets."
Sans wrote that the group needed to center itself more on economic policies. In that spirit, ALEC said in April that it was abandoning its Public Safety and Elections task force to focus on issues related to jobs and growth.
"We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide," Sans wrote.
Wal-Mart, both the largest seller of firearms in the country and the largest private employer of black workers, had been a member since 1993. On Friday, the company will face shareholders who are expected to confront executives about bribery allegations at the chain's Mexican unit.
"The side effects of Wal-Mart's growth-at-any-cost business strategy continue to be exposed to the company's customers, shareholders and workers," said Dan Schlademan, director of the union-run Making Change at Walmart campaign, in a statement.
ALEC said in a statement that it was "disappointed in Wal-Mart's decision" but said it understands "the unique pressures they are under." As it has before, the group again lashed out at the "extreme liberal front groups and union leaders" whose "smear campaigns" it blames for the continuing exodus of members.