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Activists call for Duke Energy to sever all ties to ALEC 

The largest utility in the country has courted the conservative think tank, which supports voter ID bills and "Stand Your Ground" laws

Greenpeace and the Coalition to March on Wall Street South took aim at Duke Energy again, this time focusing on company it's kept.

Greenpeace and the Coalition asked Duke to sever any ties it has to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, in an open letter to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read outloud my coalition members at a Thursday press conference.

The council is a conservative think tank that helps draft legislation, often aimed at delaying action on climate change. It's become infamous over the summer for its support of "Stand Your Ground" laws, notably their Castle Doctrine Act, which is similar to the law being used to defend George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin killing.

Although the Democratic National Convention Committee itself has not worked with ALEC, Monica Embrey, a North Carolina field organizer with Greenpeace, emphasized the connections between the DNC and Duke Energy. Beyond Duke CEO Jim Rogers' own personal relationship with the Democratic National Convention, including his donations and his position as co-chair of the Democratic National Convention Host Committee, Duke Energy as a company has supplied the convention with millions of dollars worth of office space. It's also promised a $10 million line of credit, Embrey said.

Duke Energy has spent $116,000 on hosting ALEC meetings since 2009, including $50,000 for a meeting in Charlotte in May.

"We sponsored the meeting, and we sponsor meetings with a lot of different groups that represent Democratic ideals and Republican ideals," Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams told Creative Loafing after Thursday's event. "This is a conservative think tank that attracts a lot of different legislators that we need to work with. It was a very common thing to do."

The council has caught flak for its drafting and sponsorship of the "Voter ID Act," which would require voters to show an extra layer of proof of their identity before being allowed to vote. The law usually affects the poor and has been called a "voter suppression act" by its opponents.

While activist groups such as the Coalition to March on Wall Street South have been adamant all summer that they believe Democrats and Republicans are just different sides of a corrupt coin. Thursday's press conference and the open letter to Schultz played to Democratic sympathies, highlighting the fact that many of those affected by voter identification laws tend to vote Democrat.

"On the whole, we are concerned that both major parties are far too close to corporate interests. But in the case of the Democratic Party's relationship with Duke Energy, we also believe it directly undermines the party's own interest," said the letter, which was signed by Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, and members of the Coalition to March on Wall Street South.

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