Like the proverbial rats deserting the sinking ship, corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are abandoning the organization in droves.  The latest deserters: Canadian National Railway, a major coal transporter, and oil producer Royal Dutch Shell. The most recent defections bring the total number of “corporate people” who have left ALEC to 106.

Does this mean that Shell Oil plans to change its ways? Shell, no. Despite massive protests and blockade attempts in Seattle and Portland, Shell is going forward with plans to start drilling in the Arctic. Those plans are also completely at odds with a statement the company issued last year, published in the Washington Post: “For us, climate change is real and it’s a threat that we want to act on. We’re not aligning with skeptics.” At the same time, Shell Oil has been involved in fighting any and all regulation intended to reduce carbon emissions.

Shell’s decision to resign from ALEC was largely due to public pressure, applied through a campaign started by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Approximately 130,000 people signed a petition, demanding that Shell cut ties with the organization. ALEC, founded in 1973 in order to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency as well as wage and price controls, has long championed the cause of Big Business and conservative and libertarian economic policies. Currently, the organization is dominated by fossil fuel industry players. At the height of its influence, ALEC had 2,000 members that included over a quarter of all state lawmakers. By 2011, about 1,000 ALEC-sponsored bills were being introduced in state legislatures across the US – and about one-fifth of those bills were being signed into law.

Unfortunately, ALEC’s activities were carried out in the shadows. In July of 2011, however, the organization and its anti-environment, anti-people, hyper-capitalist agenda was exposed in a series of articles published by The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy.  Since ALEC and its agenda has been made public, membership has been taking a nosedive. The list of members having ended their support of the organization over the past few years reads like a “Who’s Who” of Corporate America, and includes Coca-Cola, McDonald’s,, General Electric, Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and health insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as oil polluter BP, Alliant Energy and Occidental Petroleum.

Shell Oil’s recent defection from ALEC is an example of how public opinion can be effective in changing corporate behavior. In a way, it’s amusing how “corporate persons” seem to be just as concerned with their precious public image as natural humans. Of course, the stakes are much higher; a negative public image can potentially cost a “corporate person” millions of precious dollars.

Despite its recent decision to allow its membership in ALEC to lapse, Shell Oil remains unrepentant, plans for its Artic drilling are going ahead. Nonetheless, the ongoing saga of corporate desertions from ALEC is an excellent example of how sunshine is often the best disinfectant when it comes to combating the diseases of economic tyranny and political corruption.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.