Attacks on the rental-car giant Enterprise over social media demonstrate how liberal pressure groups, labeling opponents as “climate change deniers,” coordinate efforts to bully companies to agree with them or face condemnation orchestrated by the groups.
In the name of preventing global warming, labor and affiliated groups planted a negative story about Enterprise in a liberal, U.K.-based newspaper.
They then distributed that article to fuel outrage through online petitions, Twitter, and other social media, a review of events by The Daily Signal reveals.
Their goal: to force Enterprise Holdings Inc. to back away from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a network of lawmakers, researchers, and business leaders that advances free market policies through state legislatures.
Its opponents on the left accuse ALEC of fighting initiatives to thwart climate change, or global warming, among other elements of the liberal agenda.
One petition, organized by MoveOn.org, calls on Enterprise Holdings to “live up to your own values of [energy] sustainability” by steering clear of ALEC.
So far, the Missouri-based parent of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and related businesses has not done so.
In an Aug. 30 post on its Facebook page, Enterprise Rent-A-Car wrote that it continues to support sustainable energy projects while working with ALEC, among “a variety of stakeholders,” to “fight discriminatory and unfair car rental excise taxes.”
The post reads:
Almost 10 years ago, our CEO stated: ‘For us, the argument over whether global warming is a problem or not is over.’ Enterprise Holdings’ position remains the same today. In fact, our commitment to help drive sustainable transportation solutions and policies around the world remains unchanged. That means we continue to integrate sustainable practices across our operations and seek new ways to minimize the environmental impact of our business. We also work to preserve the well-being of the communities where we operate.
In addition, we explore opportunities with a variety of stakeholders to drive sustainable change, not just through our company, but throughout our industry. As part of that long-term effort, Enterprise works with industry associations, consumer advocacy groups, NGOs, government agencies, suppliers, business partners and public-policy organizations in the U.S.—including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—to fight discriminatory and unfair car rental excise taxes. We work with ALEC solely to battle these regressive taxes on behalf of all car rental and car-sharing customers, regardless of whether they are renting for an hour, a day, a week or longer.
Hostile comments under Enterprise’s post included someone named Justin Miller, who wrote:
“I looked up how much we spent at Enterprise last year. Total was about 6K. You can kiss that goodbye as we rent every month. I will go with another company from here on out.”
A comment from Teufel Wulf reads, in part: “Any corporation that works with ALEC is a TRAITOR to our country.”
ALEC actually hasn’t waded far into the debate over climate change, though it has made members aware of both sides, a spokesman told The Daily Signal.
“Somehow our opposition to [the government’s renewable energy] mandates and subsidies has been conflated into climate change denial,” Bill Meierling, the organization’s vice president of public affairs, said in a brief interview last week.
Other groups organizing the digital campaign against Enterprise include Stand Up to ALEC, ClimateTruth.org, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Here is one of ClimateTruth’s attacks:
.@enterprisecares about reducing GHGs but still funds #climatedenier group #ALEC https://t.co/nsNpasvOyj #ALECExodus pic.twitter.com/pOfrcsZzQ6
— ClimateTruth (@climatetruth) August 24, 2016
Enterprise Holdings Inc. is the parent company of National Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, and Enterprise CarShare in addition to Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Enterprise founder Jack Taylor, who started a car-leasing company in St. Louis in 1957 and built it into a rental empire, died July 2 at age 94. The Navy veteran named Enterprise after the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier on which he served in World War II.
Virginia-based ALEC, founded in 1973, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan network of state lawmakers, policy analysts, and private sector leaders that advances model legislation with an eye toward free market policy solutions.
The digital broadsides against Enterprise began after a communications strategist at the Center for Media and Democracy, an ardent foe of ALEC, told a reporter at The Guardian newspaper about Enterprise having joined the legislative exchange.
In petitions and press releases, climate change adherents underline that Enterprise previously identified itself with environmental causes and suggest it had abandoned those causes by working with ALEC.
Enterprise Holdings’ 2015 annual report, titled “The Business of Sustainability,” touted green initiatives and goals.
Andrew Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, was quoted in 2007 as saying: “For us, the argument over whether global warming is a problem or not is over.”
The Guardian’s Aug. 22 article, under the headline “Enterprise Rent-A-Car becomes paid [ALEC] member despite green efforts,” cites Taylor’s statement.
Liberal activists demanding that Enterprise withdraw from ALEC say the article first alerted them to the company’s relationship with the legislative group.
But the article itself credits Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy, for pointing reporter Sam Thielman to the association.
As The Daily Signal previously reported, the Center for Media and Democracy is a left-leaning investigative journalism outfit based in Madison, Wisconsin, that has been instrumental in pressuring companies and other organizations, AARP among them, to withdraw from ALEC.
Surgey tweeted out a link to the article the same day, attracting comments from about 45 like-minded boycotters:
@NickSurgey Our family boycotts so many corps now soon we'll not drive,eat,dress,drinkLOL @JoeyFotoFr @Enterprise @ALEC_states @samthielman
— (((criteria68))) (@suzanne_butzin) August 23, 2016
Also tweeting out the story was Jay Riestenberg, communications strategist for Common Cause and a former associate of Surgey’s:
BREAKING: @Enterprise Rent-A-Car becomes paid ALEC member despite green effortshttps://t.co/LACezuB6Da
— Jay Riestenberg (@JayRiestenberg) August 22, 2016
The Center for Media and Democracy’s own “PR Watch” describes Surgey as both research director and investigative reporter whose work has been featured in the Guardian, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post.
It reads: “Nick was previously staff counsel at Common Cause, where he led the research and legal work on their ALEC and Supreme Court ethics projects.”
The listing notes that left-leaning media outlets such as the magazines Mother Jones and The Nation, as well as MSNBC, have cited Surgey’s research—as have “many other places including ‘The Colbert Report’ on Comedy Central.”
Among those also passing along Surgey’s accusation against Enterprise via Twitter was political consultant David Halperin, formerly an aide to President Bill Clinton and senior vice president of the liberal Center for American Progress.
.@Enterprise, don't bother to pick me up until you quit #ALEC . #ALECexposed https://t.co/82YHID4ByE
— David Halperin (@DaHalperin) August 22, 2016
In response to this and other, more impolite tweets that began to disrupt its social media accounts, Enterprise employed Twitter to reiterate:
“Enterprise’s relationship with ALEC is solely focused on fighting discriminatory car rental excise taxes on behalf of all consumers, regardless of whether they are renting for an hour, a day, a week or longer.”
Allies of ALEC mobilized Sept. 1 on Twitter to defend both it and Enterprise, using the hashtag #supportALEC.
More vicious smear campaigns from government unions getting fat and happy on our tax dollars. #SupportALEC https://t.co/Y85nEKq2AA
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) September 1, 2016
Free @CarsEnterprise and free speech go well together. #SupportALEC
— Mal Kline (@GarciaVegaMan) September 1, 2016
Enterprise did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
The Guardian reported that the company confirmed being a donor to ALEC, quoting spokeswoman Laura Bryant as saying its involvement with the free-market group was limited to “the car rental excise tax issue.”
The Facebook page of the Center for Media and Democracy featured The Guardian’s story on Enterprise Aug. 22, the day it was published. The post drew about 70 comments over the next few days, many hostile toward ALEC and most explicitly supporting the attack on Enterprise:
Laurie Gilbert wrote: “Goodbye enterprise! Too bad, we have used them to this point!!”
“I was going to buy a car from them, guess what … ,” Lacho Glez commented.
Kelly Haskell posted: “Just one more company I must boycott…..lol!!!”
On Aug. 25, this quote from The Guardian article appeared on the center’s Facebook page, prompting about a dozen comments:
The Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey brought Enterprise’s membership in [ALEC] to the Guardian’s attention. Surgey said that Enterprise initially claimed not to know about [ALEC’s] positions on renewable energy and that he found those claims ‘frankly implausible.’
ALEC’s Meierling told The Daily Signal that the description of the legislative exchange as a climate change “denier” isn’t accurate because “ALEC does not engage on the substance” of the issue.
“We do not believe in a renewable energy portfolio standards where the federal government mandates what the energy mix should be,” Meierling said, adding:
We don’t believe that energy generation or extraction should be subsidized in any way. But because we don’t believe in mandates and we don’t believe in subsidies, these [liberal] groups have labeled us as climate change deniers. Somehow our opposition to mandates and subsidies has been conflated into climate change denial.
ALEC is the victim of “identity politics,” said Sam Kazman, legal counsel to Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.
“When a scientific controversy becomes the rallying cry for a consumer boycott campaign, you know you’re in the wonderland of identity politics,” Kazman told The Daily Signal in an email. “ALEC is one fine group, and here’s hoping that their supporters are fruitful and multiply.”
Competitive Enterprise Institute, or CEI, is among ALEC-affiliated individuals and organizations that defended the rental-car giant in the Sept. 1 “pushback” on social media:
Thank you @Enterprise for supporting free enterprise and free discussion of issues! @ceidotorg is proud member of @ALEC_states #SupportALEC
— John Berlau (@jberlau) September 1, 2016
Don't let the trolls get you down, @enterprise. Thanks for supporting free speech + @ALEC_states! #supportalec
— Christine Hall (@ChristineHall) September 1, 2016
Thank you @Enterprise for supporting Free Markets. #SupportALEC
— Iain Murray (@ismurray) September 1, 2016