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A Spineless Shell of a Company: You aren’t fooling anyone

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Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.35.25By Jean Card: 13 August 2015

Have you heard? Royal Dutch Shell (that’s Shell oil company to most of us) is going to save the planet. It wants to stop climate change! How? Wait for it. The company is dumping its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (a former employer of mine).

What a relief, n’est-ce pas? I believe the earth’s temperature has already cooled one or two degrees since this highly-consequential decision was announced (on the Friday after a huge news day) last week.

How patently ridiculous. ALEC has no more to do with climate change than Donald Trump has to do with modesty.

In a statement last week, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said that ALEC’s “stance on climate change is clearly inconsistent with our own.”

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Energy]

What stance is that? ALEC, in fact, does not have a position on this issue. It has neither embraced nor denied the science or rhetoric around climate change. The organization certainly opposes many regulations and mandates that limit the ability of the free market to thrive. And, yes, its ideas and model legislation favor economic growth over breathless liberal activism. But, unlike many conservative groups, ALEC has never challenged the concept of climate change. The bottom line here is that Shell executives caved to astroturf pressure from the leftist bullies who are threatened by ALEC’s understated, but significant, success.

ALEC is a perceived threat to the left because it i good at what it does, and its work is downright wholesome when compared to much of the cesspool of government and politics today. Corporate sponsors’ dollars are not used by ALEC to lobby, sponsor ad campaigns or fund political campaign coffers, but to to host forums where ideas are shared and model legislation is developed. Diabolical!

[READ: Shell and the London Science Museum]

Here’s the simple truth for the Shell executives who made this silly decision to break up with ALEC: Customers across the globe don’t believe you give a hoot about global warming or alternative energy because you are a massive petroleum company. Period. Severing ties with an earnest group of state legislators isn’t going to improve your public image, guys. Not one bit. In, fact, on balance a move like this makes you look like wimps, because when you cave, you prove that the bullies can get under your skin. And when bullies see weakness, they don’t back off. They are instead tantalized by your overreaction and they lust for more.

Shell should now prepare itself for more attacks from climate change activists. Indeed, moments after the announcement of their separation from ALEC, Shell was subjected to an onslaught of tweets about its continued drilling in the Arctic.

If Shell and other corporate “bad guys” want to actually change their public image, not just check a box in hopes of appeasing the most active leftist whiners on the Internet, they ought to look into very publicly cutting or reallocating a different part of their government relations budget, namely: Their own PACs and PAC donations.

Imagine a Shell executive announcing the company is r-allocating its political campaign contributions budget away from PACs and instead toward groups that foster open debate about environment and energy issues. That would be refreshing, and a public commitment to forthright debate of the issues seems a better strategy than appeasement.

Shell and others need to remember that the perception of big corporations as Darth Vader-like crony capitalists comes from their moneyed political collusion with politicians and big government, not partnerships with relatively thoughtful and nerdy non-profit associations like ALEC.

In both public perception and the practical advancement of policies that matter to them, Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to leave ALEC was about as shrewd as a kid giving his lunch money to the bully. Investors should wonder if Shell’s leadership is capable of the mature, strategic decisions that are needed to lead a modern energy company.

Jean Card is a writer and communications consultant with expertise in public policy and small business issues. She is a former speechwriter for the U.S. secretaries of Labor and Treasury as well as the attorney general. Follow her on Twitter: @JeanCard

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