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Monday, April 29, 2013

Ron Paul casts lot with extremists, conspiracy theorists


Ron Paul casts lot with extremists, conspiracy theorists

The advisory board of the outspoken libertarian's new organization is stacked with members of the far right

Ron Paul casts lot with extremists, conspiracy theoristsRon Paul (Credit: AP/Ben Margot)
This article was originally published by The Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center

Ron Paul, the libertarian former Texas congressman whose hard-line views are widely admired on the radical right but who claims to reject racism, has started a new organization stacked with a hodgepodge of far-right extremists.

As The Daily Beast reported yesterday, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity is ostensibly designed to promote a discourse about U.S. foreign policy. But its advisory board is stacked with what writer James Kirchik characterized as “a bevy of conspiracy theorists, cranks, and apologists for some of the worst regimes on the planet.”

And just who are the far-right luminaries helping guide Paul’s new endeavor?

One is Lew Rockwell, Paul’s former congressional chief of staff who now heads the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an Auburn, Ala., think tank with deep ties to the neo-Confederate movement. There’s Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News and journalist Eric Margolis, both 9/11 “truthers” who suspect that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may have been orchestrated by the government.

And alongside them sits Butler Shaffer, a Southwestern Law School professor who similarly once asked: “In light of the lies, forgeries, cover-ups, and other deceptions leading to a ‘war’ in Iraq, how can any intellectually honest person categorically deny the possibility of the involvement of American political interest in 9/11?”

But that’s not the worst of it, according to The Daily Beast.

“Also on Paul’s board are prominent former government officials who claim that American Jews constitute a ‘fifth column’ aimed at subverting American foreign policy in the interests of Israel,” Kirchick reported. One of those is Michael Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer who has accused a long list of individuals and organizations of “being intent on involving 300 million Americans in other people’s religious wars,” The Daily Beast said.

Still another board member is Walter Bloch, a fellow at the Mises institute who The Daily Beast said “believes the wrong side won the ‘war against Southern secession’ and blames most of America’s current problems on ‘the monster Lincoln.’”

Yesterday’s article wasn’t the first to note the affinity many extremists have for Paul. An article in The New York Times in 2011, when Paul was running for president, noted that while white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists had allied behind Paul’s campaign, he had not disavowed their support. Paul told the newspaper: “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say –– it has nothing to do with me endorsing what they say.”

The controversy surrounding Paul’s new organization is reminiscent of past revelations. Paul has been accused of authoring a series of newsletters, written under his name, that Kirchik says “reveal decades worth of obsession and conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews and gays.” When Kirchik first detailed those newsletters in 2008, Paul claimed that he had not written them and he had no idea who had. Kirchik says in his latest article that the newsletters, which ostensibly gave supporters “political news and investment advice,” “netted his family over $1 million per year.”

The November 1990 issue of the Paul’s “Political Report,” for example, praised neo-Nazi and former Klan leader David Duke. A month later, an issue described the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “world-class adulterer” who “replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration.” Also that year, as the Rev. Al Sharpton led efforts to rename New York City after King, Paul’s newsletter suggested possible alternatives including “Welfaria” and “Zooville.”
The vitriol ostensibly coming from Paul also targeted the LGBT community. A 1994 issue of the “Ron Paul Survival Report” asserted that people “who don’t get a blood transfusion, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay.”

The stated mission of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity is to provide “the tools and the education to chart a new course with the understanding that only through a peaceful foreign policy can we hope for a prosperous tomorrow.” But with the revelation of who its principals really are, one can only wonder what that means.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How conservatives invented “voter fraud” to attack civil rights


How conservatives invented “voter fraud” to attack civil rights

Phony complaints of voter fraud are the essence of a decade-long effort by the right to reverse civil rights law

How conservatives invented Broward County Canvassing Board member Judge Robert Rosenberg stares at a dimpled punchcard ballot November 23, 2000 during the recount of the 2000 presidential election. (Credit: Reuters/Colin Braley)
Just when it seemed that the democratic process had reached its apotheosis with the election of America’s first black president, a political earthquake occurred in 2010 that threatened all that had been accomplished since 1965. Two years after Obama’s election, the midterm elections saw a conservative backlash that swept Republicans back into office in droves. As the media focused on the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and increases in the Senate, more important developments were occurring closer to home. Republicans now controlled both legislative bodies in 26 states, and 23 won the trifecta, controlling the governorships as well as both statehouses. What happened next was so swift that it caught most observers off guard — and began surreptitiously to reverse the last half-century of voting rights reforms.

All across the country following the 2010 midterms, Republican legislatures passed and governors enacted a series of laws designed to make voting more difficult for Obama’s constituency — minorities, especially the growing Hispanic community; the poor; students; and the elderly or handicapped. These included the creation of voter photo-ID laws, measures affecting registration and early voting, and, in Iowa and Florida, laws to prevent ex-felons from exercising their franchise. (Florida’s governor, in secret, reversed the policies of his Republican predecessors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, policies that would have permitted one hundred thousand former felons, predominantly black and Hispanic, to vote in 2012.) Democrats were stunned. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens in voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” said President Bill Clinton in July 2011. Once again, the voting rights of American minorities were in peril.

The newly elected Republican officials were able to act so quickly because they had the help of an ultraconservative organization known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Its founder was the late Paul Weyrich, a legendary conservative writer and proselytizer who founded both ALEC and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank dedicated to limited government, an economy free of federal regulations and the sanctity of traditional marriage.
Backed by conservative corporations such as Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Walmart, among many others, and funded by right-wing billionaires Richard Mellon Scaife, the Coors family and David and Charles Koch, ALEC provided services for like-minded legislators and lobbyists. ALEC wrote bills and created the campaigns to pass them. Its spokesmen boasted that “each year, more than 1,000 bills based on its models are introduced in state legislatures, and that approximately 17 percent of those bills become law.”
High on ALEC’s agenda were voter identification laws, which it hoped would have the effect of undercutting Obama’s support base so that conservative politicians who supported ALEC’s goals could be elected. Speaking to a convention of evangelicals in 1980, Paul Weyrich said, “Many of our Christians … want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote … As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Weyrich believed that America was suffering from what he called “a plague of unlawful voting” that the new laws would combat.

But according to the best analyses, there was almost no evidence of illegal voting. Wisconsin’s attorney general, a Republican, examined the 2008 election returns and discovered that out of 3 million votes cast, just 20 were found to be illegal. A wider study conducted by the Bush Justice Department had found similar results for the period 2002 to 2007. More than 300 million people had voted, and only 86 were found guilty of voter fraud, and most of them were simply mistaken about their eligibility.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration and Republicans, believing in the existence of widespread voter fraud, generally made its elimination a top priority. In 2007, the Bush Justice Department fired seven U.S. attorneys for supposedly failing to prosecute cases of voter fraud that the attorneys claimed did not exist. To combat voter fraud, ALEC proposed a state voter ID for those citizens who lacked a driver’s license or other means of identification that had once been acceptable, like a Social Security card. Among the many young politicians ALEC nurtured was Scott Walker, a future governor of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s voter photo-ID law was one of the first pieces of legislation the new governor signed into law in 2011, and it became a model many other states followed. It required that potential voters show a current or expired driver’s license, some form of military identification, a U.S. passport, a signed and dated student ID from an accredited state college or university, or a recent certificate of nationalization. If voters had none of these documents, they could present a birth certificate to receive a special photo ID issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Such requirements made voting extremely arduous for the very people who disproportionately supported Barack Obama in 2008, such as racial minorities, students and the elderly.

Among those who found it difficult to comply with the new law was Gladys Butterfield, who had voted in every local, state and presidential election since 1932. She had stopped driving decades ago, so she had no license. Her birth certificate was also missing. She did have a baptismal record, but that document was not acceptable as proof of identity in her home state. Therefore, under Wisconsin’s new law, she had to obtain a special government ID available only at an office of the Department of Transportation (DOT) before she could vote in the next presidential election. She was wheelchair-bound, and so she was dependent on a family member to drive her to the nearest DOT office. (She could not apply online because she lacked a current license.) A quarter of the offices were open only one day a month and closed on weekends. Sauk City’s office was perhaps the hardest to visit; in 2012 it was open only four days that entire year. Many other states’ DOT offices posed similar problems: odd schedules, distance from public transportation and the like.

With her daughter Gail’s help, Butterfield applied for a state-certified birth certificate, costing twenty dollars, which she could show as proof of American citizenship. Next she had to visit the DOT. Transporting a wheelchair was a problem, as was the inevitable wait in line to fill out the forms and have her picture taken. She was charged $28 because she did not know that it would not have cost her a cent if she had explicitly requested a free voter ID. DOT officials were instructed not to offer applicants a free ID unless applicants requested one. (When an outraged government employee e-mailed friends of the news and encouraged them to “TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW!! ANYONE!! EVEN IF THEY DON’T NEED THE FREE ID, THEY MAY KNOW SOMEONE THAT DOES!!,” he was abruptly fired for “inappropriately using work email,” said an official.)
Before the Republican victory in the 2010 midterms, only two states had rigorous voter ID requirements. By August 2012, 34 state legislatures had considered photo ID laws and 13 had passed them; five more made it past state legislatures only to be vetoed by the Democratic governors of Montana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and New Hampshire. By that same summer, a number of states already had the new laws in place: Pennsylvania (where it was estimated that 9.2 percent of registered voters had no photo ID), Alabama, Mississippi (approved by referendum), Rhode Island, New Hampshire (whose state General Court overrode the governor’s veto) and five whose sponsors were all ALEC members — Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. In Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee, people wishing to register or vote must show their birth certificate. To acquire that document, they must pay a fee, which many believe is the equivalent of the poll tax, banned by the Constitution’s twenty-fourth amendment. Minnesota’s citizens would vote on a state constitutional amendment in the 2012 election; if passed, voters could cast their ballot after showing a government-issued photo ID.

What these policies had in common, beside their connection to ALEC, was their negative impact on minorities. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School estimated in October 2011 that the new voter ID laws could affect more than 21 million potential voters, predominately African Americans, Hispanics, students, the elderly and the poor.

Other voting laws passed in the wake of the 2010 midterms were just as injurious as the voter ID laws and threatened not merely minorities but also people likely to vote for Democratic candidates. Florida’s new voter law turned Jill Cicciarelli, a 35-year-old civics teacher, into a criminal. She inadvertently ran afoul of H.B.1355, which tightened the state’s already strict regulations governing the registration of new voters. The 158-page bill became law 24 hours after it passed because Governor Rick Scott considered it essential to combat “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Cicciarelli, who taught government and sponsored the Student Government Association at New Symrna Beach High School, was on maternity leave when the law went into effect in July 2011, so when she returned to school that fall she was unaware that she was about to commit a crime. In her senior government class she discussed the 2012 presidential election and, as she had many times before, organized a campaign to preregister those students who would turn 18 before November. Eventually 50 students applied, and after a few days she sent the forms to the county election office. “I just want them to be participating in our democracy,” she said later. “The more participation we have, the stronger our democracy will be.”

The new law required third-party registration organizations to register with the state election office, receive an identification number, undergo training and turn in their application forms no later than 48 hours after their completion. (Previously, registration was voluntary and the completion deadline was 10 days, but it was rarely enforced.) Cicciarelli violated each of the new provisions and could be fined up to $1,000 for missing the due date and an additional $1,000 for failing to register. When Ann McFall, Volusia County Supervisor of Elections, learned of Cicciarelli’s infractions in late October, she reluctantly alerted the secretary of state’s office that the teacher had violated the new law’s requirements, potentially a third-degree felony if investigators determined that she was guilty of “willful noncompliance.” “I was sick to my stomach when I did it,” McFall later told a reporter, “but my job was on the line if I ignored it.”
Republican state representative Dorothy Hulkill, running for reelection in 2012, was one person who liked the Florida law. She believed it would limit voter fraud and stop people from “engaging in shady activities designed to give Democrats an unfair advantage.” Who these people were, she did not say.

The controversy over Florida’s new voting law did not stop there, however. Soon five other teachers were accused of similar infractions. The entire group was dubbed the “Subversive Six” by an Internet blogger who had tired of criticizing the Florida schools’ traditional preoccupations, evolution and sex education.

By targeting a wide swath of American voters not because of race but rather because of their political sympathies, the legislators in these states had struck a serious blow to the suffrage of hundreds of thousands of citizens, all in ways that the creators of the Voting Rights Act had never imagined. Because of Florida’s new law, the state chapter of the League of Women Voters announced that for the first time in 72 years, it would not register new voters in 2012. That time-honored job had become too risky. “It would … require our volunteers to have an attorney on one side and administrative assistant on the other,” said League chapter president Diedre Macnab. She called the law “a war on voters.” Other organizations like Rock the Vote, which registered 2.5 million new voters in 2008, and the Florida Public Interest Research Education Fund also ended their activities. It was not only the young who responded to such registration drives and who now found a well-traveled route to the polls blocked: Census figures indicated that in 2004, 10 million new voters, among them many African Americans and Hispanics, registered with the help of community-based groups. Under the new voting laws, many of these men and women would likely never make it to a voting booth.

Some of these new efforts to restrict voters’ access to the polls exposed significant racial biases on the part of the Republicans responsible for them. Colorado, Iowa and Florida compiled lists of registered voters they thought ineligible and attempted to remove them from the voting rolls. Florida officials determined that 180,000 citizens were suspect; 74 percent of them were African American and Hispanic, groups more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Governor Rick Scott became so concerned that illegal aliens could vote that he demanded access to the Department of Homeland Security’s database, and they eventually granted his request. The Florida secretary of state found that thousands of registered voters could be considered “potential noncitizens” and removed them from the voting rolls. Further examination by more objective analysts concluded that significant errors had occurred: only 207 of the suspect 180,000 voters were judged unqualified.

Among those caught in the net were elderly World War II veterans and many other longtime American citizens whose only offenses, in many instances, were being nonwhite. Florida’s election supervisors refused to follow the governor’s orders and stopped purging voters from the rolls. Nevertheless, Republican-dominated Lee and Collier Counties continued to remove those they considered suspicious.

Florida’s attempt at voter purging was not a new phenomenon. A more informal practice known as “caging” had been used mostly by Republican campaign officials for decades throughout America. It was simple: Letters marked nonforwardable were sent to black citizens and those that came back unopened resulted in the addressee being removed from the voting lists. No less than the Republican National Committee was found guilty of caging in the 1980s, and a federal decree ordered them to desist at once, although Republicans still employed it decades later.

Some states also attempted to suppress minority voting by curtailing early voting, which had avoided problems such as crowded polling places and voting machinery that often broke down from overuse. Early voting meant that more people could be accommodated over a longer period of time in, for example, Cleveland, Akron, Columbus and Toledo, cities in Ohio with a heavy concentration of pro-Democratic black voters and a scarcity of voting machines. In the two years following the 2010 midterms, Georgia, Maine, Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin all passed laws shortening the period during which citizens could cast their ballots. Ohio and Florida also eliminated voting on the Sunday before the election. This especially could have a profound impact on future minority voting. In 2008, 54 percent of African Americans voted early, many on that Sunday, when churches held “Get Your Souls to the Polls” campaigns that brought blacks and Hispanics to the voting booths. Obama won Florida with 51 percent of the vote in 2008. In Ohio, another narrow victory for Obama, 30 percent of the state’s total voters, 1.4 million people, voted during the early period, which was then 35 days before the election. Under each state’s new law passed in 2011, it was shortened to 16 days.

Voters in Maine were so incensed that the new law had eliminated election-day registration that a coalition of progressive organizations quickly collected 70,000 signatures, enough to trigger the state’s “People’s Veto,” putting the measure to a vote. On November 8, 2011, the law was repealed in a special election: “Maine voters sent a clear message: No one will be denied a right to vote,” noted Shenna Bellows, head of the state’s ACLU.

Although Republicans continued to insist that the new laws were created solely to fight voter fraud, GOP officials twice revealed another motive. At a meeting of the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in June 2012, Mike Turzai, the House majority leader, boasted openly that Pennsylvania’s new law would affect the next presidential election. Proudly listing the GOP’s achievements, Turzai said, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.” Similarly, when, in August 2012, the Columbia Dispatch asked Doug Preise, a prominent Republican official and adviser to the state’s governor, why he so strongly supported curtailing early voting in Ohio, Preise admitted, “I really actually feel that we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African American — voter turn-out machine.” These admissions indicate that winning the presidency by suppressing the minority vote was the real reason behind the laws requiring voter IDs, limited voting hours, obstructed registration, and the like that Republican legislatures passed since the party’s victory in 2010.

Excerpted with permission from “Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy” by Gary May. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.

Gary May is a Professor of History at the University of Delaware, and author of the forthcoming Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (Basic Books; April 2013).

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Koch Brothers War On Renewable Energy Is Killing Jobs and Destroying Our Air

Renewable energy

It is hardly deniable that the Earth’s climate is warming at an alarming rate, and it has prompted most countries in the developed world to look to renewable energy as a means of staunching greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing their dependency on fossil fuels. Even America, the backward nation addicted to and lusting for more fossil fuel use, has crept ever so slowly to catch up to the rest of the world’s use of renewable energy with a burgeoning movement toward wind and solar power that creates jobs, saves consumers’ money, and reduces pollutants. In 2007, North Carolina was the first state in the Southeastern U.S. to adopt renewable energy standards to encourage electrical utility providers to expand their use of renewable sources of energy, and last week, they became the first state to repeal their renewable energy standards at the direction of the Koch brothers and their legislative arm, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

North Carolina utilities were on pace to supply 12.5% of the state’s electricity needs with  renewable energy that has created thousands of jobs, generated billions in revenue, and reduced pollution all while saving ratepayers money. However, led by the Kochs, Grover Norquist, the Heartland Institute, and ALEC, Republicans voted to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards (RES) using an ALEC template that is gaining traction in several states under Koch brothers and Grover Norquist’s control  Norquist and the Kochs have been heavily funding and pushing ALEC’s “template legislation” to put an end to renewable energy to hasten climate change’s effect, kill jobs, and restrict states from reaping the revenue generated by renewable energy.

The ALEC bill, HB298, dubbed the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act” was introduced by ALEC member Rep. Mike Hager and repeals the renewable energy standard that barely made it out of committee when two sane Republicans voted against it. One Republican from Charlotte, Ruth Samuelson, said the RES had helped develop a renewable alternative energy industry that benefitted rural communities and created 1,100 clean energy companies that contributed $3.7 billion in annual revenue, created over 21,000 jobs, and lowered residential energy bills by $173 million.  In fact, North Carolina’s RES lifted the state to fifth place in the nation for solar power development and was closing in on fourth place this year leading the CEO of FLS energy to claimIt’s an extraordinary success story that there’s an industry that hardly existed several years ago,” but the Koch brothers mean to destroy the industry with a “filled-in” template courtesy of ALEC.

The Koch brothers, their cohort ALEC, and the conservative belief tank the Heartland Institute lobbied heavily to dismantle the RES through hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in donations and assistance from Art Pope’s John Locke Foundation. Pope is a conservative donor and former national director of the Koch brothers’ other belief tank, Americans for Prosperity, and his John Locke Foundation assisted pushing ALEC’s legislation with a phony report that the RES increased energy costs to consumers and killed thousands of jobs.

Grover Norquist joined forces with the Kochs and wrote an op-ed attacking renewable energy and, of course, cited the Locke Foundation phony report as why it was crucial to kill renewable energy standards. Norquist attempted to convince Kansas legislators to repeal their RES or at least weaken them with ALEC’s model legislation, but the Republican-led House and Senate rejected the bills after thousands of residents signed petitions and the Kansas Farm Bureau wrote an op-ed supporting the state standards. The opinion piece noted that Kansas was one of the nation’s leaders in renewable energy, and boasted the state was second in the nation for wind-energy potential that means more jobs, increased disposable income for consumers and businesses, as well as increasing development in Kansas. He also encouraged legislators to strengthen the RES because it helped the “prosperity of Kansas’ farm and ranch families, provides jobs, attracts new businesses, and invests in infrastructure for the state.”

The president and CEO of the American Council or Renewable Energy responded to Norquist’s lies and asked a prescient rhetorical question; “So as a nationwide initiative funded by opponents of renewable energy targets state Renewable Portfolio Standards, Americans should be asking themselves, with all the benefits that came with doubling our renewable energy capacity from 43.5 gigawatts to 85.7GW from 2008 to 2012, “Do we want more renewable energy or less?” The thousands who signed petitions to the legislature obviously answered that yes, they wanted more renewable energy, cleaner air, more jobs, and business investments to fund infrastructure improvement. Sadly, North Carolina Republicans did not want the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy and voted to repeal the RES and kill jobs, increase energy costs, and add pollutants to the environment.

It is apparent why the Koch brothers invested in ALEC’s model legislation because denying global climate change is one of their major goals, and of course they reap the benefits of selling more oil to generate electricity. In fact, if the Kochs ever devised a way to charge Americans for accessing the Sun and wind, this nation would be awash in renewable energy. ALEC is at Koch’s beck and call to grind out templates for Republicans to fill in to kill renewable energy standards in 28 states, as well as keep the money flowing into their coffers from the Kochs. Grover Norquist joined the campaign because starving state governments of revenue takes him one step closer to achieving his goal of “drowning government in a bathtub,” and he succeeded in North Carolina that stands to lose $3.7 billion in annual revenue as well as revenue from residents working in the renewable energy industry. The fact that Norquist assisted Republicans in killing thousands of jobs and increase the burden on energy consumers with higher electricity costs is a value-added benefit and reinforces his disregard for Americans over the past three decades.

Despite America being a leader in technological development, the nation is lagging behind nearly every developed country in the world in harnessing renewable energy, including one the biggest polluters on the planet, China. President Obama has attempted to increase funding in the form of tax credits and loans to expand this nation’s renewable energy, but Republicans have been there every step of the way blocking his efforts. America has an expansive land area to take advantage of the Sun and wind to generate electricity, but the Koch brothers will not allow any further development in the industry. Worse, with ALEC supplying Republicans Koch legislation to end renewable energy standards, Americans will lose jobs, clean air, inexpensive electricity, and increased business investments, and if there is one thing Republicans love more than oil industry campaign donations, it is imposing more hardship on the American people.

Laws to Criminalize Documentation of Animal Abuse on Farms Now Considered by Nine States


Candace Calloway Whiting

Candace Calloway Whiting has studied and trained dolphins, seals, and orca whales. She is currently a volunteer at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor.
“In the past, whistleblowers (not farm owners or inspectors) have documented baby chicks being ground up alive, workers urinating near a live hanging area, and turkeys and pigs being sexually abused. Investigators caught a major school lunch meat supplier abusing cows who were too sick to even walk; this lead to the largest meat recall in US history. The Big Ag industry desperately want to put a stop to these investigations for one reason: money.” Will Potter

Other countries, including Canada, don’t have much in the way of laws to protect their citizens when concerned individuals document animal abuse in the workplace – and if regressive legislation passes, neither will the U.S.

Canadian whistleblower Phil Demers faces a multimillion dollar lawsuit (find out more at The Orca Project)

(The following was derived from the original petition by Will Potter, see below)

Petitioning ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)

Petition by Will Potter

“Undercover investigations have exposed patterns of horrific animal welfare abuses on factory farms and slaughterhouses, and led to criminal convictions and public health investigations. Rather than addressing these problems, a powerful organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants to criminalize anyone who brings animal abuse to light.

I [Will Potter] have documented this extensively in my many years of journalism about the repression of animal and environmental advocates. You can read more about ALEC at GreenIsTheNewRed.com. ALEC wants to make it a crime to document patterns of animal abuse. It thinks the solution is to have zero checks and balances on this huge industry, and leave it up to factory farms and slaughterhouses to regulate themselves. 

In the past, whistleblowers (not farm owners or inspectors) have documented baby chicks being ground up alive, workers urinating near a live hanging area, and turkeys and pigs being sexually abused. Investigators caught a major school lunch meat supplier abusing cows who were too sick to even walk; this lead to the largest meat recall in US history. The Big Ag industry desperately want to put a stop to these investigations for one reason: money.

This bring us to “ag-gag” bills which target whistleblowers, undercover investigators, and journalists. They have been introduced in 9 states this year, and last year they became law in 3 states. Some go so far as to criminalize anyone who “possesses” or “distributes” photographs and YouTube videos. As NPR reported, this isn’t just about animal activists: these bills put journalists at risk.

Who is behind this? Big Ag corporations, working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has a model bill that labels whistleblowers, investigators, and those who share the footage as “terrorists.” You may be familiar with ALEC because this is the same force behind many efforts to weaken environmental protections and silence free speech online. If you care about safe food, environmental and animal protection, transparency, workers’ rights, or citizen-powered action, we need your voice!

Corporations want to use ALEC and “ag-gag” bills to keep the public in the dark. But consumers have a right to make safe, healthy, and humane decisions about what they buy.”  Written by Will Potter.

“Please sign to tell ALEC to back off and stop criminalizing those who are trying to stop animal cruelty.”




Candace Calloway Whiting has studied and trained marine mammals, and has degrees in biolog… More

Friday, April 5, 2013

The GOP Plan to Kill Americans

The GOP Plan to Kill Americans


By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
OpEdNews Op Eds

Rick Perry by http://www.thinkprogress.org
by Walter Brasch

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and vows to block the expansion of Medicaid in his state. At a news conference this past week, Perry, flanked by conservative senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, declared "Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration's attempt to force us into the fool's errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system." About one-fourth of all Texans do not have health care coverage .

According to an analysis by the Dallas Morning News, if Texas budgeted $15.6 billion over the next decade, it would receive more than $100 billion in federal Medicaid funds, allowing the state to cover about 1.5 million more residents, including about 400,000 children.

Texas isn't the only state to politicize health care.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says that expanding Medicaid is the "right thing to do," but the Republican-dominated state legislature doesn't agree. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) is having the same problem with his Republican legislature, although participation in Medicaid would save the state about $1.9 billion during the next decade. Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), one of the nation's most vigorous opponents of the ACA, surprisingly has spoken in favor of Medicaid expansion to benefit her state's residents.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and the Republican legislature oppose implementing the ACA and Medicaid expansion. Jindal says the expansion would cost Louisiana about $1 billion during the next decade. However, data analysis by the state's Department of Health and Hospitals reveals that if Louisiana accepted the federal program, which would benefit almost 600,000 residents, the state would actually save almost $400 million over the next decade. About one-fifth of all Louisianans lack health insurance .

Pennsylvania, by population, is a blue state, but it has a Republican governor, and both houses of the Legislature are Republican-controlled. Gov. Tom Corbett says he opposes an expansion of Medicaid because it is "financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers" and would require a "large tax increase." This would be the same governor who believes that extending a $1.65 billion corporate welfare check to the Royal Dutch Shell Corp., a foreign-owned company, is acceptable but protecting Pennsylvanians' health is not.

Fifteen states, dominated by Republican governorships and legislatures, by declaring they won't allow Medicaid expansion, are on record as placing political interests before the health of their citizens. Another 10 states are "considering" whether or not to implement additional health care coverage for their citizens. The Republican states, pretending they believe in cost containment, claim they oppose Medicaid expansion because of its cost, even though the entire cost for three years is borne by the federal government, the states would pay only 10 percent of the cost after that. The cost to the states would average only about 2.8 percent, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget office.

If all states agreed to the ACA expansion of Medicaid, 17--21 million low-income individuals would receive better health care. Among those would be about 500,000 veterans who do not have health insurance and whose incomes are low enough to qualify for health care, according to research compiled by the Urban Institute. Veterans don't automatically qualify for VA benefits. Even those who do qualify for VA assistance may not seek health care because they don't live close to a VA medical facility, and can't afford health care coverage closer to home. Spouses of veterans usually don't qualify for VA benefits.

Under the ACA, Medicaid health care would cover persons whose incomes are no more than 138 percent above the federal poverty line. That would be individuals earning no more than $15,856 a year, only about $800 above minimum wage. Among those covered by Medicaid expansion would be women with breast and cervical cancer, and those with mental or substance abuse problems.

Because they have no health insurance, 6.5 to 40.6 percent of Americans, depending upon the county they live in, delay necessary medical treatment, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The 6.5 percent rate is for Norfolk, Mass.; the 40.6 percent rate is in Hidalgo, Texas. (Most of Pennsylvania falls in the 6.5--13.4 percent rate.) Texas and Florida have the highest rates of residents who delay getting proper medical care because of a lack of adequate insurance.

Low-income individuals who delay getting medical care because of the cost often develop further complications, some of them catastrophic. The medical bill that might be only a few hundred dollars, which would be covered if the recalcitrant states approved Medicaid expansion, could now become a bill in the thousands of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The hospitals would have to absorb those costs or force the patient into bankruptcy, which could impact dozens of other businesses. The Missouri Hospital Association reported if the state refused to accept Medicaid expansion, the state's health care industry would be forced to accept more than $11 billion in uncompensated costs.

But, let's assume that the medical condition isn't catastrophic, but just serious. Low-wage employees, most of whom have limited sick leave, might be forced to come to work so as not to lose the limited income they already earn. If their illness is a cold or flu, or some other contagious illness, they could infect others, both employees and customers. A waitress, fry cook, or day laborer in the
agricultural fields with no health insurance could cause massive problems.

Medical problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, not treated early would also lead to a severe physical disability, forcing the employee into becoming unable to work even a minimum-wage job. This, of course, reduces both income that could be put into the local business economy and a corresponding decrease in amount of taxes paid. That would trigger disability payments, which could raise taxes for those who are not yet disabled.

Research conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that expanding Medicaid coverage would result in a 6 percent reduction of deaths among adults 20 to 64 years old. According to that study, "Mortality reductions were greatest among older adults, nonwhites, and residents of poorer counties." For Texas, according to the research, expansion of the Medicaid coverage would result in about 2,900 fewer deaths; for Florida, it would be about 2,200 fewer deaths; for Pennsylvania, it would result in about 1,500 fewer deaths.

But, the real reason Republicans may not want Medicaid expansion could be for the same reason they have been pushing oppressive Voter ID laws to correct a problem that doesn't exist. Those who are most affected are those who generally are the low income wage earners and persons of color, most of whom--at least according to recent elections--don't vote for Republicans.

[Dr. Brasch's latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, geological, and economic impact of natural gas horizontal fracturing. He also investigates political collusion between the natural gas industry and politicians.]


Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional (more...)

Powerful Right-Wing Groups Are on a Stealth Mission to Make America Look Like Texas

Conservative think tanks are on the march, working to tear down organized labor and promote extreme right-wing policies in state capitols from Alaska to Florida.

This article was reported in collaboration with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, where Lee Fang is a reporting fellow. It is adapted from his new book, The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right, which is scheduled for publication on April 24 by the New Press.

The mood at the beginning of the meeting matched the weather: gray and dreary. The warm-up speaker told a joke about how local Republicans could merit placement on the endangered species list, which met with polite laughter. Talk of the most recent presidential election elicited audible groans.

Days after Barack Obama took the oath of office for his second term, about 400 GOP donors gathered in a downtown San Francisco hotel to hear Jim DeMint—who had just resigned from the Senate to take a $1-million-a-year job as head of the Heritage Foundation—explain the way forward.

“This is a battle we can win, and we are winning in many places around the country,” DeMint told the assembled donors confidently. He implored them to look beyond Washington, DC, and see that conservatives were scoring victories in state after state, citing the December move by Michigan Republicans to ram through anti-union legislation, as well as similar laws passed in Wisconsin and Indiana. Some of these victories would influence the Beltway as well. After all, the GOP’s control of state governments guaranteed that congressional districts were drawn in such a way that, in the 2012 elections, Republicans retained a thirty-three-seat majority in the House despite Democrats earning 1.3 million more votes for their candidates.

“You may not have heard about it,” DeMint continued. “We’ve been cultivating bright ideas, building coalitions and working with others like the State Policy Network to make these things happen.” SPN is a nonprofit that nurtures conservative think tanks in all fifty states; its president, Tracie Sharp, was sitting near the front at the event and was warmly acknowledged by the speakers several times.

By the end of DeMint’s presentation, which was punctuated by roaring applause, the audience—whose members included food processing tycoon Jerry Hume and wealthy Bay Area investor Nersi Nazari—seemed decidedly more cheerful. But DeMint’s pitch about promoting state-based political organs in networking groups like SPN wasn’t just bluster or salesmanship: Sharp is among the leading strategists who have made the right’s under-the-radar resurgence possible.
Other conservative leaders have spoken even more glowingly of the way that state-level political investments can shape the future of conservatism. “We have, us fellow warriors for liberty, a rendezvous with destiny,” said Henry Olsen, an American Enterprise Institute vice president, at a meeting of conservative think tank leaders last November at the Ritz-Carlton resort on Amelia Island, Florida. “Reagan’s generation did too, and their task was to plant the tree of liberty in the garden of Roosevelt. Our task is to protect that tree against the gales and gusts of Hurricane Barack, and to help nurture that tree so that it grows into a grove and forest.”

At the same event, Grover Norquist proclaimed that with SPN’s support, Republican governors might “turn their states into Texas or Hong Kong”—laboratories of the free market. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he added.
Though Democrats largely outperformed electoral expectations at the federal level last year, Republicans made significant gains in several states. The GOP is using this shift to redistribute wealth by cutting taxes on the rich while raising them on working-class citizens, largely through sales tax increases. What makes this year different from past Republican realignments, however, is the massive increase in funds available to conservative think tanks operating on the state level, as well as how these groups have made the goal of consolidating power through attacking unions and similar tactics central to their agenda.

These media-savvy organizations—which frequently employ former journalists to churn out position papers, news articles, investigations and social media content with a hard-right slant—bolster the pro-corporate lobbying efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Like ALEC, State Policy Network groups provide an ideological veil for big businesses seeking to advance radical deregulatory policy goals. Interviewed at the San Francisco event this past January, SPN’s Sharp maintained that her organization is loosely connected and has no coordinated agenda. But if the last four years are any guide, conservative think tanks are on the march, working from a similar script to tear down organized labor and promote extreme right-wing policies in state capitols from Alaska to Florida.

Financial support for SPN-affiliated think tanks has increased by tens of millions of dollars over the last four years, disclosures show. In areas with the most concentrated investments, particularly the Midwestern states referred to in DeMint’s speech, budgets for state-level political groups have doubled, outpacing their counterparts on the left. Without control of the White House, corporations anxious to push back against taxes and regulations, along with a cadre of wealthy right-wing donors, have invested in these state-level think tanks, partisan media outlets, training institutes and online advocacy efforts. Some existing organizations have been expanded, and others founded to fill what conservative planners viewed as a tactical void.

Americans for Prosperity, known largely for its affiliation with the billionaire Koch brothers and for organizing Tea Party rallies, is part of this state-focused spending spree. The group has opened new local chapters or more than tripled the funding for existing chapters in key states. This increased spending has helped Americans for Prosperity recruit conservative activists and deploy them during contentious policy debates. Audit reports collected by the New York State Attorney General’s office show that Americans for Prosperity went from spending about $4.9 million on state chapter activities in 2009 to $10.6 million in 2011, the last available disclosure. Those figures do not necessarily account for the television, radio and Internet advertising purchased by the group when lobbying on state policy issues (which has reportedly reached over $4 million in places like Wisconsin), or the ubiquitous bus tours it has sponsored around the country.

A key area of growth among state-level conservative think tanks involves efforts to develop nonprofit media. Founded in 2009, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has partnered with SPN and Americans for Prosperity to hire and train conservative reporters in nearly every state capital. In fact, many Americans for Prosperity officials now lead the center.

As Joe Strupp of Media Matters has reported, the Franklin Center’s stated mission is to take advantage of cutbacks at local papers: “Cash-strapped and under-staffed, local and regional newspapers often can’t provide the real information that voters need to make good decisions.” Strupp, who interviewed several local editors who reluctantly run the center’s syndicated content, noted that some stories covered by the group—including one claiming that a union traded free barbecue for votes in Wisconsin—turned out to be false.

The head of the Franklin Center, a former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, boasted that by 2011, the group had hired more than 100 journalists in forty-four states—virtually all of them placed at SPN-affiliated think tanks. In Tennessee, it hired an award-winning journalist, Clint Brewer, for over a year, while in Hawaii and other states, its affiliates ran multiple stories questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

Consultants associated with State Policy Network have also set up supposedly nonpartisan “government transparency” websites. These sites, which neglect the topic of highly paid government contractors while at times exaggerating the pay of public sector employees like teachers—have recently cropped up in almost every state. In Ohio, the Buckeye Institute, an SPN-affiliated think tank, provided the underlying data for a database on public employee pay, which came under criticism after the Associated Press reported that it was “riddled with errors and omissions.”

* * *

This latest project in conservative infrastructure building comes at a time when power is drifting away from political parties and other long-established organizations. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has accelerated this trend, with new Super PACs and attack-ad nonprofits springing up almost as fast as donors can write checks. The upgraded state echo chambers, led by SPN think tanks, seem particularly well-suited for this environment: they are fast-paced, Internet-savvy and dedicated to eliminating their perceived opposition.

Months before Scott Walker took the oath of office as Wisconsin’s forty-fifth governor, the groundwork for his controversial “budget repair bill,” which severely curtailed public sector collective bargaining rights, had already been laid. The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, founded in 2009 as the second SPN think tank in the state, had—along with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, an older state affiliate—published several studies calling for government leaders to tackle public sector employee bargaining. Specifically, they targeted teacher pay and benefits as the driver of the state’s budget ills. Unlike the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, the MacIver Institute waged its advocacy through YouTube videos and social media, including its own blog.
Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, explained later that it was “critically important” that the state think tanks used “digital media” advocacy and “not the traditional research and analysis…that we’re normally accustomed to doing.”

In January 2011, as Walker began his term, conservatives opened two new reporting outfits in the state. The Franklin Center helped sponsor one called Wisconsin Reporter, while American Majority, a group that helps train conservative activists, started another called MediaTrackers.org. The MacIver Institute bloggers, joined by these new reporting organizations, moved quickly to frame the debate, interviewing protesters who had gathered in Madison to try to stop the bill. The interviewers highlighted the radicals among the group, harshly criticized child participants and sought to rebut union arguments against the budget.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity began a “Stand With Walker” campaign in partnership with the MacIver Institute. The group aired over $342,000 worth of advertising to support the governor’s budget and also began a bus tour crisscrossing the state to drum up support. A turning point came when the MacIver Institute’s bloggers reported that a group of teachers on sick leave were being given fake doctors’ notes by volunteer physicians among the protesters. The story took off, garnering coverage by the local and national media; there was so much Internet traffic to the MacIver Institute’s website that the server crashed. “Tracie [Sharp] probably remembers the panicked phone call that she received from me trying to figure out a patch to fix the situation,” Healy recalled.

The Wisconsin groups went on to help re-elect a pro-Walker State Supreme Court judge and successfully fend off the attempt to unseat Walker himself in a recall election.

The strategy in Wisconsin—with several think tanks and nimble media outlets all coordinating to enact laws to weaken labor unions—also played out in Indiana, where Republicans enacted a right-to-work law, and in Ohio, where a bill to limit collective bargaining was passed (Ohio’s law was subsequently repealed by referendum in 2011). Then, in December 2012, Republicans in Michigan reversed a previous promise and enacted a right-to-work law during the post-election lame- duck session. Happening as it did in the cradle of private-sector union activism, this was perhaps the crowning achievement of the state-based conservative movement. (The Taft-Hartley Act allows states to enact right-to-work laws, which quickly erode unions by allowing workers to benefit from union contracts and negotiations without having to pay dues.)

While many legislators were caught off guard by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s announcement, space in the front of the capitol had been reserved weeks in advance by Americans for Prosperity’s state chapter to set up a booth in support of the effort. Likewise, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy—the SPN affiliate in Michigan, with two recently opened media outlets, Michigan Capitol Confidential and Watchdog Wire Michigan—produced an array of content, from a Pinterest page to short videos on why the state should change its law governing labor unions.

Labor unions, on the other hand, spend the majority of their limited resources on member services like bargaining; their political money is mostly spent on candidate donations rather than the kind of rapid-response permanent campaign now embraced by their opposition. The only labor-backed political group that could be compared to the SPN-affiliated Mackinac Center and its allies—an organization called Progress Michigan, which does political research and media outreach—has far fewer resources than its counterparts on the right. In 2010, according to the latest available disclosure for the three groups, the Mackinac Center and Americans for Prosperity’s state chapter outspent Progress Michigan by $4.6 million to a little over $700,000.

MediaTrackers.org sites and news outlets mirroring Wisconsin Reporter now exist in states across the country, augmenting the advocacy of the expanded Americans for Prosperity and SPN chapters. “There’s no counterweight,” says Lisa Graves, head of the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group in Madison. Graves notes that Wisconsin Reporter, among the other Franklin Center news sites set up in more than two dozen states, has acted as a syndication service, providing right-leaning news coverage to local media. “There’s no progressive wire service,” she adds.

Though many of the conservative groups involved in this strategy have claimed that their interest in promoting right-to-work laws or ending collective bargaining is about creating jobs or cutting spending, there is evidence to suggest that they are really seeking to eliminate unions across the board.
“Freedom is the issue at the core of this debate, and we want to ensure the citizens of Michigan understand this,” said Scott Hagerstrom, Americans for Prosperity’s state leader, in a press release following the passage of the right-to-work law. In a meeting for activists, however, Hagerstrom described his goals differently. “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation,” he said, “but really, what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

Speaking at a panel discussion in Dallas a year before the right-to-work law’s passage in Michigan, Mackinac Center president Joseph Lehman conceded that his group’s campaign to promote government transparency through hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests was really an effort to hurt the unions. “The strategic idea we had in mind was defunding unions,” he said. And while it’s too early to predict the result of the Michigan law, new figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Wisconsin and Indiana recorded the sharpest decline in union membership in recent history. Last year, Wisconsin’s union membership rolls dropped by 13 percent. The only state with a higher decrease was Indiana, which reportedly declined by 18 percent.

* * *

In their aggressive effort take out the opposition, SPN and its allies have at times used unscrupulous tactics. A MediaTrackers.org story late in the campaign last November claimed that the husband of Mark Pocan, a Democratic candidate for Congress, “threatened and harassed” a Republican volunteer named Kyle Wood over text messages. Wood, who also claimed he was beaten in his apartment for not supporting Pocan, later recanted his entire story as a hoax. But the MediaTrackers.org reporter never viewed the alleged text messages before spreading the claim.

MediaTrackers.org’s founder, Drew Ryun, the son of former Republican Congressman Jim Ryun, calls his group an “attack bloc component.” As he explained at an event with Sharp: “For so long, we as a conservative movement have thought good ideas will win the day. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Ryun added that public opinion could be shaped with technology like “search engine optimization” as well as with ”a little bit of pushing back and punching back.”

Before Ryun started working at MediaTrackers.org, his group American Majority had been training Tea Party activists to manipulate the rating systems on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon and create lower ratings for left-leaning movies and books. “Literally 80 percent of the books I put a star on, I don’t read,” said a staff member at an American Majority training session. “That’s how you control the online dialogue.”

And before State Policy Network focused its attention in 2011 on eliminating unions, the group helped propel the campaign against the low-income advocacy group ACORN. In 2008, one of its affiliates filed a racketeering suit against ACORN, alleging it was a criminal gang designed to commit voter fraud in Ohio—though no evidence existed of any illicit voting.

After James O’Keefe’s edited tapes of ACORN brought the organization to its knees the following year, the conservative videographer was invited to speak at multiple events held by these state-level think tanks. And when O’Keefe was caught tampering with wires in Senator Mary Landrieu’s office some months later, it was revealed that he’d plotted the idea at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, SPN’s Louisiana think tank, where he was scheduled to give a talk on “Exposing Truth: Undercover Video, New Media and Creativity.” Indeed, the Pelican Institute’s Robert Flanagan was one of his accomplices, dressing up as a telephone repairman in order to enter Landrieu’s office.

* * *

Consider these organizations as the spokes on a wheel. When a group of for-profit education companies sought legislation allowing online charter schools greater access to taxpayer dollars, it hired dozens of state lobbyists from coast to coast. In addition, however, the virtual-school companies tapped SPN to provide academic studies, talking heads for the local media, flip-cam-equipped journalists to quiz critics, and busloads of activists at state capitols.

Lobbyists with the school companies—including K12 Inc. and Connections Academy—drafted the legislation through ALEC. The State Policy Network groups acted, in essence, as ALEC’s public relations team to promote the laws. And it worked: by the end of 2011, sixteen states had passed laws expanding virtual education. The flow of campaign dollars and closed-door influence peddling still happened, as in any traditional corporate campaign to pass major legislation. The difference in this case, however, was a well-oiled operation that could deliver the appearance of a groundswell in demand for proprietary online charter schools, when little public support existed. Worse, the lobbying by SPN-affiliated think tanks overshadowed serious questions about these charter-school businesses, which despite their soaring profit margins have been roundly criticized for abysmal test scores and high dropout rates. Together, these new state-level groups have remade the political map, providing ideological cover for extreme conservative policies once thought of as politically toxic.

State Policy Network’s organizations have also operated as fronts for corporations seeking to cloak their business interests under an ideological veneer. The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy, a Pennsylvania-based affiliate of SPN that is pushing to pass right-to-work legislation, is financed in part by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, a lobbying group that represents US Steel, Hershey Foods, Sun Oil and many smaller firms. The lobbying group even provides office space for the Commonwealth Foundation and its media outlet, Pennsylvania Independent. The foundation has surged in size, with its budget climbing from $890,000 in 2008 to $1.95 million in 2011, the last available figure. The head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, Frederick Anton, has pushed right-to-work legislation for years. But this time, he’s being aided by grassroots organizers from Americans for Prosperity, as well as the media work of Pennsylvania Independent.

* * *

The pattern seen in the online education debate has been duplicated to pass corporate tax cuts, reductions to health and education programs, a rollback in state environmental laws, and other corporate and conservative priorities. In places like Minnesota and Louisiana, the playbook has been deployed to provide telecom companies with a greater monopoly by pushing to outlaw municipal fiber-optic broadband networks, a faster, cheaper alternative for consumers. (Notably, Comcast and Time Warner Cable helped sponsor the last State Policy Network retreat.)

When the Free State Foundation, a Maryland affiliate of SPN, testified in Congress in opposition to so-called net neutrality rules, which prevent Internet providers from setting discriminatory download and upload speeds based on content, the National Cable and Telecom Association quietly provided the small think tank with a grant of $85,000.

In 2010, when the Texas Public Policy Foundation filed similar comments to the FCC in opposition to net neutrality, the think tank received $76,500 from AT&T and $34,950 from Verizon, according to a leaked donor list.

Meanwhile, several family foundations financed by Koch Industries—a firm that produces chemicals and transportation infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking) and horizontal drilling for oil and natural gas—have helped with State Policy Network’s expansion. In turn, SPN think tanks from New York to California have attacked bills intended to create state-level regulations over fracking.
* * *
State Policy Network was founded on March 24, 1992, in South Carolina by Thomas Roe, a wealthy businessman, Reagan adviser and leader of the South Carolina Policy Council, a state think tank modeled after the Heritage Foundation. Now headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, SPN began as an effort to mobilize more than twenty state think tanks. Political Research Associates, a left-leaning investigative team, reported that the group quickly became a “government-in-waiting” for the wave of Republican governors elected in 1994. As SPN affiliates proposed broad tax cuts and privatization schemes, the Republican governors frequently hired policy professionals from the think tanks to help enact those ideas.

Though backed by some of the largest Republican donors in the country, including the Coors family and Richard Mellon Scaife, SPN also thrived in the 1990s by assisting the tobacco industry in packaging its resistance to tobacco taxes and health regulations as part of a “freedom agenda” for conservatives.
Sharp herself gained experience working at this nexus of influence. Records stored with the University of California, San Francisco, reveal that Philip Morris not only gave generous financial donations to SPN affiliates, but was heavily involved in drafting and disseminating content for the think tanks. Before assuming her current position, Sharp served as executive director of the Cascade Institute, a State Policy Network affiliate in Oregon. The UCSF archive shows that during her tenure, the Cascade Institute corresponded with Philip Morris’s state lobbyist in Salem on promoting opposition to tobacco taxes, including one instance where Cascade published an opinion piece by a doctor. The doctor’s column, which was faxed to the Philip Morris representative, warned that high cigarette taxes could lead to “drive-by shootings and mob-style assassinations—turf wars—over the control of black market cigarette sales.”
At a 2001 meeting for SPN, Sharp invited Joshua Slavitt, Philip Morris’s director of external affairs, to give a talk. “I know that many of you have worked with Philip Morris,” Slavitt said, according to a prepared text, adding: “It won’t surprise you that we believe it is in our enlightened self-interest to be part of the policy discussions that ultimately shape the environment in which we do business.” He ended his speech with specific recommendations for SPN leaders in requesting corporate contributions.

A look at the donors to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the SPN affiliate in Austin, provides a rare window illustrating how these think tanks operate today. The evidence shows that the Big Tobacco–era strategy has been embraced by other large corporations.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose leaders recently stirred up controversy for surreptitiously lobbying on behalf of the government of Malaysia, received the bulk of its money from more than seventy-five business interests, including firms like ConocoPhillips, Boeing, TXU Energy, ExxonMobil, AEP Texas and Devon Energy. The largest company on the donor list, Koch Industries, gave $159,834 through its Austin lobbyist, J. William Oswald, in addition to a $69,788 donation from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, a Koch family foundation run in part by Richard Fink, another executive with Koch’s lobbying operation. As The Texas Observer noted, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has focused much of its advocacy on issues pertaining to its corporate benefactors, including energy deregulation and opposition to Environmental Protection Agency rules to curb mercury, smog and carbon pollution.

The Texas donor list also reveals that Sharp has played a larger role in directly financing the expansion of her affiliates than was previously known. Public disclosures indicate that SPN distributed only $19,500 to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 2010. That modest amount, which is similar in size to grants given to other state think tanks, suggests that many of the groups do not rely on a central source of cash. But the leaked document shows Sharp as the contact for a donation of $300,000 from the “State Think Tank Fund,” as well as $195,000 from the “Government Transparency Fund” and $49,306 from SPN itself—a discrepancy of $524,806 compared with the disclosed grant. Neither the State Think Tank Fund nor the Government Transparency Fund appears on Guidestar.com or the Foundation Center, repositories for nonprofit and foundation disclosures.

Like many SPN affiliates, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has seen its budget steadily rise. In 2011, the group brought in $5.5 million in contributions, $2.4 million more than it raised in 2008. How the other state think tanks in SPN’s orbit are funded largely remains a mystery, since they, like many overtly political nonprofits, do not disclose their donors. A recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity shows that Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund that caters to wealthy individuals, has provided much of the funding for the recent expansion in state think tanks backed by the Franklin Center and SPN.

Under Sharp’s leadership, State Policy Network has grown, opening new think tanks (now numbering fifty-nine) and forging close relations with ALEC, which brings together conservative state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists to draft “model legislation.” In 2009, ALEC gave Sharp an award to thank her for “getting SPN members more involved” with the organization. “This special acknowledgement belongs to those who have put in dedicated time and energy through ALEC,” said Sharp, who accepted the award onstage with lobbyists from Verizon and Altria.

While progressive donors have also sought to fund targeted think tank and state media outlets in certain states—namely Colorado and, reportedly, Texas—there is no comparison in terms of size and scope, or in the underhanded tactics embraced by their ideological opponents.

Brian Rothenberg, head of ProgressOhio, notes that while family foundations exist on the right and the left, corporate money has flowed almost exclusively to conservative think tanks. “Especially after Citizens United,” he says, “the right is inherently better funded than the left.” In 2011, during the effort to repeal Governor John Kasich’s collective bargaining law, unions still provided less than 20 percent of ProgressOhio’s budget.

As far as local labor activists like Brett Banditelli (who also produces the Rick Smith radio show in Harrisburg) are concerned, their side is already overwhelmed. The Franklin Center’s Pennsylvania Independent “doesn’t have much readership, but does an incredible job of setting the tone on attacks on unions before the attacks come,” says Banditelli, who notes the Legislature might first go after union pensions before changing any membership or collective bargaining rules. Banditelli says labor has been slow to adapt to the changing media environment, and teachers and workers now stand defenseless.
Also, Republicans who were newly elected in 2012 seem intent on consolidating power. Missouri’s GOP state legislators have contemplated using their supermajority to enact right-to-work legislation. The Advance Arkansas Institute, the SPN affiliate in Little Rock, produced content pushing for the strict voter ID laws recently passed by the legislature—which became Republican this year for the first time since Reconstruction.

Similarly, the Americans for Prosperity chapter in Kansas has pushed an effort to undercut paycheck dues to public sector unions this year, while the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a North Carolina think tank, has rolled out attacks against Democratic efforts to reform the state’s infamously gerrymandered congressional lines.

Tim Phillips, the national head of Americans for Prosperity and a close adviser to David Koch, has been clear about his intention to make the most out of the Republicans’ state-level gains. Speaking at a recent press conference in Indianapolis, he declared: “We see a debate going on at the state level that is really going to define the nation.”

Meanwhile, at another Heritage Foundation gathering, Sharp and her colleagues said that their new strategy had been inspired in part by a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker called “How David Beats Goliath.” The piece, which details the ways that underdogs can win playing by their own rules, offers anecdotes on how insurgents have defeated well-equipped armies by harassing and weakening their opponents. It also describes how a computer scientist won a naval warfare simulation by spending his fictional trillion-dollar budget almost entirely on PT boats.

Referring to the Gladwell article, Sharp said PT boats are “an apt metaphor” for her network of groups because “they’re fast and maneuverable. A team of PT boats working strategically can defeat much larger and less maneuverable vessels—such as huge chunks of unions.”

In his blog, appearing regularly at TheNation.com, Lee Fang investigates the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy. His latest dispatch: “Microsoft Helps Sponsor CPAC's Anti-Gay Conference.”