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ALEC, Slimy Cousins Are Still Coming After Us

Much of the money behind ALEC’s corporate infiltration of state legislatures is also behind two other secretive groups – the State Policy Network and Watchdog.org – a new report shows.

The State Policy Network finances more than 60 ideological “think tanks” that masquerade as independent policy organizations, according to a report from the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy.

Two of these state think tanks – which the report playfully shortens to “stink tanks” – are in Minnesota: the Center of the American Experiment and the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

The State Policy Network follows a playbook similar to ALEC’s. ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – thrives by disseminating cut-and-paste “model legislation” that is written by corporate lobbyists.

Similarly, the stink tanks in the State Policy Network publish deceptive, academic-type research, sometimes cloning language from state to state. Their research isn’t intended to provide objective evaluation; instead, it typically disseminates corporate and right-wing ideology and wish lists.

Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, for example, sought $40,000 from the State Policy Network to orchestrate a campaign attacking public employee pensions, according to documents obtained by The Guardian newspaper. An earlier batch of State Policy Network reports promoted anti-union “right to work” legislation in multiple Midwestern states.

Dragging ALEC, accomplices into the light

In 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy helped expose ALEC, its role as a corporate front group, and the money behind it. Council 5 members called out and confronted Minnesota legislators who paid dues, attended ALEC meetings, and pushed ALEC’s legislation.

That state and national exposure cost ALEC more than 400 legislative members, more than 60 corporate members, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues and sponsorship revenue, according to documents obtained by The Guardian.

But many of the same donors from the 1 percent are still at it. They and their foundations still bankroll ALEC. And the Koch Brothers, Walmart heirs, and others continue to pursue the same goals by also pouring money into the State Policy Network, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

The tax-exempt status of the network’s stink tanks lets them keep the names of their donors secret. Nonetheless, documents show the State Policy Network is supported by the likes of the Koch-funded Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, the Searle Freedom Trust, Wisconsin’s Bradley Foundation, and the Coors family’s Castle Rock Foundation.

The policy network, the report says, serves as a middle man: It funnels millions of dollars from corporate sources into stink tanks, which churn out policy sludge for right-wing causes. Just as in Minnesota, the network is financing campaigns in other states to “reform” public pensions, reduce state revenue, and weaken collective bargaining, according to grant requests obtained by The Guardian.

A Republican clubhouse

The center’s report also details how staff and board slots at both Minnesota stink tanks are packed with Republican operatives and campaign donors. Examples:

  • Scott Honour, a Republican candidate for governor, is a Center of the American Experiment board member.
  • Another board member, Molly Corrigan Cronin, chairs the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Mike McFadden.
  • Another board member, Robin Norgaard Kelleher, is an attorney at Seaton, Beck & Revnew – the state’s most blatant, anti-union law firm. It is in cahoots with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is trying to overturn union rights for child-care providers in Minnesota and to undermine workers nationwide.

The Center of the American Experiment is also the source of the “Minnesota Policy Blueprint.” That book was a road map for Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Republican legislators in their quest to cut taxes on the rich, give free reign to businesses, outsource public services, and eliminate public workers.

This story is adapted from the January-February 2014 edition of Council 5’s Stepping Up magazine.

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