December 6, 2013

Back in 2011, I put my tin foil hat on and suggested that perhaps ALEC was promoting coordinated attacks on unions, schools, and health care across the nation. At the time, there was certainly a sense that they were, but no hard evidence.

Hard evidence has now arrived in the form of a revealing and rage-inducing set of documents published in The Guardian on Thursday.

Conservative groups across the US are planning a coordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment,documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as "free-market think tanks", includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The policy goals are contained in a set of funding proposals obtained by the Guardian. The proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level.

The documents contain 40 funding proposals from 34 states, providing a blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014. In partnership with the Texas Observer and the Portland Press Herald in Maine, the Guardian is publishing SPN's summary of all the proposals to give readers and news outlets full and fair access to state-by-state conservative plans that could have significant impact throughout the US, and to allow the public to reach its own conclusions about whether these activities comply with the spirit of non-profit tax-exempt charities.

The documents not only show these organizations' plans for how to serve their oligarchs at the expense of ordinary people, they also reveal a player most people don't hear much about: Searle Freedom Trust. Searle Freedom Trust is closely tied to Donor's Trust, the donor-advised slush fund for conservative causes.

The grant requests made by the state policy think tanks targeted public pensions, unions, teachers, and health care policy. All are framed as long-held right wing policy goals. Furthermore, that Searle Freedom Trust link leads straight back to the Wall Street Journal, via Stephen Moore, who somehow always fails to disclose his relationship to Searle when he writes op-eds in furtherance of the same goals.

The trust, founded in 1998, draws on the family fortune of the late Dan Searle of the GD Searle & Company empire – now part of Pfizer – which created NutraSweet. The trust is a major donor to such mainstays of the American right and the Tea Parties as Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the Heartland Institute and the State Policy Network itself.

SPN's link to Searle, the Guardian documents show, was Stephen Moore, an editorial writer with the Wall Street Journal. Moore, who advises Searle on its grant-giving activities, was asked by SPN to rank the proposals in two halves – a "top 20" and "bottom 20". It is not known how many of the 40 proposals were approved for funding, nor which may have been successful.

Moore told the Guardian that he is an unpaid adviser to the Searle Foundation, having been a lifetime family friend to Dan Searle. He said the grant decisions were made by Searle's sons and grandsons based upon the late businessman's "commitment to the advancement of free enterprise and individual rights".

That whole claim that he's unpaid is supposed to tell us he has no bias as a result of his activities. Never mind that his op-eds bolster, echo, or justify the case these policy shops churn out.

If the metaphor is a Kochtopus, think of the State Policy Network as one tentacle. It hands off its "policy research" to lawmakers and bill mills like ALEC, who are also tentacles. The dark money organizations are yet another tentacle, as are the "grassroots" organizations like Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity.

PRWatch has a great table of the relationships between these "stink tanks", ALEC, and state legislation introduced or passed as a result of their activity. I highly recommend it.

I don't think we've seen all of the tentacles yet. But we are definitely getting a better picture.

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