Here in Minnesota, there’s an organization called The Center of the American Experiment. It describes itself as ” a nonpartisan, tax-exempt, public policy and educational institution”, which means it must live by a fairly strict set of guidelines to avoid taxation. Despite being “non-partisan” the Center is an avowedly conservative collection of people formed into what is commonly described as a “think tank.” The best known face of the group is Katharine Kersten, former full-time, now part-time Star Tribune columnist.
The principal executive and flesh-presser is founder and president, Mitch Pearlstein, an affable, engaging character who has managed to keep the group’s visibility higher than most of its ilk for 25-odd years. Well, Mitch is currently engaged in and I suspect enjoying a public tussle with one of the great conservative betes noires of his time, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, he of stifling-the-freedom-of-our-money-lenders-to-do-what-they-need-to-do-on-behalf-of-The People fame.
In a nutshell Durbin wrote Mitch a letter asking him to reveal, publicly and transparently, the Center’s financial relationship with the, some say, (hell, I say), notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Durbin correctly smells the ALEC’s territory markings all over the “Stand Your Ground” laws that suddenly/simultaneously blossomed in practically every state in the country, red states first.
Mitch is outraged! So much so he fired off a commentary in the Strib this past week accusing Durbin of everything short of being an agent for the Stasi. (As I say, this sort of “heavy hand of big government” is red meat for The Center, so you can hardly blame them for making an assault on their fundamental freedoms a cause celebre.)
A couple of choice moments from Mitch (and COO Kim Crockett’s) piece.
“There has been a steady drumbeat against ALEC for several years now from various points on the left-wing spectrum. For example, the Center for Media and Democracy has a massive website dedicated to intimidating corporate donors in hopes of defunding ALEC. ALEC is a nonprofit organization devoted to limited government, free markets and federalism. It provides model legislation — mostly on economic issues — to legislators and free-market-policy organizations like American Experiment — and to anyone else who goes to its website.”
Now, with all due respect to Mr. Pearlstein, I think it’s a bit of stretch to imagine Durbin doing much to threaten funding of the ALEC. Durbin would have better opportunities defunding the Federal Reserve. The ALEC is by any objective analysis one of the best endowed “non-profits” that has ever existed anywhere on the planet. In fact, I would be very interested in Mitch or Ms. Crockett or Ms. Kersten denying or even correcting any factual errors in this analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Point being, what Durbin and liberal watchdog groups are doing — and succeeding at to some extent — is raising awareness of how the ALEC works, which is often in conjunction with regional “think tanks” like Mitch’s Center. And yes, the Koch brothers’ velvet claws are all over the ALEC, ditto Pete Coors in Colorado, Richard Scaife in Pittsburgh, ExxonMobil and a couple dozen other major corporations, all of whom are eager to use the mostly opaque, non-profit, tax-free thinky tanky system to fly in conservative legislators for regular, upscale inculcation in the art of doing right by those who can truly matter in the next campaign.
So, no. “De-funding” isn’t a grave concern for the ALEC, although I wonder if it might be for “think tanks” a notch down the food chain if the ALEC, exposed to enough sunlight to cause anxiety for publicly-held companies, began losing the effectiveness it has shown in state legislatures.
Mitch also said, “[Durbin] is now attempting to intimidate ALEC’s supporters as part of his ‘hearing’.
This is where it gets unsettling — especially in this age of politically motivated IRS audits. Durbin said in his letter that certain unidentified ‘public documents’ tied us to funding ALEC, and that as a result he was ‘seeking clarification’ on two questions:
1) Has the Center of the American Experiment served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?
2) Does our organization support the ‘stand your ground’ legislation that was adopted as a national model and promoted by ALEC?”
The way that is written conjures an image of Durbin slapping his SS jodhpurs with his riding crop and demanding Pearlstein prove he’s stopped beating his wife and worshipping pagan idols. Because in reality, all Durbin is doing is daring Mitch and the Center to come clean (or not) about how the money flows and how on-board they are with one of the more noxious and cynical base-pandering items on the ALEC’s standard agenda.
Given the freedom granted Mitch — by the government — to not pay taxes on cash rolling into the Center I don’t see why some basic transparency is so onerous.
Mitch also writes, “There is a difference … between private organizations organizing boycotts or protests and public officials using their power to intimidate people who express views with which those officials disagree.”
To which I think it is only fair and logical to reply, “Yes. But if these ‘private organizations’ demand complete institutional privacy, it’d be in their best interests to decline the substantial government subsidy of not paying taxes. They would a purer argument then for organizing whatever they’re being directed to organize by those giving them money’.”
Also, private note to Mitch: Rolling in lines like, ” … in this age of politically motivated IRS audits” is silly dog whistle stuff for the credulous echo chamber. At this point Darrell Issa’s IRS/Tea Party non-scandal has been so thoroughly debunked as exclusively targeting conservative groups the only people who still want to believe it have already contributed to the ALEC … or the Center of the American Experiment.