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Ear to the Ground

Conservative Coalition Prepares Public Sector Attacks Across 34 States

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Posted on Dec 5, 2013

After revelations this week about the legislative agenda of the Koch brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, documents obtained by The Guardian give a closer look into a coordinated assault by conservative groups across the U.S. against public sector rights and services in education, health care, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment.

The Guardian reports:

The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as “free-market thinktanks”, 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 majority of the “thinktanks” involved in the proposals organized under the State Policy Network are registered as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from paying taxes by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are supposed to obey strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they can do. The Guardian reports that several of the grant bids contained in the documents it obtained propose the launch of “media campaigns” geared toward changing state laws and policies. Others refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings” in ways that can be construed as lobbying.

The documents also reveal funding arrangements behind radical right-wing campaigns. The State Policy Network has members in all 50 states and a yearly budget of $83 million collected from major corporate donors including the Koch brothers, tobacco company Philip Morris, food corporation Kraft and international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The Guardian continues:

SPN gathered the grant proposals from the 34 states on 29 July. Ranging in size from requests of $25,000 to $65,000, the plans were submitted for funding to the Searle Freedom Trust, a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes.

… The proposals in the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents go beyond a commitment to free enterprise… They include:

• “reforms” to public employee pensions raised by SPN thinktanks in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania;

• tax elimination or reduction schemes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska and New York;

• an education voucher system to promote private and home schooling in Florida;

• campaigns against worker and union rights in Delaware and Nevada;

• opposition to Medicaid in Georgia, North Carolina and Utah.

Read more about the effort here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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