03/27/2006 How the Right Wing Organizes Locally

Monday, March 27, 2006

In this week's Dispatch, we turn our eye to two case studies of how the rightwing organizes at the local and state level. And we let you know how you can research the right in your own state. Let us know what you find!


The Right Targets San Diego

While conservative organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have coordinated takeovers of state legislative agendas across the country�a reality documented in our report, Governing the Nation from the Statehouses � they are usually helped locally by a range of organizations and political networks that the rightwing have been funding for years.

One of the best recent documentations of this process of local operations was a report by San Diego's Center on Policy Initiatives entitled Target San Diego: The Rightwing Assault on Urban Democracy and Smart Government. Increasingly, urban regions are becoming the testing ground for a whole new range of tactics and CPI's report gives local leaders a blueprint on what to expect.

Along with detailing how ALEC, local think tanks like the Claremont Institute and the Pactific Research Institute, the Project for California's Future and the Reason Foundation have coordinated campaigns against progressive government in the city, the report highlights a new institutional component of the rightwing�private companies laundering federal and state government grants into rightwing lobbying campaigns.

The key player in this game in San Diego is the Performance Institute, receiving millions in federal grants, money that undergirded the Performance Institute's reports in support of Governor Schwartzenneger's privatization campaign in 2005. PI's head Carl DeMaio also set up the San Diego Citizens Budget Project to derail progressive initiatives by the recently elected progressive majority on the city council, an effort backed by a well-funded 527 committee and coordinated media operation to push its agenda.

As the CPI report details, the problem for progressives is that while they often have lots of vibrant, if under-funded local organizations, they "tend to be fragmented and uncoordinated, and in many cases completely unaware of what local or citywide right wing think tanks are doing." Reading Target San Diego is a good place for progressives to get a guide to how these right wing groups operate at the local level and how to better coordinate our response to them.


Wyoming: A Case Study in ALEC

Wyoming faces an ongoing saga of attemps by ALEC to steer legislation while pretending that all of their actions are homegrown. Local businessman Brett Glass became dismayed when a telecom "deregulation" bill was introduced that would destroy his business but would be a major help to Qwest.

Soon, he tied the legislation to Qwest, the American Legislative Exchange Council (of which Qwest is a member), and a state Representative who has taken huge contributions from Qwest and who serves on the Board of Directors of ALEC. For a self-described Jeffersonian conservative, the revelations about his own citizen legislature were hard to believe. But the evidence was clear: some legislators were choosing to curry favor with national corporations at the expense of their constituents.

Glass fought back and won, managing to prevent Qwest's bill from being introduced under special rules that apply during budget sessions in Wyoming. He also got the media's attention. Casper's Star Tribune turned a critical eye on ALEC.

Glass is still worried about the legislation coming back next year. And while he has heard that ALEC members in the legislature use their near-majority status to bully other legislators who question their corporate conservative, he still doesn't know who ALEC's members in the statehouse are. Despite doing the people's work, ALEC refuses to release a membership list. Even worse, they've recently amended state law to make draft legislation processes secret, making it more difficult to determine the origins of legislation, including ALEC model bills.

As the Star Tribune makes clear, the problem with ALEC isn't its public claim to believe in a Jeffersonian line of conservatism -- limited government, federalism, and fiscal restraint. Instead, the problem is that ALEC's real focus is on corporate profit and hurting liberals for purely political gain. And in the process, simple good government provisions like "sunlight" rules end up as collateral damage.

Principled conservative legislators are a breath of fresh air when compared to the corporate tools who work on ALEC's behalf in statehouses across the country. It's clear that Wyomingites are waking up to that fact. That's a good sign for their state.


Researching the Corporate Right Wing in Your State

A good place to start in researching your local corporate-backed policy outfits is the State Policy Network; pick your state on the linked map and you'll be able to see a list of "free market" think tanks in your local area. While there is a lot of overlap, you can also check out the map of state groups listed by Americans for Tax Reform.

Also check out these key national groups with links to local chapters or coalitions:

If you want to check out who is funding your local rightwing opponents, visit the Media Transparency database, where you can type in a conservative group's name and see which foundations or other sources are funding it. There is a wealth of other information on the site tracking rightwing organizations and the money funding them.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has issued a series of reports tracking conservative funding of public policy, while the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch is a collaborative site that allows you to search for background on a range of conservative and business-backed organizations. And the National Institute on Money in State Politics tracks political donations to state campaigns broken down by candidate, contributor or special interest.

Other good progressive resources analyzing the rightwing include:

The first step in fighting these local conservative think tanks and policy operations is educating local political officials and media outlets where their money is coming from and what special interests have a stake in their policy proposals.

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Last Thursday's Dispatch incorrectly stated that the minimum wage ballot initiative in Michigan would raise the minimum wage to $7.40. In reality, the $7.40 figure appears in the bill being pushed by rightwing legislators. Rightwing legislators are attempting to undercut the initiative that ties the minimum wage to cost-of-living adjustments. The Republican bill would provide a higher minimum wage than the initiative for a period of several years. In the long term, the initiative would be a better deal for workers.

Eye on the Right

Nothing quite infuriates the right like the occasions when govermnent works properly. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' chief information officer opened the city's wireless network to the general public, creating an economic lifeline. Now that rebuilding is starting, Google and other companies are offering to expand the network. The telecommunications companies are fighting hard to block the move, even going so far as to push to make it illegal to make such networks available in emergencies.


Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch