ALEC, Gannett, Pence & Kochs: Partners in Deceiving Hoosiers?

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MUNCIE, Indiana – While writing this article yesterday and watching the World Cup match between Netherlands vs. Costa Rica, I kept getting flashbacks from the greatest con movie ever made – The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It’s a classic. The con artists run an elaborate scheme on a bad guy and take a whole bunch of his money – we enjoy the movie because the victims are bad guys, so it makes you feel like justice won out. The Sting was a Hollywood production where you can manufacture happy endings. In the real world, con games are run on innocent people – naïve, gullible, simple, and even the vulnerable. Unfortunately, in our story, it’s all the above and the victims are Hoosiers.

First, we fell victim to the “anti-Obama” and “anti-government” fervor which began after Obama took office in 2008. It peaked around 2010 with all the Tea Party hoopla. Our prejudice was used against us. We fell prey to “Dog-Whistle Politics“. Haney Lopez writes:

Republicans for 50 years have told voters, the biggest threat in your life is that minorities are going to hijack government. That government has been taken over and now serves them. So when white voters vote against the government, they think they’re voting against minorities. But in fact, they’re voting to give over control of government back to the very rich, back to the big corporations.

The result is a super-majority of white republicans in Indianapolis, and we followed that up by putting  a Tea Party Evangelical in the governor’s mansion. We’re pretty sure many voters are regretting their votes, while the remaining misinformed citizens/voters continue beating their Tea Party drums.

This is music to the ears of the Billionaire Libertarian Koch brothers who fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Several months back, our Governor was invited to be a featured speaker for an ALEC event in New York, and he returned the favor several weeks ago by inviting ALEC to his closed Tax Reform Summit featuring Ronald Reagan’s infamous tax policy curve ball thrower – Arthur Laffer.

As a quick refresher, ALEC is a Washington, DC based group that is funded by corporations and the super-rich who pay $7,000 to $25,000 to be members. Its members are in turn granted access to state legislators so they can propose model legislation benefiting their corporate interests.

“If it’s good for the wealthy and large corporations, then it’s good for Americans”. We’ve been told this for decades, but what have been the results? Even our Pope writes about the terrible injustice of our global economic inequality.

We’ve written about ALEC many times in Muncie Voice, most notably here, here and here. They are part of the scam being played against Americans, but ALEC’s goals are to influence state capitols, like Indianapolis.

Many of our readers are familiar with ALEC, but not from main stream newspapers – especially not from the Gannett owned newspapers in Indiana. As voters/citizens/subscribers, you should be asking, “Why not?”.

Another refresher, the free and independent press was granted constitutional powers to hold government accountable while the government held capitalists accountable.  The Fourth Estate (press) was an important part to our free and democratic society. The founders could not have imagined that our free press would use their special powers to collude with government and capitalists, but most of them have done so.

If you don’t believe me, head over to the local Muncie StarPress and type “ALEC” in the Search area and see what pops up. This is a newspaper that is supposed to inform citizens-voters-readers-subscribers. Their primary role is to hold the government accountable,  yet they are either ignorant of ALEC – the most influential organization shaping Indiana legislature for the past ten years, or they’ve chosen to support their efforts by keeping quiet and not exposing them.

I hear local business men and women all the time claim, “The StarPress is a neutral, unbiased, objective newspaper”.

How can anyone with a rational brain make that claim? It only takes one minute to do a search – here is a link to the newspaper – http://www.thestarpress.com/.

After you do the search and find nothing, you must ask, “Why is the newspaper refusing to discuss the most influential organization in the Midwest today?

Can you think of any legitimate reason for them concealing relevant information from Hoosiers? If our lawmakers are being courted by ALEC members and flown to Denver to meet chief executives, so they can personally lobby for favored treatment, and receive campaign donations in return, wouldn’t our local newspapers want to tell Hoosiers? If our Governor is being flown to speak at fundraising events in New York, don’t you think a few lines in the newspaper would be relevant?

Some might say the reporters in Muncie aren’t smart enough, but this isn’t a reasonable excuse for a paper the size of Gannett – they own the USA Today. They have access to independent reporters, so why won’t they publish anything about the conservative billionaires. We’re sure they accept their money for negative advertisements come election time, but it’s getting very hard to verify the buyers of ads with the use of phantom and phony corporate shells – that’s a whole other article.

So, I checked Gannett’s flagship in Indiana – the IndyStar. I found references to ALEC in a couple of articles, but not in a featured article. No articles written by journalists informing Hoosiers about who ALEC is and the influence they’ve had on shaping Right-to-Work, Right-to-Farm, and other model corporate legislation in Indiana. Our gutted public education system is a direct result of ALEC legislation, and so is the non-existent environmental regulations causing us to breathe the dirtiest air in the nation.

So, here we have the largest newspaper in Indiana, at the epicenter of our political structure, but not one column about ALEC which has influenced Hoosier lawmaking for a decade.

Hard to believe, huh? It gets worse.

While doing the search for this article, I did find an interesting Op/Ed written on June 23rd, in advance of Governor Pence’s Tax Reform Summit. The article titled, “Indiana Needs Comprehensive Tax Reform“, was written by Maurice McTigue and Bob Williams:

McTigue, a former cabinet minister and member of Parliament in New Zealand, is vice president for outreach with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Williams, a former state legislator and gubernatorial candidate in Washington state, is president of State Budget Solutions.

Sounds very official, right? Authoritative and academic. With these impressive credentials, they must know what they’re talking about, right? We should trust what these guys have to say, right?

Well, Mercatus Center at George Mason is in the center of the ALEC organization. We contacted Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and publisher of PRWatch.org, ALECexposed.org. She said, “Bob Williams was also in the thick of ALEC” and referred us to a mini-bio stating:

The Mercatus Center was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations. According to financial records, the Koch family has contributed more than $30 million to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. Democratic strategist Rob Stein described the Mercatus Center as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of.”

Williams is also a visiting fellow with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center State and Local Policy Project, a Charles Koch-funded project. He is also the president of State Budget Solutions, which partners with the Koch-funded Evergreen Foundation

According to State Budget Solutions website:

State Budget Solutions (SBS) is a non-partisan, non-profit, national public policy organization with the mission to change the way state and local governments do business.

State Budget Solutions produces studies, articles, reports and compelling narrative about the critical issues that affect state and local budgets, including pension reform, health care and education. SBS engages state leaders, journalists and others on positive reforms aimed at improving the functionality of government.

It took about thirty minutes to make the connection between “State Budget Solutions” and ALEC. They recruit journalists to tell them how free market policies (privatizing government) are “positive reforms for local governments”. These are billionaires who do not want to be regulated because they own dirty businesses. The Utopian government for these guys is no government. They don’t even want elections. No democracies…let the free market manage itself.

How is this non-partisan?

It’s just another “Astroturf organization” fronted by the billionaire Koch brothers. The Koch brothers pay these guys to create studies which support free market ideas – Austrian economics. Supply side economics. Trickle-down economics. Reaganomics. Climate deniers, etc.

These “economic policies” are based on the notion that if you cut taxes and make things better off for the wealthy, then it’s good for everybody. We’ve operated under this theory in America for the past 30 years. Again, the results have been disastrous for the majority of Americans.

Here’s exactly what we’ve learned about “trickle-down economics”, by cutting taxes on the wealthy, two things will occur:

  1. The government will collect less revenue, and
  2. The wealthy will get to keep more money.

Arthur Laffer’s theories were put into place by Ronald Reagan in the early 80’s, and the direct result was the greatest income and wealth gap in America’s history since the Gilded Age of Robber Barons. Significant wealth was transferred from the 99% to the 1%. Actually, more like to the 0.10%.

But, hey, don’t take our word for it. Jump on Amazon or head over to Books a Million. In case you haven’t heard about it, there’s a new book by Thomas Piketty called, “Capital in the Twenty-first Century”, which has swept nations by storm. It’s been at the center of global conversations for most of 2014. We talked about it here. Piketty spends over 600 pages explaining how bad things have gotten in the United States and why. He was dismayed with American economists, and has no problem pointing to one of worst offenders – the engineer of trickle-down economics himself – Arthur Laffer.

To be honest, we thought Laffer’s theories were officially laughed out of the country years ago. Then, after we heard several of the conversations with Piketty, we thought it would be the last we ever heard of Art Laffer and his theories. Piketty’s research and writing drove nails into Laffer’s credibility coffin.

Yet, here we are in late 2014 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana with ALEC, the Koch brothers, and Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence embracing this economic hack.

Erica Williams and Nicholas Johnson, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, say this about ALEC and Laffer:

In their analyses, ALEC and Laffer make many exaggerated claims, present misleading data, commit basic statistical errors, and do not control for other factors known to affect economic growth.  They use techniques that manipulate data in ways that violate accepted standards of research.  ALEC-related writings that experts have strongly criticized include a report by Laffer and his consulting firm for the Florida legislature on property taxes; a study by Laffer’s firm on the state income tax in Oklahoma; a study by Laffer and a colleague on the estate tax in Tennessee; and an op-ed by Laffer for the Wall Street Journal on states with income taxes, among others.

I think economic hack is about right.

As far as we’re concerned, Gannett Media and their Hoosier owned newspapers must be part of this con game being played on Hoosiers by ALEC and the Koch brothers. If Governor Mike Pence is truly looking to Art Laffer for guidance on Indiana tax reform, he can’t be taken serious as a contender for President in 2016. He can’t even be taken serious as Indiana’s governor.

Hoosiers, you’ve invited a Virginia newspaper into our state who has sold you out to a Koch brothers free-market ALEC backed agenda. Their self-serving agenda has devastated millions of families in Indiana, the Midwest, and much of the United States.

Instead of Gannett using their journalistic powers to seek out the truth, holding corporate and political shills accountable, they’ve opened their newspaper to these con men so they can trick an unsuspecting public. They’ve allowed their paper to be propaganda spreaders of policies which have hurt Hoosiers, not helped. They’ve run a shell game on Hoosiers because it’s profitable – plain and simple. The worse part is – we’re paying them to trick us.

ALEC organized this event for Governor Mike Pence and used their own Astroturf ringers to write Op/Eds in Gannett owned newspapers. They are Koch and ALEC paid shills – nothing more. They’ll write whatever they are paid to write. These are the “good people” Governor Mike Pence, the great evangelical, has invited into our state to dictate legislation for us.

Sure they’ve got the money to get him into the Whitehouse, but what about “Hoosier values, ethics and morals”. These are the same guys and gals who pull the strings of Congressman Messer and Senator Dan Coats – industry sell outs and flim-flam men.

So, you can expect more theatrics from all these grifters during the upcoming legislative period as they push ALEC’s Tax Policies on unsuspecting Hoosiers with the help of Gannett owned newspapers across the state.

As our good friend, and author of “Hoosier School Heist”, Doug Martin recommends, “Hoosiers should be boycotting these newspapers, not buying them”.  We agree.

The only Hoosier newspaper to catch this public relations stunt was our neighbor to the north, the editors at the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne who wrote:

The carefully scripted and managed event this month is destined to produce recommendations reflecting the views of its carefully chosen participants. Tax policies that will affect all Hoosiers – children, retirees, the unemployed, the self-employed, property owners, renters and more – shouldn’t have their genesis in a closed-door forum (Emphasis added).

The problem is the “genesis” has already been designed in a “closed-door forum” – meetings held with lawmakers, corporate executives, Charles and David Koch, Art Laffer, Bob Williams, hack economists from George Mason, and a whole bunch of ALEC paid shills from academia hiding under the cover of phony “think-tanks” like Indiana Policy Review and State Budget Solutions. The con wouldn’t be complete without someone lending credibility to their scam – that’s where Gannett-owned Indiana newspapers come into play. Start boycotting these newspapers:

  • The Indianapolis Star
  • Journal and Courier, Lafayette
  • Chronicle-Tribune, Marion
  • The Star Press, Muncie
  • Palladium-Item, Richmond

Just like in the movie Sting, part of the con has already been played on Hoosiers. Nearly a decade of policies being implemented in Indianapolis by lawmakers with little or no accountability from our largest journalistic entities within the state.  Hoosiers better wake up and inform themselves soon, or we’ll be handing over our briefcase full of money to the con artists while they vanish in the wind…

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About Author

Journalist, entrepreneur, publisher and ethical leader with a passion for truth seeking. Enjoy cycling, yoga, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter. Wellness advocate who practices servant style leadership.

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