Stink Tanks — Or: When Is a Lobbyist Not A Lobbyist?
Something stinks in statehouses across the United States — and that something is called the State Policy Network (SPN). An $83 million right-wing empire, “SPN and its affiliates push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income” all while masquerading as proponents of working class Americans.
SPN would have us believe that it is an association of nonpartisan and independent state-level “think tanks.” In reality, twelve new reports released Wednesday from the Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now expose a sophisticated and heavily-funded tool to drive policy by, for, and of the very wealthy.
[A]n in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its state affiliates are major drivers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders. The reports show how these groups masquerade as “think tanks,” and describe how some of them may be skirting tax laws while really orchestrating extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
These groups are all registered as 501(c)(3)’s which are prohibited by law from engaging in political advocacy. Yet, “several appear to orchestrate extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, despite the IRS’s regulations on nonprofit political and lobbying activities.”
Essentially, these ‘stink tank’s exist as an arm of ALEC — sharing many of the same backers — working to legitimize right-wing policy goals through deeply flawed “research” and policy papers. Many also work with the Franklin Center to create “news” outlets and push the corporate agenda from behind a journalistic facade.
Ultimately, this is just one part of the sophisticated system built by corporate America and the ultra-wealthy in recent years to aggressively reshape the U.S. for their own benefit. The enormous amount of money flowing through SPN to state-level groups has been tremendously influential in clawing back the progress of the 20th century: SPN affiliates advocate for lower corporate taxes, restricting workers’ rights, repealing minimum and living wage laws, opposing government regulations on businesses, pushing to privatize public schools, blocking expanded access to health care, and promoting a polluter’s agenda to attack environmental protections. “Some SPN “think tanks” have even advocated for voter suppression laws that make it harder for Americans to vote and opposed common-sense gun safety bills.”
All of this, while deeply detestable from this writer’s point of view, would be perfectly acceptable coming from a registered lobbyist or political organization. Instead, these groups hide beside (c)(3) status enabling them to misuse our tax system and hide the identity of donors. Moreover, when deep-pocketed corporations and individuals like the Koch brothers can spend their way to favorable policy, and do so mostly under-the-radar, our democracy is corrupted. Ordinary Americans don’t stand a chance, especially with a Supreme Court seemingly intent on stripping away even the most rudimentary of limits on political spending.