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Stink Tanks: State Policy Network Internal Budget Documents Revealed by The Guardian

10:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The Madison Hotel, DC

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

It’s been a rough week for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The “corporate bill mill” group’s annual States & Nation meeting was overshadowed by damaging evidence of misconduct revealed by The Guardian.

And it just got a whole lot rougher with yet another investigative installment in The Guardian series.

This time, instead of focusing on ALEC alone, Guardian reporters Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington took a big swing at what Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now have called the “stink tanks” network run by the right-wing State Policy Network (SPN). Leaked a copy of SPN’s tax and budget proposal published in July 2013, the documents offer a rare glimpse inside the SPN machine.

One of the biggest revelations in the energy and environment sphere: SPN Associate Member, the Beacon Hill Institute “requested $38,825…to weaken or roll back a five-year effort by states in the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” explained The Guardian. ”The institute said it would carry out research into the economic impact of the cap-and-trade system operating in nine states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

“BHI appeared to have already arrived at its conclusions in advance, admitting from the outset that the aim of the research was to arm opponents of cap-and-trade with data for their arguments, and to weaken or destroy the initiative.”

Another huge related development came in a piece published concurrently by The Guardian. That piece pointed out that Beacon Hill Institute is in trouble with its host institution Suffolk University for pushing research explicitly funded by SPN to oppose the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with research results already determined before the inquiry began.

“The stated research goals, as written, were inconsistent with Suffolk University’s mission,” Greg Gatlin, the university’s vice-president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email to The Guardian.The Beacon Hill Institute’s grant proposal did not go through the university’s approval process. The university would not have authorized this grant proposal as written.”

Searle, Monsanto, “The Don”: Oh My

The Guardian‘s piece is based on funding proposals from SPN member organizations handed to the Searle Freedom Trust, “a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes,” the paper explains.

“The trust, founded in 1998, draws on the family fortune of the late Dan Searle of the GD Searle & Company empire – now part of Pfizer – which created NutraSweet,” wrote The Guardian. “The trust is a major donor to such mainstays of the American right and the Tea Parties as Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the Heartland Institute and the State Policy Network itself.”

Prior to Pfizer buying it out, Searle was a wholly owned subsidiary of transnational agribusiness giant, Monsanto. Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, served as CEO of Searle & Company from 1977-1985. Rumsfeld left the firm after it was purchased by Monsanto, personally earning $12 million on the deal.

Donors Trust/Donors Capital, Chicago Ties

The Chicago-based Searle Freedom Trust also gives big money to Donors Trust/Donors Capital, donating $1,880,000 between 2009 and 2011 according to SourceWatch and millions more to ALEC, according to the Bridge Project. Donors is referred to by Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll as the ”the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.”

The Windy City ties that bind are key. Among them, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute and the ”anonymous donor” behind its anti-science climate denial campaign (mentioned in the “Heartland Institute Exposed” documents), Chicago billionaire Barre Seid.

The Guardian‘s piece notes that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama who has been dubbed “Mayor 1%” by Chicago activists and in a recent book by Kari Lyderson — was selected by SPN member the Illinois Policy Institute as the ideal spokesman for slashing pensions of public sector workers in Illinois.

Today, Illinois Democratic Party Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation doing just that.

“Mini-Heritage Foundations”

Holding its first meeting at the Madison Hotel in Washington DC, and coining itself the Madison Group, the right-wing Powell Memo-inspired founders of the group envisioned the organization to consist of a nationwide network of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” according to The National Review.

Decades later, the vision has come to fruition, with the State Policy Network’s $83 million worth of “stink tanks” polluting the public square with the ideas necessary to push forward ALEC’s corporate agenda. Read the rest of this entry →

North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license