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Stink Tanks

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.

Illinois Democratic Party Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation doing just that on December 5.

“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.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

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Steve Horn is a freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

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