ALICE in Donor Land

Wisconsin liberals mimic conservative group they love to hate

September 25, 2012

A Wisconsin think tank bankrolled by liberal foundations is attempting to build a progressive version of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Last week, the Center On Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) announced it was launching the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE) as a "Progressive Antidote" to the influential free market group.

"ALICE is an open, public, transparent resource" that will provide "a starting place for activists, policymakers and others interested in progressive model law," ALICE director Joel Rogers said in a statement.

Some conservatives are wary, however.

"The new COWS project, ALICE, aims to destroy economic freedom, promote environmental extremism, and advance small-d democracy, which is leftist shorthand for mob rule," said Matthew Vadum, a senior editor at the Capital Research Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks left-wing foundations and think tanks.

Rogers, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a contributing editor at the Nation, founded COWS in 1992, and is a highly influential and well-connected member of the left.

His group is funded by a number of deep-pocketed liberal philanthropic organizations, including the Joyce Foundation, which awarded COWS more than $300,000 in 2010 and $75,000 in 2011.

COWS has also received grants from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Rogers has also received a MacArthur "genius" grant for his work.

In addition to being a genius, Rogers has been recruiting for his new project, sending out emails to his students—before their final grades were posted—asking for volunteers.

His organization describes itself as "a nonprofit think-and-do tank, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that promotes ‘high road’ solutions to social problems."

The "high-road solutions" COWS and ALICE promote tend to mirror Rogers’ anti-capitalist stance and rhetoric. In a 1995 New Left Review essay, Rogers proposed drafting a new bill of rights that would facilitate "greater popular control of capital itself" and "employment redistribution."

Rogers also helped to create the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental groups that promotes renewable energy. Former Obama administration green jobs czar and 9/11 Truther Van Jones was a member of the Apollo Alliance’s board. Former Weather Underground terrorist Jeff Jones was director of the Apollo Alliance’s New York chapter.

ALEC is a private-public partnership of state legislators and businesses that works to advance free-market legislation. ALEC’s members craft model legislation that is introduced roughly 1,000 times a year in state capitals around the country by a group of about 1,600 to 2,000 legislators, most of whom are Republicans.

As extensively reported by the Free Beacon, ALEC has been the target of a coordinated campaign by progressive groups. In a preview piece, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel declared ALICE would be the "centerpiece" of a growing progressive legislative pushback against ALEC.

COWS did not respond to multiple inquiries.

ALICE responded in an email:

"Thank you for your interest in ALICE! As you can probably imagine, our small staff has been swamped by messages from supporters and inquiries from the media in response to the recent launch of our website. We are very excited to have received such a positive response, and will be working in coming days to respond individually to all of the people who have contacted us."