Fair Game

Conservative think tank slams hypocrisy of Obama ally

John Podesta / AP
• May 23, 2013 5:00 am


The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that the Obama-allied Center for American Progress (CAP) has accused of being a corporate shill, slammed the liberal behemoth on Wednesday for its reported hypocrisy.

Heartland Institute spokesman Jim Lakely said CAP has failed to live up to the standards it applies to conservative groups.

"I find it ironic that the Center for American Progress may now realize how difficult it can be for a controversial nonprofit to have its corporate donors exposed," Lakely said. "Maybe now CAP will tone down its celebration of crimes in the name of ‘disclosure’ and denunciation of corporate donations to nonprofits—but I have my doubts."

Lakely's comments followed on a report Tuesday in the Nation that revealed a partial membership list of CAP’s Business Alliance, a secretive collection of businesses that contribute to the liberal think tank.

The report also revealed CAP leaders have advocated for policies that benefitted a number of its corporate partners. CAP has previously accused conservative organizations of taking money from corporations before advocating in favor of policies that help them.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s ThinkProgress blog attacked the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, in 2012. It published a list of Heartland’s corporate donors in a post titled, "EXPOSED: The 19 Public Corporations Funding The Climate Denier Think Tank Heartland Institute."

CAP launched a pressure campaign against companies that contributed to Heartland’s operations. General Motors withdrew its funding of the Heartland Institute in the wake of CAP’s disclosure.

Heartland was not the only political group that received GM contributions. The bailed-out automaker also turned up in the Nation’s report on CAP.

A GM spokeswoman confirmed that the GM Foundation was a member of the Business Alliance and contributed to CAP for several years. She disputed that the company was still a member of the group.

"The information they are citing is old, very old … according to our internal records our GM Foundation contributed to this organization in ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08," a GM spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday via email. "The corporation did not contribute and neither part of GM is involved with them as of today. Obviously, the Nation is using either very old or wrong information."

CAP, a staunch supporter of the auto bailout, advocated for legislation that would have benefitted GM, while the company was a contributor. CAP embraced then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2007 proposal to use taxpayer dollars to pay the automaker’s burgeoning employee healthcare costs if the company promised to build more hybrid vehicles. The page has since been scrubbed from its site.

"GM faces legacy costs (health care plus pensions for retired workers) of $1,500 per car. … Clearly the failure to address America’s health care finance problems has become a major competitive disadvantage," the CAP post says. "Targeting retiree health costs offers a strong incentive for industry action on fuel savings investment and reduces the competitive disadvantage."

CAP was also a major proponent of the auto bailout, which used $50 billion in taxpayer funds to keep GM from having to undergo a traditional bankruptcy.

Lakely is sympathetic to the appearance of corporate influence at CAP, pointing out that a think tank’s principles can align with particular corporate interest without being compromised.

"Who funds the message is not relevant; the quality of the argument and the soundness of the public policy prescription is what matters," he said.

Auto expert Ed Niedermeyer said GM’s embrace of groups like CAP reflected the influence that political pressure and public money have on companies.

"GM's contributions to CAP, its incredibly generous bailout, its shift towards the president and CAP on issues like climate change, combine to create a troubling picture of deep collusion between the government and corporate interests," Niedermeyer said.