Union Smear Machine Revs Up

Labor-backed groups attack ALEC in new report

December 21, 2012

Two more deep-pocketed groups—one funded by Iowa taxpayers—have joined the progressive campaign to dismantle the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Iowa Policy Project and Good Jobs First coauthored a recent report, "Selling Snake Oil to the States: The American Legislative Exchange Council's Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity," that claims ALEC’s free-market policies have negatively impacted states in which they were implemented.

The report claims "states that were rated higher on ALEC's Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007," the first year the ranking was published, "have actually been doing worse economically in the years since, while the less a state conformed with ALEC policies the better off it was."

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 reported by the Free Beacon, ALEC has been the target of a coordinated intimidation campaign by progressive groups.

ALEC members disputed the report’s methodology and conclusions.

"While statistical problems and cherry-picked data abound, the report fails to even meet the basic standards for intellectual honesty," Indiana state Senator and ALEC member Jim Buck recently wrote. "The ultimate implication of the report is that states should avoid being like Texas, Utah, or Florida but instead should learn from the models of Illinois, California, and New York. Serious observers of state policy or even average taxpayers, will realize that these conclusions simply don’t pass the smell test."

The Center for Media and Democracy—a hub for the anti-ALEC campaign—touted the study as a coming from two "nonpartisan" groups, but the organizations are closely tied to unions and liberal foundations.

The Iowa Policy Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that offers "policy solutions that value the contributions of Iowa's low-income and working families, increase economic opportunity, and reduce inequality," according to its website.

Two former AFL-CIO officials sit on the Iowa Policy Project’s board of directors. The AFL-CIO blog also promoted the IPP’s ALEC report.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has funded the Iowa Policy Project to the tune of $22,000, according to Department of Labor records.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Iowa Policy Project’s studies often seem to report conclusions favorable to its funders.

The Iowa Federation of Labor and United Auto Workers also kicked the nonprofit group $17,000 for a study that argued in favor of raising the state’s minimum wage.

The Des Moines Register described the union as "members of the Iowa Policy Project."

A 2011 Iowa Policy Project study concluded, "Iowa's public employees are not over-compensated compared to their private-sector peers."

The nonprofit also benefited from earmarks before the practice was banned in Congress. Liberal Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) earmarked $335,000 to the group in 2008 "[f]or a study on temporary and contingent workers."

The Department of Labor gave the Iowa Policy Project $500,000 in 2003 for another research project.

Iowa Policy Project has received funding from a host of foundations such as the Fred and Charlotte Hubbell Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, Stoneman Family Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the Joyce Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Retirement Research Foundation, and the Seattle Foundation.

Despite its union, foundation, and taxpayer funding, the Iowa Policy Project ran a budget deficit of more than $100,000 in 2011.

Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen described the Iowa Policy Project in 2005 as "a left-of-center think tank bankrolled by unions and liberal donors and run by former Democratic state Rep. David Osterberg and former Democratic legislative candidate Mike Owen."

However, Owen called his group’s research "unquestionably and irrefutably nonpartisan."

"Our material is offered to and used by both Republicans and Democrats and the quality of our research is beyond reproach," Owen wrote in an email to the Free Beacon. "We found it amusing, for example, that when one of the ALEC authors was asked about Peter Fisher's report, he complained about ‘cherry picking.’ How, we wondered, did Peter ‘cherry-pick’ the 50 states that he chose to look at in the context of ALEC's own measures, in showing that ALEC's analysis simply didn't add up?"

Good Jobs First, the coauthor of the report, is also funded primarily by unions and liberal foundations.

The group describes itself as a "national policy resource center for grassroots groups and public officials, promoting corporate and government accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families."

Good Jobs First has collected nearly $3.8 million from unions since 2005 and $6.9 million from liberal foundations since 2003.

Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy also said his organization, which tracks excessive government subsidies, reiterated that it is nonpartisan.

"We answer all requests for assistance; they are not screened. We are asked to write sometimes for free market-oriented think tanks (who often agree with our criticisms of subsidy abuse) as well as centrist and progressive outlets," LeRoy said in an email to the Free Beacon. "If you were to put the Ds and the Rs after the names of the villains in my book The Great American Jobs Scam, there would be plenty of both."