By Mary Bottari on April 14, 2014

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is slated to roll out its annual "Rich States, Poor States" publication this week. The document, whose lead author is economist Arthur Laffer, is sold to the press as an objective, academic measure of state economic performance, but should instead be viewed more as a lobby scorecard ranking states on the adoption of extreme ALEC policies that have little or nothing to do with economic outcomes. This year, leaked documents revealed that the report is directly funded by the Kochs, on top of longstanding Koch support for ALEC itself.

Until recently, little information was available about the funders of Rich States, Poor States, but tucked in a cache of ALEC internal documents obtained by the Guardian in December was a spreadsheet (PDF pg. 40) that showed for the first time that Rich States, Poor States is funded by the Kochs' Claude Lambe Foundation, as well as the Searle Freedom Trust.

The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation is one of three Koch Family Foundations; this one is controlled by Charles Koch. The Searle Freedom Trust, was founded by David Searle, who made millions from aspartame marketed as Nutrasweet. Both foundations are major funders of a national right-wing infrastructure that includes ALEC and the State Policy Network, 64 state-based think tanks that produce academic reports, talking points and more to advance ALEC’s agenda of tax breaks for corporations, steep budget cuts and attacks on unionized workers.

A spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector confirmed the Koch funding to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We can confirm that the Claude R. Lambe Foundation provided a grant of $150,000 to the Center for State Fiscal Reform that was paid out in November 2012" said Melissa Cohlmia, director of corporate communications. Cohlmia claimed the aid was for general support, but it is clearly listed as funding Rich State, Poor States in the leaked documents. The Center for State Fiscal Reform is an arm of ALEC that lists the Laffer study as its signature publication.

ALEC brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to vote on "model" legislation behind closed doors which are then introduced by ALEC legislators across the country. ALEC is almost entirely funded by industry, including Koch Industries, which has long served on the ALEC board along with Altria/Phllip Morris and Exxon Mobil. ALEC task force meetings where model bills are discussed are closed to the press and the public, as Dana Milbank from the Washington Post reports.  Under fire for its role in promoting extreme policies including anti-union bills, voter suppression bills, "Stand Your Ground" laws and more, ALEC has lost 70 corporate sponsors in the last few years, including some of the nation’s largest firms including General Electric, General Motors, Amazon, Wal-Mart and more. ALEC's funding has dropped by one-third, it has lost some 400 legislators, and is the subject of an IRS complaint for illegal lobbying activity.

Not Rocket Surgery, Says Laffer

So how does Mississippi's economy outperform New York's? It doesn’t, say experts.

Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First in Washington, D.C., told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Laffer's report evaluates and rewards states that are suppressing wages and moving their tax burden from the rich to the poor. "This is all about regressivity," LeRoy said. The non-partisan, non-profit resource centers Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project issued a report in 2013 which took apart Rich States, Poor States on methodological grounds. Their analysis criticized Rich States, Poor States for its "primitive approaches" and for ignoring decades of academic peer-reviewed studies on economic development.

Moreover, the 2013 Rich States Poor States appeared highly politicized, ranking Scott Walker's Wisconsin 15th in the nation at a time the state was ranked 44th for new job creation by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Laffer and his colleagues, which included Stephen Moore (formerly of the Wall Street Journal, now at the Heritage Foundation), seem intent on rewarding Republican governors who pursue austerity agendas even if that agenda hurts economic growth. Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is a former ALEC member who signed 19 ALEC bills into law in his first two years in office, slashed government spending and eviscerated state unions prompting mass protests in February 2011.

Laffer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his report was not "rocket surgery," mixing metaphors. Indeed, from the perspective of the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of PRWatch.org and ALECexposed.org the document can been seen more as a highly politicized, lobbyist scorecard for the ALEC agenda than objective economic analysis. Although Wisconsin still has one of the worst job creation records in the country, ranking 32nd nationally or 9 out of 10 in upper Midwest, it will not be surprising if Scott Walker’s state moves up in the Laffer rankings given his aspirations for higher office.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Good Jobs First, "SELLING SNAKE OIL TO THE STATES: The American Legislative Exchange Council's Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity"

The Guardian, "ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in the wake of Trayvon Martin Row"

American Legislative Exchange Council

State Policy Network

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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