This installment is going to get a bit further afield from the fine work that ‘Bulo has done in taking a look at this conservative “think tank”. Here we take a look at the connection of Ceasar Rodney Institute to the large and highly networked institutional apparatus that is the conservative think tank business. David Brock wrote at length about the multiple families and foundations that provided the majority of the funds to create the policy, training and advocacy institutions that exist to further their personal interests and to pull the country to the right. Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong detailed alot of this in their book, Crashing the Gates (a book that advocated that the left do some of this institution building). To be sure, there is little right now on a national level of right-wing ideology that has much purchase, but the institutions soldier on and even increase.
One of the efforts at conservative institution building is at the state level — trying to replicate their national apparatus that at one time brought us to the brink of financial ruin in every single state. Ceasar Rodney Institute is connected to one such group — the State Policy Network. Their mission (from their website):
State Policy Network is the capacity building service organization for America’s free market, state-focused think tank community. We advance a free society by providing leadership development, management training and networking opportunities for think tank professionals and by promoting strategic partnerships among market-oriented organizations.
Founded in 1992, SPN is the only group in the country dedicated solely to improving the practical effectiveness of independent, non-profit, market-oriented, state-based think tanks.
Does that language look familiar? It should — because the Ceasar Rodney Institute also labels itself “Market-oriented” as a way to avoid saying the word “conservative”.
But SPN is specifically in the business of helping to propagate this kind of conservative apparatus — complete with tools to get started and some funding help — this past year saw them get all 50 of their “think-tanks” in place. And once up and running, these various “think tanks” spend their efforts writing up ‘research” pieces trying to push their bete noirs and trying to push local policymaking efforts to the right. All while hiding behind “free-market” and never saying “conservative”.
Members or affiliates of the SPN have very similar mission wording as does Ceasar Rodney Institute — none of the ones I looked at said “conservative” , either. And they run the gamut — the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota seems to have the energy to provide links to the work and commentary of other people and organize a conference or two; while the infamous Heartland Institute is still banging the drum on the evils of tobacco control as well as poo-pooing climate change science. These are the people funded by tobacco companies and EXXON and subject of the recent NYT reporting that showed that even though their funders knew that they were wrong on climate change, they still kept on trying to discredit it. Just scroll through their member sites an you see the usual litany of conservative complaints, but this time arrayed against state-level initiatives and almost always behind a mission statement that never mentions the word “conservative”.
But back to SPN and its connections to the river of wingnut welfare — this (it is a cached copy) shows some of their major donors over the years. To those familiar with the families and foundations funding the conservative movement over the last 30 years, this list will look vary familiar. The Roe Foundation, Olin Foundation, Lambe Foundation and many others have been ground zero for what we often call “wingnut welfare”. Take a spin through the bios of the Board of the SPN and you’ll see a number of folks who have worked for some of these foundations or for some of the institutions these foundations fund — including Heritage and AEI. This is why we call it “wingnut welfare” — conservatives have established enough institutions to be able to employ those they think are talented and who pass the right litmus tests.
So how does this relate back to Ceasar Rodney Institute? Well, they do pretty openly state their connection to the SPN. According the the SPN Annual Report, the Ceasar Rodney Institute was one of the last startups the SPN needed to complete their 50 state network. Here’s what the report says:
The Caesar Rodney Institute came out of the starting blocks strong in 2008 as the organization increased its Board of Directors to seven and committed to making transparency its primary project for 2009. To date, CRI has made significant progress on its two open government efforts, “DelawareSpends. com” and “SunlightonSchools.com,” both of which are planned to go live by July 2009. CRI’s progress is noted by the fact that Delaware’s new governor declared his commitment to increase transparency in Delaware on the heels of the Institute’s announcement to post state spending online.
That timeline looks misrepresented to me, but hey, these are the people with the money. SPN does not detail exactly the flow of funds to each of their affiliates, but they make a big deal in this report about being able to provide funds to a number of the “think tanks” for (21)Investigative Reporters and for “transparency” websites. Perhaps this is one of the places CRI is getting its funding from? This report does say that they provided startup funds for the 5 startups in 2008.
So now we are at the place that interests me. Delaware itself is a fairly insular place — not unaffected by national trends and politics, but how often does Delaware get the attention of the very big money behind some of these politics? Specifically getting a taste of the billions of dollars from the funders of movement conservatism? There is no doubt that Delaware is currently a Blue state and getting bluer. A new “think tank” with real ties to part of the traditional movement conservative funders, institutions and modus operendi seems out of character for this state where everyone asks you where you went to high school. Think tanks of any stripe exist to influence policy or to advocate for it. In a place where movement conservatism has little traction and little interest, the Ceasar Rodney Institute seems to exist to advocate for its very right wing ideas without ever having to say “conservative”. So what gives? Some of their sibling institutions won’t say the word, either. It is possible that the word is too toxic and they think that they’ll get a better listen without the label. But I wonder if Delawareans of their political stripe will be especially appreciative of lots of out of town money trying to move state policy to the right. In the meantime, though, Delaware gets its very own piece of wingnut welfare to observe up close and personal.