CRI An Honest Broker? — Part 3

Filed in Delaware by on July 30, 2009

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.

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"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -Shirley Chisholm

Comments (64)

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  1. anon says:

    Hmmm…. Today is the day the state checkbook is supposed to be online – anybody heard anything?

    BTW, great blogging Cass, I wasn’t aware of SPiN.

  2. PBaumbach says:

    On toxic terminology, it is worth remembering that just a few years ago liberal was a dirty word, and progressive was the recommended ‘code word.’

    I expect that if conservatives don’t watch it, their ‘market-oriented’ will become as toxic as ‘conservative,’ given the market meltdown of 2008-9.

  3. jason330 says:

    These “non-partisan” family owned wingnut operations will not be happy until the economy is crushed into dust and America is on par with Hati with regard to distribution of wealth.

  4. anon says:

    Poor confused anoni. The CRI application was built by CRI based on data files turned over to CRI by the state (and scrubbed according to some undisclosed method).

    The CRI web application is not the same thing promised by Markell:

    The online checkbook will be the product of work done by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Technology and Information, the Department of Finance and the Government Information Center. These agencies are working together to build the necessary technological capacity to support the project. The work will be completed in time for the online checkbook to open by July 30.

  5. anoni says:

    sorry anon, on a post about CRI, I thought you were asking if CRI had posted their version. my mistake.

  6. Maria Evans says:

    ~ funded by tobacco companies and EXXON ~

    I can’t open that link….

  7. Think tanks are great sources of information, the key is to translate that information to citizens who are willing to act on the issues. That scenario is where many Think Tanks fall short.

    Large national ones operate as a shadow government and source of government appointees. CRI has to rely on citizens who can think and act.

    Mike Protack

  8. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    gives new meaning to the “50 state strategy”

    reminds me of a dealer I had. Dis cat was all up in my shit, come to find out he was getting his orders from some dude that was like a soldier for another dude that was a LT. for another dude that reported to another dude that ran the whole country and had one guy in each state.

    shit was crazy, but once he got in, bitches and ho’s bowed to that MF’er…

  9. Cass, this is unbelievable work! Your research will hopefully provide grist for other blogs and (maybe someday, fingers crossed) whatever’s left of the MSM to take as a starting point.

    And maybe, just maybe, someone in Delaware’s MSM will get off their butts and just follow what you’ve laid out here.

    Personal to sillypoorandlazyperson: Can El Somnambulo borrow your DVD of Season 4 of “The Wire”?

  10. jason330 says:

    The News Journal’s “Nothing to see here folks. Move long now.” blurb dictated by Copeland will be a tear jerker for all the wrong reasons.

  11. jason330 says:

    anon,

    That sourcewatch.org site looks promising. Thanks for the link!

  12. anon says:

    It is Cass’s link, I just fixed it.

  13. I expect that if conservatives don’t watch it, their ‘market-oriented’ will become as toxic as ‘conservative,’ given the market meltdown of 2008-9.

    *
    ooooh, good catch!

  14. Rebecca says:

    Great work Cass. This stuff has been going on for the past thirty years, hence the shift in our country, and most importantly in the mainstream media, to the right. What used to be considered centrist is now left to us screaming liberals. They have been very, very successful at shifting our society. It has even worked on me over time. I now claim to be a social liberal but a fiscal conservative — at least I did until last September. Since the Wall St. meltdown I’m a born-again New Dealer! Robin Hood is my new idol. Now if we could just convince our Senate that the mood in the country has shifted back.

  15. anoni says:

    Rebecca,
    you do realize that Robin Hood stole from the tax man and gave the money back to the people.

    The Sherrif of Notingham was the tax collector.

  16. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    el,

    you can borrow it after my 10year old son is done with it.

  17. jason330 says:

    The CRI defenders sure clammed up in a hurry. Hellloooo…! Calling Copeland apologist/valet Dave Burris….what about the fact that this “think tank” is nothing but a linked in franchise of the wingnut disinformation operation that has wrecked our economy?

    It is not defensible I know, but that never stopped you in the past.

  18. Geezer says:

    They’re still deciding on how to spin it. Great work, Cass.

  19. anoni says:

    chubby,
    it’s a waste of keystrokes, akin to recomending that you attend anger management classes.

  20. Maria Evans says:

    So far, all CRI has done is put up a state spending website. You can search checks the state is writing and payroll information. Other than that, they seem like a typical “non partisan” think tank.

  21. jason330 says:

    Maria,

    The Dover Post has already sited them in an article as an objective unbiased source – which they clearly are not.

  22. Maria Evans says:

    So far, they have been, or did I miss something?

  23. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    So far, they have been, or did I miss something?

    whooooooooooowheeeeeee, dis bitch is crazy…

    did I miz somedin?

    You miss somedin like my niece misses a few items at de AKame checkout sto.

    “Yo, Have a good day Unkle Clive”

    “u too sista, u to (wink, wink)”

    make me laugh “did I miss something”, sho make me laughs

  24. anon says:

    Maria – the CRI blog is ground zero for the next generation of Delaware GOP talking points… working hand in glove with Charlie Copeland. Did you miss the part where they set Charlie up to grandstand about the Markell Administration being five days late on an FOIA request?

    Scroll through the blog a bit and you will see all the failed old GOP talking points, with maybe a little lipstick on them.

  25. Maria Evans says:

    ~ whooooooooooowheeeeeee, dis bitch is crazy… ~

    Watch it with the sexist dribble. Is this what passes for liberal discourse? Pathetic.

    And anon, CRI sent the Administration a FOIA request for the audits. If the Administration had responded in a timely manner, there wouldn’t have been any fodder for Copeland.

    I see no reason to cut this Administration any slack when it comes to open government after it looked like Markell delayed the signing of HB 1 so the JFC could hold closed meetings.

    http://www.delawareliberal.net/2009/06/08/jfc-closed/

    And if this is the “next generation of Delaware GOP talking points” I say “HOORAY” because it’s good, open government Republicanism and not more social issue Republicanism.

  26. jason330 says:

    Not sillypoorandlazyperson’s finest hour. anon is right, although “hand and glove” understates the bullshit set-up that Copeland is working.

  27. anon says:

    If something turns up on the CRI blog, then Charlie Copeland issues a press release, and then the News Journal picks it up – then they have the perfect machine to whip up something out of nothing, fueled with nothing but money and bullshit.

  28. cassandra_m says:

    then they have the perfect machine to whip up something out of nothing, fueled with nothing but money and bullshit.

    The perfect description of the right wing noise machine. People who are consuming local media where CRI is used as a source for any data should know that they are dealing with data and/or information that may not be either.

  29. ‘Bulo likes the term ‘sexist dribble’. Can he please borrow it?

  30. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    ok, time to smackity the crap from mrs. sensitive…

    I meant no offense and apologize for the directed deragotory remark.

    And anon, CRI sent the Administration a FOIA request for the audits. If the Administration had responded in a timely manner, there wouldn’t have been any fodder for Copeland.

    this weak shit was addressed already on Chuck’s blog and called out for what it was by noman.

    As I understand FOIA, it is a request to produce documents… so if no document exists, then there’s nothing to turn over. FOIA does not oblige the government to create new documents.

    Way to carry Charlie’s water Maria

  31. anon says:

    It was a fair FOIA request.. the document was dated in May. I think a simple phone call would have produced the document as well, but they certainly have the right to do FOIA if they want

    The bullshit part comes in where Charlie’s Republican Insiders tried to whip up the impression that Markell was stonewalling, so Charlie could capitalize on it by grandstanding.

  32. ‘Colluded’ is right. In fact, if you check this out (scroll about 2/3 down),:

    http://resolutedetermination.wordpress.com/page/3/

    you’ll see that Copeland praises the CRI and then provides room for his former campaign manager/current CRI policy director to cry crocodile tears about Markell’s alleged stonewalling.

    If, as it now appears by default, Copeland is deeply involved with CRI, then he is using his own partisan blog to parrot talking points from the allegedly non-partisan Institute, an institute that his inheritance may be paying for. They are creating content for him.

    That appears to a non-attorney like El Somnambulo to go over the line of what is permissible with a 501 (c) (3). Will someone with experience please let DL know what the proper procedure is to contact the IRS regarding this? If Copeland is unwilling to come clean here (he still has time), and if the media does not deign to cover this, then there may be no other recourse but to ask the IRS to investigate. Something tells ‘bulo that “None of your damn business!” will not be deemed responsive by the Feds.

  33. cassandra_m says:

    Don’t know he IRS rules, but besides not being forthcoming about their funding sources, I remind everyone that the only time you heard that CRI had a conservative lean was when Dave Burris chimed in to say that it should have been obvious. But not transparent, certainly. Lots of organizations exist to push ideas or advocate for positions and they usually tell you that. Burris used the Center for American Progress as an example — and their progressive lean as well as their mission to counter failed conservative ideology is right on their mission page.

    If they want to align themselves with a political POV, you’d think that they’d actually be clear about that somewhere on their web page. Wonder if it is on their fundraising letters?

  34. Maria Evans says:

    sillysexistfool I carry no one’s water. Delaware already has a self proclaimed “Water Boy” but I doubt you’ll have anything to say about him.

    If the Center for American Progress is not obligated to be “forthcoming about their funding sources” (CAP does not disclose their funding), then obviously CRI doesn’t have that obligation, either. And if members of CAP can go to work for the Obama Administration, why can’t former republican campaign workers work for CRI? Smells like a witch hunt to me…

    CRI is putting government spending online and they’re pressuring the Markell Administration to stick to their pledge of open government, too bad there wasn’t a group like this when Governor Minner was destroying the state.

  35. cassandra_m says:

    The CAP isn’t making a fetish bout transparency, either. It seems to me that you’d be willing to live by the organizational rules you want for others to live by.

  36. Geezer says:

    “CRI doesn’t have that obligation, either.”

    Nope, no obligation. And I have no obligation to take seriously anything they say, along with the freedom to point out that it’s a Republican front ogranization whenever I reference it.

  37. Maria Evans says:

    ~ It seems to me that you’d be willing to live by the organizational rules you want for others to live by. ~

    They’re demanding transparency from the GOVERNMENT, not private organizations or other think tanks. Is there a problem with demanding transparency from the GOVERNMENT?

  38. cassandra_m says:

    So what? Modeling good behavior — especially one that gets special tax treatment from the government seems like a good non-profit stance for a group that is demanding transparency from everyone else.

  39. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    crazy, crazy, crazy

    even dumb po folk like me knows false advertising when he sees it. If you aint’ gonna be transparent, don’t say u iz.

    simple

  40. Maria Evans says:

    Um, they are NOT “demanding transparency from everyone else”. They are demanding transparency FROM THE GOVERNMENT. But good try.

  41. cassandra_m says:

    And you still can’t justify why this group getting preferential tax treatment shouldn’t be as open as the government they want more openness from. Don’t forget that these people are not only opaque on their funding sources, but deliberately opaque about their conservative mission. So the CRI isn’t interested in transparency in any venue, apparently.

  42. Maria Evans says:

    cass, speaking of “preferential tax treatment” and no transparency check this out:

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1208/16318.html

    My personal opinion is that you all are going after CRI because it’s not run by democrats, they’re getting media attention, and they’re not screaming about Obama’s birth certificate.

  43. cassandra_m says:

    And I have no obligation to take seriously anything they say, along with the freedom to point out that it’s a Republican front ogranization whenever I reference it.

    Exactly.

    And that would be the point. If they want to be a media go-to for certain issues, the media — and the people they speak to — should know that this is a conservative front group and view their data or policy opinions in that light. Pretending that they don’t have an ax to grind needs to stop.

  44. sillypoorandlazyperson says:

    demanding transparency from behind a curtain…I gets it now

    dat bucketz gettin heavia and hevia

  45. cassandra_m says:

    So Politico asks similar questions to the ones we are asking here.

    CAP is awfully clear about their agenda and POV too.

    So what?

  46. jason330 says:

    Maria – I think we all have learned what can happen to the country when Democrats sit back and think that the “fourth estate” will do its job and “the truth will out.”

  47. Maria Evans says:

    CRI is clear about their agenda and POV, too, you’re just mad that they don’t put YOUR PREFERRED “conservative” label all over their site. I don’t see the word “LIBERAL” used over a CAP, they seem to prefer “PROGRESSIVE.”

  48. Geezer says:

    Posting budgets and advocating for transparency is good, non-partisan work, Maria. But let’s not pretend it held any interest for Republicans when they still held any of the reins of state government.

  49. I’m sorry, but it looks to me that CRI’s purpose is to create a go-to media place for Republican talking points while holding themselves out as non-partisan. Otherwise, why would they get so upset when people point out they are staffed by Republicans?

    I have no problems with think-tanks per se, but let’s not pretend that they don’t have an agenda.

  50. cassandra_m says:

    CRI is clear about their agenda and POV, too, you’re just mad that they don’t put YOUR PREFERRED “conservative” label all over their site. I don’t see the word “LIBERAL” used over a CAP, they seem to prefer “PROGRESSIVE.”

    You should quit before you get this stupid.

    CAP still states its position and you know where they stand. It isn’t as though you don’t know what is meant by either progressive or liberal. CRI tries to pretend it isn’t conservative — period.

  51. Maria Evans says:

    jason yeah, that’s why I’m glad CRI isn’t “sitting back” and hoping that the News Journal does it job.

  52. Maria Evans says:

    cass I read CRI’s site when it went online and I wasn’t confused by their language.

    Geezer how many decades has it been since republicans “held the reigns” in Delaware?

    UI CRI’s agenda is clearly stated.

  53. anon says:

    Posting budgets and advocating for transparency is good, non-partisan work, Maria. But let’s not pretend it had any interest to Republicans when they still held any of the reins of state government.

    Or that they advocated or did anything to advance transparancy at the federal level during the reign of failure of GWB.

    Kinda funny they now demand transparency. Guess its a new thing.

  54. Yawn, when does the expose start?

    We found that they do what their website says and that their people have backgrounds with Republican or conservative causes from their press releases and bios put out by the organization. Now in part 3 we find there may be more like them in MN and some other states. Informing the citizenry is a virus that must be eradicated. The government is infallible and if people get the information they will misunderstand it and vote wrong. Keep them coming.

  55. Maria Evans says:

    anon I get it, national republicans didn’t hold Bush accountable so now Markell can’t be held accountable.

  56. Anon, maybe you don’t visit the many conservative think tank sites. You may have found exactly the opposite to be true. Citizens Against Government Waste did not shut their doors because GWB got elected. The National Taxpayers Union, Heritage Foundation, and a host of other organizations were very consistent. We had a few other things on our plate which absorbed media attention. The conservative groups don’t control the press, but there were plenty of columns at the time.

    Stop listening to the liberal talking points. They are misdirecting you. They didn’t care before about expanded government and they don’t care now. They too are consistent.

  57. Geezer says:

    I just said above it’s good work. And only Republicans would be willing to ignore the fact that Republicans didn’t give even a fraction of a shit about any of this until they realized it was a club they could use against Democrats (and not just Markell). I’m perfectly happy to take advantage of this for the public’s benefit, but let’s not pretend this wasn’t exactly what it looks like: A 50-state effort to put out slanted talking points under a “non-partisan” label.

    Let’s also not pretend that “everyone” knows what “non-partisan” means in the limited legal sense. When the GOP used the Lewin Group material, they never said “a non-partisan group with conservative goals.” They said “non-partisan” and left it at that, clearly trying to leave the impression that this organization had no dog in the fight.

    If CRI believes in smaller government and whatever other bullshit you clowns believe in these days, they have a dog in every fight. Just want to make sure everyone knows it. And now they do. And you’re still whining.

  58. anoni says:

    Maria,

    for the libs, good actions don’t matter, you must have “correct thoughts”.

  59. Geezer says:

    Of course they matter. So does the truth. You’ve acknowledged the truth — why so upset?