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Big union boss swipes liberal CMD propaganda for op-ed attacking ALEC

By   /   December 19, 2013  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what a compliment Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift just paid to the liberal Center for Media and Democracy.

In an op-ed piece in the Detroit News published Wednesday, Swift breathlessly rails against the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network, describing each as “corporate-funded, right-wing organizations that push an agenda focused on attacking workers’ rights, blocking access to affordable (health care), defunding and privatizing public education, suppressing voting rights, lowering taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, cutting essential public spending and destroying the environment.”

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LIFTED CRITICISM: In an op-ed piece published in a Detroit news publication Wednesday, AFL-CIO President Karla Swift appears to have liberally borrowed from a Center for Media and Democracy press kit attacking free-market organizations. PHOTO: AP

Her critique certainly is  not a surprising characterization from Big Labor against a conservative model legislation organization and a free-market think tank that unions and liberals despise.

Except Swift’s vitriol isn’t her own. She appears to have lifted much of her attack word for word from a Center for Media and Democracy state “toolkit” pushed out to “friends and allies” in all 50 states.

It’s Madison-based CMD’s gift that keeps on giving in its crusade in “exposing” ALEC and SPN.

“This toolkit is designed to help you continue to spread the word about ALEC and SPN in your state,” notes CMD’s introduction. “In this toolkit you will find information on ALEC and SPN in your state and actions you can take to further expose these groups.”

Swift and the Michigan AFL-CIO appear to have picked up that mission to the letter, pumping out CMD’s propaganda in a major publication’s editorial page — without proper attribution.

In fact, four of the column’s 12 paragraphs — one fourth of the total content — appear to have been swiped from CMD’s attack map.

“ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote on ‘model bills,’ behind closed doors, without any public input, which often benefit the corporations’ bottom line,” Swift writes, liberally borrowing from the toolkit.

Then the union boss pulls from the toolkit that pulls from a Guardian story.

“In ALEC board documents recently published by The Guardian, ALEC proposes state chairs — and possibly other legislators — take an oath to ALEC. The oath requires legislators to ‘put the interests of the organization (ALEC) first’ and to be ‘morally responsible for the health and wellbeing’ of ALEC,” Swift writes.

ALEC has repeatedly disputed such characterizations, noting that the organization is not “right-wing,” that it is nonpartisan and nonprofit and is categorized as such under Internal Revenue Service rules.

Spokesman Bill Meierling insists ALEC does not push legislation or lobby, but “engages in nonpartisan study, issue analysis and research.”

“ALEC members seek input from the public. Legislators represent the public and nearly 40 percent of our private sector membership is made of citizen advocacy groups from around the country — there is no secret, and the public is represented,” he said.

Furthermore, Meierling said, corporations don’t “fund” ALEC in some sinister sense as presented in the editorial.

“As a membership organization, we recruit public and private-sector members to participate in our unique public-private partnership,” he said.

Finally, the spokesman stressed that there is no oath of allegiance.

At the meeting in question, “the membership committee and state chairs group were presented with a potential roles and responsibilities document that addressed how volunteer leaders might act in their capacity as state chairs, not in their capacity as legislators,” Meierling wrote in an email.

“The groups presented with the proposed language universally rejected it, and no further action was taken,” he added.

Swift did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday.

The AFL-CIO’s pilfering of the Center for Media and Democracy’s talking points would seem to undermine CMD’s claim that only conservatives and libertarians engage in political coordination and accept money from anonymous donors — what CMD calls “dark money.”

At a December rollout news conference of its propaganda package, an event coordinated by CMD and liberal activist ally ProgressNow, a reporter asked whether the same efforts occur on the left.

The answer, according to CMD executive director Lisa Graves: Yes, but the left is morally superior in its motives.

“The question of conservative funders versus liberal funders, I think, is a matter of false equivalency,” Graves responded. “Quite frankly a number of these (corporate donors) like Koch Industries … they’re advancing not just an ideological agenda but an agenda that helps advance the bottom line of their corporate interests. That’s quite a distinct difference from some of the funders in the progressive universe.”

At the heart of CMD’s campaign is the suggestion that conservative political groups cannot legally work together. Liberal groups? That seems to be okay.

In its quest to bring down ALEC and other free-market groups, CMD’s toolkit urges its allies to:

  • Use Social Media to Help Expose ALEC & SPN
  • Form an ALEC Exposed Group in Your State
  • Sign/Promote A Petition
  • Calls (sic) Reporters Urging Them to Cover This Story

The left and mainstream media certainly have obliged on the latter point.

As for so-called “dark money,” Wisconsin Reporter earlier this month exposed CMD’s own receipt of hefty checks from an anonymous donor.

Graves told Wisconsin Reporter that she had no idea where contributions to her group came from, but she certainly wasn’t about to give it back. She said it was different than money going to conservative nonprofits from anonymous donors.

Her response when asked why she considers there to be a difference: “We believe donations intended to influence the outcome in an election ought to be exposed.”

But her critics point out that liberal organizations like CMD and big unions like the AFL-CIO work — and work together — to influence the outcome of elections in many ways, including attack campaigns against organizations like ALEC and SPN.

Meierling said Swift’s op-ed goes well beyond the concern of simple plagiarism. He said the bigger problem is the concerted effort by left-leaning groups like CMD to attempt to chill political speech.

“They demonize and marginalize as opposed to debate and develop consensus,” the ALEC official said.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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