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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Inside the GOP’s State-by-State Swarm

Lee Fang, a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, has an article up at The Nation, revealing how the State Policy Network “nurtures conservative think tanks in all fifty states,” supported by other right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Fang explains:

Grover Norquist proclaimed that with SPN’s support, Republican governors might “turn their states into Texas or Hong Kong”–laboratories of the free market. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he added. …Though Democrats largely outperformed electoral expectations at the federal level last year, Republicans made significant gains in several states. The GOP is using this shift to redistribute wealth by cutting taxes on the rich while raising them on working-class citizens, largely through sales tax increases. What makes this year different from past Republican realignments, however, is the massive increase in funds available to conservative think tanks operating on the state level, as well as how these groups have made the goal of consolidating power through attacking unions and similar tactics central to their agenda.
These media-savvy organizations–which frequently employ former journalists to churn out position papers, news articles, investigations and social media content with a hard-right slant–bolster the pro-corporate lobbying efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Like ALEC, State Policy Network groups provide an ideological veil for big businesses seeking to advance radical deregulatory policy goals. Interviewed at the San Francisco event this past January, SPN’s Sharp maintained that her organization is loosely connected and has no coordinated agenda. But if the last four years are any guide, conservative think tanks are on the march, working from a similar script to tear down organized labor and promote extreme right-wing policies in state capitols from Alaska to Florida.
Financial support for SPN-affiliated think tanks has increased by tens of millions of dollars over the last four years, disclosures show. In areas with the most concentrated investments, particularly the Midwestern states referred to in DeMint’s speech, budgets for state-level political groups have doubled, outpacing their counterparts on the left. Without control of the White House, corporations anxious to push back against taxes and regulations, along with a cadre of wealthy right-wing donors, have invested in these state-level think tanks, partisan media outlets, training institutes and online advocacy efforts. Some existing organizations have been expanded, and others founded to fill what conservative planners viewed as a tactical void.

Fang adds that Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers affiliate which has supported Tea Party rallies, is in on “this state-focused spending spree,” and has recently “more than tripled the funding for existing chapters in key states.” In addition, The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has partnered with SPN and Americans for Prosperity “to hire and train conservative reporters in nearly every state capital” and “to take advantage of cutbacks at local papers, generating outright propaganda in some cases, including “multiple stories questioning Obama’s birth certificate.”
Fang explains how these groups and their related affiliates helped protect Wisconsin’s union-bashing Governor Scott Walker from the populist uprising against him in that state. Fang shows how these groups have played similar roles in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and in campaigns to discredit public schools, cut tobacco taxes and undermine net neutrality and environmental protection laws in other states.
It’s all part of a conscious grand strategy, writes Fang, said to have “been inspired in part by a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker called “How David Beats Goliath.” As Fang explains:

The piece, which details the ways that underdogs can win playing by their own rules, offers anecdotes on how insurgents have defeated well-equipped armies by harassing and weakening their opponents. It also describes how a computer scientist won a naval warfare simulation by spending his fictional trillion-dollar budget almost entirely on PT boats….Referring to the Gladwell article, Sharp said PT boats are “an apt metaphor” for her network of groups because “they’re fast and maneuverable. A team of PT boats working strategically can defeat much larger and less maneuverable vessels–such as huge chunks of unions.”

Fair enough, although it looks like they have their biblical protagonist and antagonist backwards. Let’s hope Democratic organizers understand that it’s a strategy that can work both ways — and also defeat large chunks of Republican money.

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