Bwahahahahaha, Corporatism — November 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

Unable to deny Koch brothers/ALEC connections, Mackinac Center turns to laughable plagiarism charges


Nothing to see here except a corporatist front group trying to distract you from the fact that they are a corporatist front group

You can always tell with the powerful corporatist groups around the country are feeling nervous about the light that’s being shone on them: they fire up the well-known conservative echo chamber to create a story out something that is basically a non-story. The most recent and, I must say, comical, example of this is an attempt by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to discredit an entire 17-page report about their connections to corporate funding, the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because an initial version of the report lacked citations to four sentences from a piece by Andrew Kroll of Mother Jones. Progress Michigan quickly corrected their error but the right-wing blogosphere wants you to ignore the substance of the well-researched report anyway. (I first wrote about this report and another national report by Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy HERE.)

Mackinac Center works regularly with a variety of online “news” sites like The Daily Caller. For example, when they were trying to exploit Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud, Jr. as a pawn to promote a teacher pay bill he doesn’t support, it was The Daily Caller they ran to to push the story out to the conservative blogosphere.

Although it was corrected with the correction noted on the front page of the report, the initial report lacked proper citation to Kroll’s original work. That was enough, apparently, for the Mackinac Center to hang its hat on and get their corporatist water-carriers in the conservative blogosphere to fire up the echo chamber with shouts of “PLAGIARIASM!!!”.

For example, The Daily Caller, in their absurdly-titled piece “Leftwing group’s attack on free market think tank riddled with plagiarism” (remember, we’re talking about a grand total of 4 sentences in a 17-page report) went on the attack:

Though [Mother Jones] is cited, the passage does not use necessary quotes to indicate that the wording is exactly the same.

“Mackinac Center Exposed” also borrows similar wording and sentence structure from a second passage in Kroll’s article.

The report also copied an explanatory note about the Mackinac Center from a similarly slanted report written by the Center for Media and Democracy about the Goldwater Institute, a free market think tank in Arizona.

What The Daily Caller piece doesn’t tell you is that Progress Michigan is a partner with Progress Now and collaborates with them on reports of this nature. Progress Now published the national report in conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy. It would be like the Michigan Republican Party being accused of plagiarizing something written by the Republican National Committee.

In true conservative echo chamber fashion, The Daily Caller wasn’t the only group that “reported” on it. Other conservative blogs like The Washington Free Beacon ran pieces about it, too.

In both The Daily Caller piece and The Washington Free Beacon piece, representatives from the Mackinac Center claim the entire report is to be ignored because of the two citation which were quickly corrected after the initial report was published.

“This calls into question the veracity of the entire report and the credibility of Progress Michigan,” said Ted O’Neil, media relations manager for the Mackinac Center. “Our scholarly research is peer-reviewed and subject to intense intellectual scrutiny. The same obviously cannot be said for the cookie-cutter, partisan attacks that Progress Michigan and the Center for Media and Democracy have churned out about us and several other public policy groups around the country.”


“The Mackinac Center holds its research to a high standard and encourages rigorous critique of it,” Mackinac spokesman Dan Armstrong said in an emailed statement. But “plagiarism is a serious offense and should never be considered credible.”

Of course, nowhere in any of this breathless reporting are the facts at hand disputed. The citation snafu is clearly a simple oversight. A regrettable one, to be sure, but hardly something that should distract us from the truth that Mackinac Center receives millions of dollars in funding from corporations and wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers and the DeVos family. This corporate-sourced money is then used to pass laws and policies that benefit — you guessed it — corporations. Nor should we forget, as the Progress Michigan report points out very clearly, that Mackinac Center is a member of ALEC that churns out hundreds of cookie cutter pieces of anti-worker, anti-environment, pro-corporation legislation that are then introduced in legislatures around the country in the ultimate act of plagiarism.

What’s never made clear in any of the right-wing blogospheric poutrage is how plagiarizing Kroll’s work, which is entirely supportive of the main point of the Progress Michign report, would somehow benefit Progress Michigan. Being able to show that someone of Kroll’s stature agrees the premise and has the research to support it only helps lend credibility to report’s message.

Progress Michigan has taken full credit for what they describe as a simple editing error that occurred as the piece was being produced. Their spokesperson Jessica Tramontana issued a statement saying, “We have admitted an error, we have fixed the error and I find it interesting the Mackinac Center is fixating on quotation marks instead of disputing the content of our report.”

Mackinac Center and their corporatist partners may want us to ignore their connections to Big Business and their role as a front group for anti-labor, anti-teacher, anti-environment, pro-corporation interests but that’s not going to happen. Their interest in discrediting the Progress Michigan report is understandable. It shows them for the shills they are and no amount of laughable misdirection changes that. Their actions are, as I’ve said, a comical effort to through chaff into the air to distract us from this reality. As the body of evidence grows showing well-funded State Policy Network affiliates like them interjecting themselves into the setting of state policies across the country, the best response is to simply laugh at their desperate effort to deflect attention.

As Lee Fang points out, they are funded at a level over six times that of Progress Michigan:

The only labor-backed political group that could be compared to the SPN-affiliated Mackinac Center and its allies—an organization called Progress Michigan, which does political research and media outreach—has far fewer resources than its counterparts on the right. In 2010, according to the latest available disclosure for the three groups, the Mackinac Center and Americans for Prosperity’s state chapter outspent Progress Michigan by $4.6 million to a little over $700,000.

If, with all of their money and their impressive national network, this is the best Mackinac Center can do, this patently obvious smokescreen is nothing more than a lame admission that don’t want Michiganders to know what’s behind the corporatist curtain that they live behind.

It’s worth noting that The Daily Caller, apparently a watchdog on plagiarism the political sphere, had this must-read call out of Senator Rand Paul who actually lifted entire segments of speeches out of Wikipedia.


ADDING… Just in case there’s any doubt about why Mackinac Center doesn’t want you to read the Progress Michigan report, here are some highlights from it:

  • Mackinac and ALEC’s Shared Corporate Agenda:
    The Mackinac Center is an ac-tive member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill. Over the years, Mackinac staffers have proposed numerous bills at ALEC task force meetings, where elected officials and private sector members (like corporate lobbyists and special interest groups) vote as equals behind closed doors on templates to change the law. Under ALEC’s public bylaws, its state legislative leaders are tasked with a “duty” to get those bill introduced into law. The coordinated agenda that ALEC and the Mackinac Center advocate for includes:
    • Attacking workers’ rights with the recent so-called “Right to Work” law, pushing paycheck deception measures, calling for the repeal of the pre-vailing wage law and advocating for bills that cut public pension benefits
    • Blocking the bipartisan effort in Michigan to expand Medicaid and implement the Affordable Care Act that would give access to affordable health-care to millions of Michigan residents
    • Defunding and privatizing Michigan’s public schools with voucher programs and charter schools
    • Denying the science behind climate change and global warming, while also opposing the use of clean and renewable energy sources
  • “Research” Institute or Lobbying Organization?:
    Despite the fact that the legality of the Mackinac Center’s lobbying operations as a nonprofit has been called into question by U.S. Congressman Sander Levin, the ACLU and Progress Michigan, the Mackinac Center continues to run an extensive lobbying operation in order to pro-mote its corporate-backed special interest agenda. The report outlines how Governor Snyder has taken on several Mackinac agenda items in creating his own agenda, including attacks on workers’ pensions, rolling back corporate regulations and privatizing public services.
  • Mackinac’s Dubious Claim of Being “Nonpartisan”:
    Despite the Mackinac Center’s claim to be a “nonpartisan research and education institute,” the “think tank” has made at least two payments categorized in official records as political contributions, one to the Michigan Republican Party and another to the Livingston County Republi-can Committee. Both contributions are apparent violations of the Mackinac Center’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Moreover, an analysis of campaign contributions made by Mackinac Center board members shows an overwhelming majority going to GOP candidates.
  • Mackinac’s Role in Restricting Workers’ Rights:
    For nearly all of its existence, the Mackinac Center has been a leading organization behind the call for anti-worker, so-called “Right to Work” legislation in Michigan. When Governor Snyder endorsed the measure in late 2012, the Mackinac Center soon took credit for its passage. Later, Dick DeVos – a longtime Mackinac supporter and one of the most notable corporate executives funding Michigan’s anti-worker campaigns – credited the Mackinac Center as one of the primary forces behind the push for “Right to Work” legislation. SPN also credited Mackinac, giving Mackinac President Joseph Lehman its 2013 “Roe Award” (named after SPN founder and anti-union businessman Thomas Roe) for the “policy achievement” of “seeing Michigan become a Right to-Work state.”
  • Mackinac’s Agenda Primarily Benefits Its Donors, Not the People of Michigan:
    The Mackinac Center is largely funded by right-wing special interest foundations, individuals and corporations, including the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, Exxon Mobil, the Bradley Foundation and the Walton family of Walmart. Not surprisingly, much of Mackinac’s agenda benefits the corporate and financial interests of its fun-ders and ALEC, including so-called Right to Work, lowered environmental standards and privatization.
  • Despite Claims to Be Michigan-Focused, Mackinac Takes Its Cues from Shadowy Out-of-State Organizations:
    In many ways, a Mackinac Center can be found in every state in the U.S. under a different name. That is because the Mackinac Center is an affiliate of the State Policy Network (SPN), a web of right-wing think tanks across the country. All SPN “think tanks” share a nationally-driven agenda with out-of-state right-wing organizations such as ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.
  • Millions from Out-of-State, Koch-Funded Groups:
    With over $9.5 mil-lion in net assets reported in 2011, the Mackinac Center operates as one of the largest, most well-funded and most active right-wing SPN state think tanks in the country. Much of this is due to the massive amount of funding Mackinac has received from two secretive Koch-funded groups called DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, known as the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement.” The Donors groups, which keep the original funders hidden – adding another layer of secrecy – have contributed over $2.6 million to Mackinac since 2004.
  • Mackinac’s Slanted “News Service”:
    Like many SPN think tanks, the Mackinac Center is also an affiliate of the Tea Party-linked Franklin Center, a consortium of conservative “news” outlets in over 40 states that is funded in part by the Koch brothers. Through the Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center pushes its right-wing agenda behind the mask of “journalism.”