A panel at the recent Netroots Nation conference called on progressive activists to “take down” a network of conservative non-profit organizations.
At an official session titled “Stink Tanks in Your State,” speakers denounced the State Policy Network, a coalition of “independent, non-profit, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks.” The presentation was part of the ninth annual Netroots Nation conference, the country’s “largest progressive gathering,” which was held in Detroit, July 17-20.
> Complete raw audio of the panel discussion is provided below.
Arshad Hasan, Executive Director of ProgressNow, insisted that SPN should not merely be opposed politically but shut down. “The next step for us is to take down this network of institutions that are state-based in each and every one of our states,” the Vermont-based activist said.
According to SPN’s website, their goal is to build a 50-state network of free-market think tanks to “educate local citizens, policy makers and opinion leaders about market-oriented alternatives to state and local policy challenges.” SPN doesn’t direct or manage the activities of its 64 member organizations but helps provide resources and support for their independent efforts.
“Even a state as left-leaning as Vermont has to deal with our own Ethan Allen Institute,” Hasan said about his state’s SPN member organization. “We can’t achieve our policy objectives as progressives because they are doing an excellent job.”
With the conference being held in Detroit, Hasan blamed the city’s manifest problems on a Michigan SPN member.
“The Mackinac Institute (sic)… has radically changed this formerly bright blue, formerly very wealthy, formerly Democratic state into this sort of sci-fi dystopia,” Hasan claimed, not noting the 50-plus years of Democratic rule in Detroit.
Panelist Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), criticized SPN for its liberty-friendly policies, political effectiveness, and level of funding.
“Have no doubt that this organization has tremendously powerful effects that are detrimental to ordinary Americans,” Graves said. “This operation is about changing your laws one state at a time.” CMD and ProgressNow even created a website to attack SPN.
Graves recommended complaining to news organizations when they interview experts from SPN-affiliated organizations. “I think we have to call the producers and complain whenever that happens,” she said. “We need to be pushing back.”
While the panelists offered ominous warnings and conspiratorial inferences about SPN, there were no claims of unlawful activity. The primary complaint was that the limited-government network was too successful and therefore should be stopped.
Jane Carter, an economist with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), criticized Franklin Center for training and supporting state-based reporters.
“The Franklin Center trains people how to be press,” Carter said. “Franklin Center is pumping them out as fastly as they possibly can.” She complained about Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org and Watchdog Wire which feature investigatory journalism designed to hold government officials accountable.
The AFSCME official also criticized Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, an SPN member that used a combination of research, policy recommendations and legal action to reform public worker rules and pensions. “They’re hitting us in every way, shape or form they can,” Carter said.
Despite criticizing SPN for promoting right-of-center causes, Carter applauded progressive groups that serve similar purposes. She admitted leaning on pro-union non-profits to promote AFSCME-funded economic studies.
“It’s the union saying that, so that’s why we rely on our allies and our friends and CMD and ProgressNow and other wonderful affiliates in the states to take the research and run with it,” Carter said.
CMD describes itself as a “boutique investigative research and reporting group” and “a national, non-profit watchdog organization.” ProgressNow is attempting to develop a “network of state partner organizations” to influence policy across the country.
Despite the similarities with groups on the right, Hasan claimed that progressive think tanks are different in that they have little to no interest in ideology or political influence.
“Our folks are very straight-forward,” he asserted. “They’re like, ‘we are academics and we’re going to do some rigorous research. Lobbying is just not part of our work and public perception is just not something we’re concerned with. We’re really just concerned about the research.’ That’s cool, that’s great, and that’s a big difference between what they do and what we do.”
“I’m not saying that we need to copy them necessarily,” Hasan said about SPN. “I’m saying that what they’re doing is bad. It needs to stop.”
Complete raw audio of the panel discussion is provided here.