Tag Archives: Political Left

The unprecedented campaign against free speech

The political left’s campaign to silence opponents and reorder society in accordance with their personal beliefs is in many ways the single greatest threat to America’s experiment in self-governance, writes Mark Holden.

The unprecedented campaign against free speech

By Mark Holden. Originally published in The Hill.

The liberal Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once warned of the biggest danger facing free speech: “If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition.”

Yet many lawmakers today are mistaking his wise warning as an invitation to restrict the First Amendment. At nearly every level of government, freedom of speech is under unprecedented attack. Many on the political left now seek to silence their opponents and reorder society in accordance with their personal beliefs. This is in many ways the single greatest threat to America’s experiment in self-governance.

This coordinated campaign has been underway for years. Its creation can be traced to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the court refused to accept the Obama administration’s argument that it could ban books, mailers, advertisements or anything else that contained a political message during an election campaign. This simple ruling ensured that Americans retained the fundamental right to use free speech to praise or criticize a candidate running for office.

However, that is the very core of free speech itself. If Americans — individually or acting together through nonprofits, businesses or labor unions — cannot voice their views on public policy and elected officials, then the democratic process as we know it is dead. The result is a system that makes those already in power even more powerful; incumbents need not fear having those pesky voters learn about their statements, views and voting records.

In fact, liberal politicians and activists swiftly made opposition to Citizens United a defining part of their platform from the moment the Supreme Court issued its decision. By 2014, no fewer than 54 U.S. Senators — all Democrats or Democratic allies such as current presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) — supported a constitutional amendment essentially rewriting the First Amendment so that the federal government could regulate and criminalize free speech. Congressional Democrats are once again preparing to make a push to roll back the court’s decision and stifle free speech.

Not to be outdone, leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has declared that she would only appoint judges who promise to overturn Citizens United and permit the censorship of political speech.

At the same time, lawmakers and their allies have found other ways to stifle their opponents’ speech. Americans learned in 2013 that the IRS had systematically singled out conservative nonprofits in the build-up to the 2012 election. The agency harassed many applicants and kneecapped others by refusing to grant them tax-exempt status, restricting their members and supporters from exercising their rights to free speech and free association.

Sadly, this abuse of power still occurs. The federal courts recently learned that multiple nonprofits still haven’t received IRS approval.

Even more attacks on free speech are happening at the state level. For example, New York and California are both demanding that some nonprofits hand over lists of donors to the state. Although the government invariably promises to not release this legally confidential information, California has “accidentally” posted at least 1,400 supporter lists online.

This fact, and ongoing harassment by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, led a federal judge to permanently stop her from obtaining the donor list of one organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. (Full disclosure: I am a director of the related Americans for Prosperity.) However, the IRS has done something similar, conveniently disclosing confidential taxpayer information for several of the Obama administration’s political opponents.

And then there are the demands that government investigate organizations that hold unpopular or controversial views. Over a dozen state attorneys general (all of them Democrats), recently announced that they will go after companies such as Exxon Mobil that disagree with their views on climate change. The prosecutors’ goal is to intimidate these groups to change their position or else face criminal prosecution.

Federal lawmakers are in on the action, too. The Department of Justice has asked the FBI to begin similar investigations of major energy companies. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has even called for organizations that disagree with him to be prosecuted under the federal law banning racketeering — a law originally meant to target mobsters and drug kingpins.

This coordinated campaign is antithetical to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. In our system of self-government, when someone finds other people’s ideas and opinions disagreeable or even reprehensible, the solution is more speech, not less. Yet instead of persuading others to see their point of view, many in today’s society would rather use government’s power to bully their opponents into silence instead.

Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have tried to combat this assault on free speech. They have championed a number of reforms to protect the First Amendment and prevent elected officials and the administrative state from stifling Americans’ right to free speech.

Their leadership should be praised, but much more needs to be done. This fundamental right won’t truly be protected until Americans of all political persuasions heed Justice Holmes’s wise words.

Holden is senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, Inc. and a director of Americans for Prosperity. (The chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, David Koch, is also executive vice president and director of Koch Industries.)

WichitaLiberty.TV: Confusion about corruption in Wichita, regulation in Wichita, and the lowly pencil

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Citizen activists were concerned about unleashing a corrupting influence in Wichita City Hall, but they didn’t know it’s already there. Then, the regulatory landscape in Wichita. Finally, what can a pencil teach us about how the world works? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 121, broadcast June 12, 2016.


WichitaLiberty.TV: A downtown parking garage deal, academic freedom attacked at KU, and classical liberalism

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: While chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, a Wichita business leader strikes a deal that’s costly for taxpayers. A Kansas University faculty member is under attack from groups that don’t like his politics. Then, how can classical liberalism help us all get along with each other? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 68, broadcast December 14, 2014.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Anita MonCrief, the whistleblower who exposed fraud at ACORN

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Anita MonCrief joins host Bob Weeks. She’s the whistleblower who exposed fraud at ACORN during the 2008 elections. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 59, broadcast September 21, 2014.

Labor unions have harmed our standard of living

This Labor Day, as progressives promote their protection and advancement of workers, let’s become aware of the harm that labor unions have caused. George Reisman summarizes:

Far from being responsible for improvements in the standard of living of the average worker, labor unions operate in more or less total ignorance of what actually raises the average worker’s standard of living. In consequence of their ignorance, they are responsible for artificial inequalities in wage rates, for unemployment, and for holding down real wages and the average worker’s standard of living. All of these destructive, antisocial consequences derive from the fact that while individuals increase the money they earn through increasing production and the overall supply of goods and services, thereby reducing prices and raising real wages throughout the economic system, labor unions increase the money paid to their members by exactly the opposite means. They reduce the supply and productivity of labor and so reduce the supply and raise the prices of the goods and services their members help to produce, thereby reducing real wages throughout the economic system.

The full article is Labor Unions Are Anti-Labor.

CBPP misleading Kansans on revenue

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding (Part 1)

By Dave Trabert

If Ronald Reagan were alive and saw the latest piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), he would say, “Well, there they go again … not letting the facts get in the way of the story they want you to believe.”

The premise of their March 27 piece is that “Kansas’ huge cuts have left … schools and other public services stuck in the recession, and declining further — a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic vitality.” That’s not true, of course, but it’s what the way-left-leaning CBPP wants you to believe … and what the big-government interests in Kansas are only too happy to repeat.

CBPP and their allies seem to believe that government needs an unlimited supply of taxpayer money and could not possibly operate with a penny less. It’s a classic entitlement mentality and the premise is laughably false.

The volume of falsehoods and misleading statements in “Lessons for other States from Kansas’ Massive Tax Cuts” is so great that we will address each of their five “lessons” in separate blog posts this week. Today’s post will focus on their claim about state revenues.

This isn’t the first time we’ve debunked CBPP tales about Kansas and sadly, probably won’t be the last.

CBPP claim #1 — Kansas’ revenue loss will rise to 16 percent in five years if the tax cuts are not reversed.

As is typical for CBPP, they don’t explain how they arrive at their 16 percent figure but it probably has something to do with their entitlement focus (what government could/should have rather that what it needs). Regardless, the facts from Kansas Legislative Research (KLRD) show otherwise.

KLRD estimates that General Fund revenue will be 9.6 percent higher in five years.1 FY 2014 is the first full year of income tax reform; revenue is 7.1 percent lower this year than the record-setting level of 2012 but it is actually 1.3 percent higher than three years ago! Even more remarkable, a new revenue record is predicted to be set in FY 2018 — just four years after historic tax reform was fully implemented.

I dare you to find one media outlet in Kansas reporting these remarkable facts. To the contrary, most media and their big-government allies cling to versions of CBPP’s “sky is falling” mentality.

CBPP is flat out lying when they say Legislative Research “… estimates that Kansas received $803 million less revenue this year because of the 2012 tax cuts…” It should be noted here that CBPP provides no citation for their outrageously false claim. Here’s the truth. KLRD did predict that much of a loss in personal income tax revenue (not total revenue as claimed by CBPP) two years ago when tax reform was being discussed but they did so on a static basis using the parameters of a particular proposal. Changes to that proposal have since been implemented and consensus revenue estimates have dramatically improved. CBPP wants you to believe that an outdated, static estimate is current despite having access to information that contradicts their claim.

The November 2013 Consensus Revenue estimate for FY 2014 was $5.857 billion or just $484 million below last year’s total revenue.2 Tax revenue (which comprises the vast majority of General Fund revenue) was predicted to be down $466 million and Other Revenue was projected to be $18 million lower.

But tax revenue has been running well ahead of November projections so official revenue estimates were increased in April (after the CBPP publication) by $103.3 million for FY 2014 and $74.3 million for FY 2015.3 Later years were not adjusted upward but that’s just a function of the Consensus Revenue process; we will hopefully an even brighter revenue forecast soon from Legislative Research.

Whenever you see CBPP’s false claims repeated by media, legislators or others who are opposed to tax reform, ask them why they are spreading false claims in light of these facts from Kansas Legislative Research:

  • FY 2014 revenue will be 1.3 percent greater than just three years ago.
  • Revenues will hit an all-time high in FY 2018, just four years after full implementation of tax reform (and maybe sooner, if revenues continue to run ahead of projection).

Tomorrow’s post will deal with their fairy tales about education and other state spending.

1. Kansas Legislative Research, General Fund Profile published by KLRD on April 6, copy in author’s possession. Actual revenue for FY 2011 and FY 2012 and estimated revenue for FY 2016 through FY 2019; FY 2014 and FY 2015 revised per April Consensus Revenue at http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ksleg/KLRD/Publications/2014_CRE_ShortMemo-4-17-14.pdf.
2. Kansas Legislative Research,  http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ksleg/KLRD/Publications/2013_CRE_ShortMemo-11-6-13.pdf
3. Kansas Legislative Research,  http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ksleg/KLRD/Publications/2013_CRE_ShortMemo-11-6-13.pdf

Koch articles draw critics, but few factual

Two large articles in the Wichita Eagle regarding Charles and David Koch of Wichita-based Koch Industries have attracted many comments, and many are not based on facts.

The two articles are The Kochs’ quest to save America and Charles Koch relentless in pursuing his goals.

A curious irony is the claim by many comment writers that Charles and David Koch want to buy America, while at the same time they are running it into the ground: “The koch bros. are funding the conversion of OUR COUNTRY into another third world country.”

Even if it was possible to buy America — whatever that means — why would someone destroy it first?

Another common thread in the comments is that Charles and David Koch didn’t complain about government spending, subsidy, regulation, etc. before President Barack Obama was elected. In fact, they have been working to promote free markets and economic freedom for many decades. Charles Koch and two others founded what became the Cato Institute in 1974, nearly four decades ago. Even earlier: A recent issue of Koch Industries Discovery newsletter contains a story titled “Don’t subsidize me.” Here’s an excerpt:

When Charles Koch was in his 20s, he attended a business function hosted by his father. At that event, Fred Koch introduced Charles to a local oilman.

When the independent oilman politely asked about the young man’s interests, Charles began talking about all he was doing to promote economic freedom.

“Wow!” said the oilman, who was so impressed he wanted to introduce the young bachelor to his eligible daughter.

But when Charles mentioned he was in favor of eliminating the government’s oil import quota, which subsidized domestic producers, the oilman exploded in rage.

“Your father ought to lock you in a cell!” he yelled, jabbing his finger into Charles’ chest. “You’re worse than a Communist!”

It seems the oilman was all for the concept of free markets — unless it meant he had to compete on equal terms.

Under oath

For more than 50 years, Charles Koch has consistently promoted economic freedom, even when it was not in the company’s immediate financial interest.

In the 1960s, Koch was willing to testify before a powerful Congressional committee that he was against the oil import quota — a very popular political measure at the time.

“I think it’s fair to say my audience was less than receptive,” recalls Koch.

Years later, Koch warned an independent energy association about the dangers of subsidies and mandates.

“We avoid the short-run temptation to impose regulatory burdens on competitors. We don’t lobby for subsidies that penalize taxpayers for our benefit.

“This is our philosophy because we believe this will produce the most favorable conditions in the long run,” Koch said.

Many comments take the company to task for accepting oil and ethanol subsidies. Koch Industries, as a refiner of oil, blends ethanol with the gasoline it produces in order to meet federal mandates that require ethanol usage. Even though Koch opposed subsidies for ethanol — as it opposes all subsidies — Koch accepted the subsidies. A company newsletter explained “Once a law is enacted, we are not going to place our company and our employees at a competitive disadvantage by not participating in programs that are available to our competitors.” (The tax credit subsidy program for ethanol has ended, but there is still the mandate for its use in gasoline.)

Regarding oil subsidies, the programs that are most commonly cited (percentage depletion and expensing of intangible drilling costs) apply to producers of oil — the companies that drill holes and pump up oil. Koch Industries doesn’t do that. The company doesn’t benefit from these programs.

Other comments charge that Koch Industries wants to end regulation so that it can pollute as much as it wants. This is another ridiculous charge not based on facts.

A statement on the KochFacts website states “recent critics have also claimed that Koch is one of the nation’s top 10 polluters. This study confuses pollution with permitted emissions, which are carefully regulated by the U.S. EPA and other agencies. The index labels as ‘polluters’ Ford Motor, General Motors, GE, Pfizer, Eastman Kodak, Sony, Honeywell, Berkshire Hathaway, Kimberly Clark, Anheuser Busch and Goodyear — corporations, like Koch companies, with significant manufacturing in the U.S. Emissions, a necessary by-product of manufacturing, are strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments.”

Say: Didn’t the U.S. government take over General Motors, and continues to hold a large stake in the company? And GE and Berkshire Hathaway: Aren’t those run by personal friends of Barack Obama?

The reality is that manufacturing has become much more efficient with regards to emissions, and Koch Industries companies have lead the way. One report from the company illustrates such progress: “Over the last three years, Koch Carbon has spent $10 million to enhance environmental performance, including $5 million for dust abatement at one of its petroleum coke handling facilities. These investments have paid off. In 2008, Koch Carbon’s reportable emissions were 6.5 percent less than in 2000, while throughput increased 10.4 percent.”

Even when Koch Industries does not agree with the need for specific regulations, the company, nonetheless, complies. Writing about an increase in regulation in the 2007 book The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company, Charles Koch explained the importance of regulatory compliance: “This reality required is to make a cultural change. We needed to be uncompromising, to expect 100 percent of our employees to comply 100 percent of the time with complex and ever-changing government mandates. Striving to comply with every law does not mean agreeing with every law. But, even when faced with laws we think are counter-productive, we must first comply. Only then, from a credible position, can we enter into a dialogue with regulatory agencies to determine alternatives that are more beneficial. If these efforts fail, we can then join with others in using education and/or political efforts to change the law.”

Koch companies have taken leadership roles in environmental compliance, explains another KochFacts page: “In 2000, EPA recognized Koch Petroleum Group for being ‘the first petroleum company to step forward’ to reach a comprehensive Clean Air Act agreement involving EPA and state regulatory agencies in Minnesota and Texas. Despite fundamental policy disagreements, then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner acknowledged Koch’s cooperation. She characterized the agreement as ‘innovative and comprehensive’ and praised the ‘unprecedented cooperation’ of Koch in stepping forward ahead of its industry peers.” Browner was no friend of industry, and had a “record as a strict enforcer of environmental laws during the Clinton years,” according to the New York Times.

What may really gall liberals and Koch critics is this: They believe that a powerful and expansive government is good for the country. But what we have is a complicated machine that a company like General Electric can exploit for huge profits, all without creating things that consumers value. Charles Koch calls for an end to this, as he wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal: “Government spending on business only aggravates the problem. Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies (in the form of cash payments from the government), and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay. Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.”

The political Left just can’t believe that anyone would write that and really mean it.

What’s wrong with Charles and David Koch?

In a column on his website, Fran Tarkenton wonders why Charles and David Koch are the targets of so much criticism. He writes: “So why do we vilify people who represent the greatness of America? Is it just because they have different political beliefs? It’s time to stop demonizing people who do things the right way and generate tremendous wealth — and value to all Americans. Those are the people we should celebrate, whether you agree with their politics or not! If we want to preserve America as the great place it is, we need more entrepreneurs, more innovators — and a free market to foster them.”

Tarkenton writes of “how poisonous our political atmosphere is.” Here’s an example: A common complaint by leftists is that Wall Street is overly focused on short-term results — the quarterly profit numbers — rather than on long-term investment and growth. Koch Industries, however, is privately held, and in a recent Wichita Eagle article, a company official said “[private ownership] allows us to focus on the long term as opposed to quarter to quarter.” You’d think liberals would be happy with a company that can afford to ignore the short term and focus on the long term, but instead they criticize Koch for not being public, wondering what it is the company has to hide.

By the way, this focus on the long term may be why since 1960 the value of Koch Industries has increased faster than the value of the broad-based S&P index of the 500 largest U.S. Companies, by a factor of 16 times.

Tarkenton several times mentions Charles and David Koch’s fight against cronyism. Contrast this with General Electric, a company headed by a friend of President Obama. A report from ProPublica shows some of the lengths that GE goes to avoid paying taxes: “General Electric’s tax department is famous for inventing ways to pay Uncle Sam less. So it should come as no surprise that its CEO, Jeff Immelt, is in the crosshairs as the new chairman of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. … GE’s tax department is well known for its size, skill and hiring of former government officials. About 20 years ago, GE’s tax employees totaled a few hundred and were decentralized. Today, there are almost 1,000. The department’s strong suit? Reducing the taxes GE reports for earnings purposes.”

A New York Times article explains the lengths that GE went to to protect a tax loophole that it benefited from. The tax system is a major vehicle for the implementation of cronyism.

The shelters are so crucial to G.E.’s bottom line that when Congress threatened to let the most lucrative one expire in 2008, the company came out in full force. G.E. officials worked with dozens of financial companies to send letters to Congress and hired a bevy of outside lobbyists.

The head of its tax team, Mr. Samuels, met with Representative Charles B. Rangel, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which would decide the fate of the tax break. As he sat with the committee’s staff members outside Mr. Rangel’s office, Mr. Samuels dropped to his knee and pretended to beg for the provision to be extended — a flourish made in jest, he said through a spokeswoman.

That day, Mr. Rangel reversed his opposition to the tax break, according to other Democrats on the committee.

The following month, Mr. Rangel and Mr. Immelt stood together at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem as G.E. announced that its foundation had awarded $30 million to New York City schools, including $11 million to benefit various schools in Mr. Rangel’s district.

Other companies that are revered by the political left play the game too. A report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center explained how Starbucks manipulated the tax system to its benefit: “By shifting paper profits among divisions, firms can reduce their overall tax liability. Such efforts will lead to unnecessary accounting and compliance costs for firms and unnecessary enforcement costs for the IRS. For example, The New York Times reported that Starbucks successfully added a provision to the bill that deems coffee roasting, but not coffee preparation, a manufacturing activity. This provision gives Starbucks a tax incentive to increase the bean prices charged to its retail outlets, making the roasting part of the business more profitable and the retail part of the business less profitable. Such efforts could decrease Starbucks’s tax bill, but serve no other discernable public policy purpose.”

What’s Wrong with the Koch Brothers?
By Fran Tarkenton

To succeed in football and in business, I worked with a lot of people. I learned how to figure out who the great people were, people who were doing the right thing, people with great ethics who I could trust and learn a lot from. I also learned how to identify people who weren’t trying to do the right thing.

It’s very important in business to be able to tell the difference, because a great mentor like Sam Walton, Bernie Marcus, or Robert Woodruff can have a monumental impact, but a bad influence can cause big problems.

This political season, there has been one business name that has been demonized and vilified above all others: the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. They have been demonized as right-wing zealots, and I’ve even seen the work of scholars dismissed just because their organization has some connection to the Koch brothers.

The kneejerk attacks and venom that comes out whenever their names are even mentioned really bothers me, and it’s a sign of just how poisonous our political atmosphere is. I don’t know the Koch brothers personally, but I know people who do, and who know them well. And I’ve also been able to observe the things they do, and the way they conduct themselves publicly. Everything I’m seeing and hearing tells me that these are exemplary business leaders who we should be celebrating, not attacking.

Start by looking at how Koch Industries grew to become the juggernaut it is today. The family patriarch, Fred Koch, built the company on an innovative process he developed in the oil business. Then his sons grew the company the right way. They didn’t cozy up to the government for subsidies, handouts, or preferential treatment. Instead, they came up with great ideas that solved problems in the lives of people, ideas that provided real value. Their business empire was built on innovation, reinvention, and hard work, not cronyism. I greatly admire that! And they’ve donated millions to medical research and the arts, among other causes.

Now, the Koch brothers are more known for the money they spend on political activities. They fund a variety of think tanks and organizations, all dedicated to promoting free market practices and small government. And that is where they are demonized and tarred and feathered by their political opponents. But from everything I have ever seen, what is remarkable is that none of their political activities are dedicated to cronyism, setting their company up for a big windfall if it wins the debate. Rather, they are advocating for more competition, reduced barriers to entry for new players, and less connection between the board room and the DC halls of power, not a special place at the table.

The only reason for doing that is because they really believe in it. Why should we demonize people who deeply believe in something and do whatever they can to promote it? If the Koch brothers spent millions of dollars on politicians who would subsidize their products and outlaw their competitors, that would be wrong. But instead, they advocate for an end to market distortions, government interventions in the private sector, and cronyism in general. They’re not trying to get more of the government pie; they just really believe they have a vision to help America, because they love this country and the values it stands for.

The truth is that everything we have in this country is because of entrepreneurs, large and small. From the corner store up to the most successful business people — whether conservatives like the Koch brothers, liberals like Steve Jobs at Apple, or libertarians like Jeff Bezos of Amazon — the great wealth of this country comes from people helping other people by creating value. Without value, when businesspeople are just in it for themselves and don’t care about value, only about accruing benefits to themselves, everything falls apart — including the business itself! Those who do create value are the reason we have the great society we have. Since their business began, the Koch brothers have been part of the value-creating class, not the crony class of business owners.

So why do we vilify people who represent the greatness of America? Is it just because they have different political beliefs? It’s time to stop demonizing people who do things the right way and generate tremendous wealth — and value to all Americans. Those are the people we should celebrate, whether you agree with their politics or not!

If we want to preserve America as the great place it is, we need more entrepreneurs, more innovators — and a free market to foster them.

And in case you’re wondering, the Koch brothers did not approve this message.

Attacks on ALEC hypocritical and unfair

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — A cadre of liberal groups has decided the scourge of the nation is a little-known conservative organization that provides model legislation to state legislators across the country.

Overheated criticisms of the American Legislative Exchange Council have been echoed throughout the media following the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Fla., because ALEC had advocated the “Stand Your Ground” laws that anti-gun-rights activists blame for the tragic shooting.

The public rap against ALEC is that, as the Atlantic magazine recently explained, “[I]t’s a shadowy back-room arrangement where corporations pay good money to get friendly legislators to introduce pre-packaged bills in state houses across the country.”

Atlantic highlights ALEC Exposed, a group run by a former Justice Department official who created a wiki site spotlighting more than 800 bills that emanated from the supposed ALEC star chamber. Other groups, including a conspiracy-minded outfit that claims ALEC’s efforts to battle voter fraud are designed to keep black people from voting, have been strong-arming corporate sponsors into abandoning ALEC. Given the backbone-challenged nature of corporate America when it comes to political matters, it’s no surprise the scare tactics are working.

Even ALEC this week announced it is backing away from gun rights and social issues and focusing entirely on free-market economic and business issues. I agree with that decision and personally find “Stand Your Ground” laws to be misguided despite my strong support for gun rights, but it’s too bad these reasonable changes — ones that will bolster the organization in the long run — came across as capitulation. That will only embolden ALEC’s enemies. And those enemies have few good arguments, which is why they spin their conspiratorial yarns and try to make it seem as if ALEC is doing something unethical or unconventional. These leftist critics don’t like ALEC simply because ALEC advocates policies they oppose.

ALEC’s structure isn’t that different from the one taken by “mainstream” organizations such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, whose foundation includes donors of at least $25,000 that’s a who’s who of corporate America: AT&T, Walmart, Visa, Time Warner Cable, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. These donors include the National Education Association, which is a prominent labor union.

Even worse, NCSL uses taxpayer dollars to fund many of its activities, which is something ALEC most definitely does not use. NCSL takes positions on issues. It champions itself as a nonpartisan forum for legislators to debate issues, but many critics recognize its left-of-center tilt.

“A number of Utah lawmakers are so upset at the liberal tendencies of the National Conference of State Legislatures they are thinking of picking up their marbles and going home,” wrote the Salt-Lake Tribune’s Paul Rolly in a 2009 column. Delegations from other states expressed similar concerns.

“Between the Senate and the House, the Utah Legislature pays about $100,000 in dues annually to the NCSL,” Rolly added. “Some lawmakers now are saying that money could be better spent. They’re also taking a harder look at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as an alternative national association for legislators who traditionally takes conservative and pro-business stands on most issues.”

ALEC clearly has grown as an alternative to this group. As is often the case, so-called mainstream trade associations and organizations almost always tilt in a liberal direction, even while claiming to be fair-minded and nonpartisan. It’s not surprising that government-funded organizations end up promoting more government funding and rarely push for reforms to roll back the size of government.

I find this so often in so many spheres. The National League of Cities and its state chapters instantly jump to mind. They dominate the urban-related agenda in most capitols, but that group’s priorities are skewed hard to the left, as the group favors bigger government, controversial urban redevelopment policies and allowed the massive pension increases of the past decade to explode without complaint. I know of more conservative city officials who have talked about coming up with an alternative that researches and advances free-market-friendly issues rather than jumping on board the big-government status quo. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that how our system is designed to operate?

Since when is it awful to create a privately funded organization that advances constructive policy ideas? It’s far better to have corporate sponsors voluntarily pay for the group than to force the rest of us to pay for it through our tax dollars, which is how NCSL and many other organizations operate. Why aren’t activists targeting agenda-driven groups that live off of taxpayer dollars? We know the answer — they agree with those groups’ agenda and disagree with the agenda of conservative alternative organizations such as ALEC.

By the way, Atlantic and other critics can complain about “pre-packaged conservative legislation,” but interest groups from the left and right often promote model legislation. It’s a good way to get policy preferences in play. This isn’t nefarious. Consider also that lobbyists often write bills on behalf of legislators. We know that members of Congress rarely read the bills they vote upon, even on hugely significant matters such as national health-care policy. What ALEC does is far less nefarious than the standard operating procedure in the U.S. Capitol and state capitols.

Leftists don’t like the policies ALEC promotes, so they are using intimidation tactics to shut it down. It’s that simple. They are within their rights to do this, but let’s at least recognize that it flows not from any problem with how ALEC operates, but from the most transparent political motives.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is based in Sacramento, Calif.