The Cato Institute: Policies for Sale
Recently I have had a mystery commenter leaving his (I have reason to believe this is a man) strong yet anonymous opinions on a couple of my blog entries. When confronted about his mask, this person insists that his identity does not matter; all that matters is the “truth” of what he writes.
I disagree. I believe that my readers should know exactly who I am; they should know my credentials and my associations in order to more competently judge my position on educational issues. My readers should especially know whether I am being financially compensated by individuals or groups that endorse a particular position, for such financial compensation could certainly bias my perspective.
My perspective has not been purchased. I am truly an independent.
I have some fellow bloggers who choose to write anonymously; however, they do so at risk because they are on the unfunded, increasingly-disenfranchised end of corporate reform. My mystery commenter is not. He propagates the current, heavily funded, ubiquitous privatization message.
I write from the perspective of the increasingly disenfranchised end. I write on behalf of colleagues across the nation who are also increasingly being disenfranchised by a relentless corporate reform machine.
It is this hidden commenter’s insistence upon cowering that has prompted me to write about the organization I believe he represents: The Cato Institute.
On its website, the Cato Institute describes itself as follows:
The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank – dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.
Founded in 1977, Cato owes its name to Cato’s Letters, a series of essays published in 18th- century England that presented a vision of society free from excessive government power. Those essays inspired the architects of the American Revolution. And the simple, timeless principles of that revolution — individual liberty, limited government, and free markets – turn out to be even more powerful in today’s world of global markets and unprecedented access to information than Jefferson or Madison could have imagined. Social and economic freedom is not just the best policy for a free people, it is the indispensable framework for the future. [Emphasis added.]
Cato: ALEC’s Little Brother
Whenever I read that a group identifies itself as “Jeffersonian,” I immediately think of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Notice how ALEC describes itself and its mission:
A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism (the Jeffersonian connection), and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C. [Emphasis and commentary added.]
To date, ALEC’s Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law. [Emphasis added.]
Let me explain the shared terminology I have highlighted in the way that both the Cato Institute and ALEC represent themselves. “Limited government” means that these groups want no regulation or oversight from the federal government. They want the freedom to push through their ideas on the state level. “Free markets” means that the Cato Institute and ALEC both want to privatize the public sector. This is their primary motivation for all that they do: Access to public sector funding and creating the vehicles for placing that funding into the coffers of private entities, such as corporations.
“Individual liberty” is a ruse for pretending to champion the rights of an individual while pushing a predetermined agenda upon the individuals. For example, consider “school choice” (vouchers; charters): Parents are led to believe that they actually have control over where their children will attend school. However, this is not true. Parents have limited choices; they may not get their first choice for where to send their child, or, worse, they might be offered “choice” from among a group of schools no better (and perhaps worse) than their child’s original school. Also, their “choice” might incur additional fees.
Finally, “nonpartisan” means that members of both political parties are involved in advancing this unregulated privatization agenda, though most members tend to be Republican.
As to ALEC’s proudly promoting its “model legislation”: ALEC hands off this legislation to lawmakers who are ALEC members and encourages them to introduce it as their own. The legislation is heavily sponsored by corporate interests and always serves these interests. ALEC legislation overwhelmingly promotes privatization of the public sector.
ALEC has recently decided that it no longer wants to be called ALEC. It believes its image has been tarnished. Nontheless, “The Artist Formerly Known as ALEC” does plan to continue in the very same pro-corporate, anti-public-sector practices that it have promoted since 1973.
I can call it a flower, but if it smells bad and flies buzz around it, I had best scrape it off of my shoes before walking into the house.
The Koch Connection
The Cato Institute promotes the same principles as ALEC. In fact, both organizations share “the Koch connection”:
No one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group was floundering. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman. As a result, the Kochs have shaped legislation touching every state in the country. Like ideological venture capitalists, the Kochs have used ALEC as a way to invest in radical ideas and fertilize them with tons of cash. [Emphasis added.]
ALEC was founded in 1973. The Cato Institute was founded in 1977– by Edward Crane– and Charles Koch. Furthermore, brother David Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, sits on Cato’s board of directors.
Interestingly, in discussing its history on its website, Cato avoids any mention of its founders.
The inextricable ALEC-Cato connection is a very important association for understanding that a “think tank” like Cato Institute is nothing more than another vehicle for promoting ALEC’s agenda.
ALEC Funders = Cato Funders
On its website, Cato proudly proclaims that it “accepts no government funding” in order to “maintain its independence.” That sounds very noble, except that a think tank’s “independence” is not automatic simply because it accepts no government funding.
He who greases the wheels gets to use the wagon.
Funding speaks loudly to what an organization supports. Consider this list of Cato funders as noted on rightwingwatch.org:
Cato’s corporate sponsors include: Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Bell Atlantic Network Services, BellSouth Corporation, Digital Equipment Corporation, GTE Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, Netscape Communications Corporation, NYNEX Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Viacom International, American Express, Chase Manhattan Bank, Chemical Bank, Citicorp/Citibank, Commonwealth Fund, Prudential Securities and Salomon Brothers. Energy conglomerates include: Chevron Companies, Exxon Company, Shell Oil Company and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Foundation and Atlantic Richfield Foundation. Cato’s pharmaceutical donors include Eli Lilly & Company, Merck & Company and Pfizer, Inc.
Now consider this list of ALEC corporations. The overlap is astounding.
Policy for Sale
Like its “older brother” ALEC, the Cato Institute supports legislation that benefits its funders:
…Some critics have accused Cato of being too tied to corporate funders, especially in the 1990s. Critical sources report that Cato received funding from Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies in the 1990s, and that at one point Rupert Murdoch served on the boards of directors of both Cato and Phillip Morris. The Knight Ridder newspapers reported that in the late 1990s Cato received financial contributions from the American International Group, “an insurance and financial services company whose business includes managing U.S. retirement plans” as Social Security reform emerged as a more prominent issue. Between 1998 and 2004 the Cato Institute received $90,000 of its funding from ExxonMobil — about a tenth of a percent of the organization’s budget over that period. [Emphasis added.]
Here is a universal truth about so-called “think tanks” pushing for privatization:
He who pads the pockets procures the policies.
Cato Free of the Kochs– But Not Really
As for the Kochs’ influence upon the Cato Institute, in March 2012, there was trouble in paradise. Apparently Charles Koch wanted to rid Cato of fellow co-founder Ed Crane. The Kochs sued for control of an open shareholder seat. The case was settled under the condition that Crane step down. The Kochs continue to control four of the twelve board of directors’ seats. Cato and the Kochs both note that this arrangement is evidence of “scholarly independence”:
“For a majority of Cato’s directors,” a joint statement by Cato and the Kochs said, “the agreement confirms Cato’s independence and ensures that Cato is not viewed as controlled by the Kochs.” It continued, “For Charles Koch and David Koch, the agreement helps ensure that Cato will be a principled organization that is effective in advancing a free society.” [Emphasis added.]
I am sorry to disappoint those who advanced this “joint statement,” but the fact that the Kochs sued, settled, and ended up removing the man they wanted to remove in the first place doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the assertion (wish?) that Cato is “independent” of the Kochs.
Its very mission statement continues to be ALEC-modeled.
Charles and David Koch are still very much ALEC-involved.
And they have four of twelve Cato board seats.
Back to My “Mystery Commenter”
If I were connected to a group that so easily brought my motives into question, I guess I might use MS when commenting on other blogs.
Except that I am not.
And so, I don’t.
Since the time that I originally posted this blog yesterday night, I have heard from Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute. He insists that he and my mystery blogger JB are not one and the same. (I purposely did not mention names in this post in order to see what the omission might yield.) Bedrick offers as evidence that he has a different IP address than JB. (See comments following this post.) I verified this information; moreover, I learned that JB’s IP places him in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
Is mystery commenter JB associated with the Cato Institute? I do not know. I cannot know this person’s affiliations for certain without his disclosure. The importance of commenter identity is one of the points of this post.
Has my position changed regarding my view of the cowardice associated with this person’s “mystery commentary”? It has not.
Is the information presented in this post regarding the inextricable relationship between Cato and ALEC any less true? It is not.
Whether the mystery commenter reveals himself or not, the Cato Institute remains bad news for the public sector, traditional public education included.