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Pennsylvania Think Tank Plans to 'Slay' Unions, Like in Wisconsin | The Nation

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Lee Fang

Lee Fang

Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy at RepublicReport.org.

Pennsylvania Think Tank Plans to 'Slay' Unions, Like in Wisconsin


Senator Pat Toomey. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke.)

The Commonwealth Foundation, a right-wing think tank in Harrisburg, is plotting to go after public sector employee unions. In a letter from Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) on behalf of the Foundation, the think tank announced “Project Goliath,” a new effort to make Pennsylvania the next Wisconsin or Michigan. The Commonwealth Foundation is one of a fifty-nine-state network of similar think tanks that have vastly expanded since 2009. The letter makes clear that conservatives believe that right-wing political infrastructure—the organizing institutes, the partisan media outlets, the rapid response efforts—has helped turn the tide against labor unions. Toomey writes (emphasis added):

I firmly believe the future is in our hands—it’s up to you and me—and it all depends on the level of urgency we give this great new campaign of ours, Project Goliath: Conquering Pennsylvania’s Political Giant. Now is the time to fight back. Like David of the Bible, now is the time to come forward and slay Pennsylvania’s Big Labor Goliath! […] To surprise and discredit Goliath, we will employ two key tactics. First, we are forming an alliance with other successful free-market groups to actively discredit the Big Government Party (a tactic borrowed directly from Wisconsin). Like our friends in Wisconsin and Michigan, many elements of our plan involve a cooperative effort among our allied, but still independent, organizations. […] But the overriding key to our whole plan will be our ability to starve the giant.

The fundraising letter is surprising in its specificity and worth a read:

Commonwealth Foundation Project Goliath

After the 2008 election, conservative donors began pumping tens of millions of dollars into organizations like the Commonwealth Foundation to reverse what many expected to be a new era of progressive politics. My new book, The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right, explores this dynamic in detail—from the Tea Party to these state-based infrastructure-building efforts.

In Michigan, the Commonwealth Foundation’s sister organizations, the Mackinac Center and Americans for Prosperity Michigan, increased their budget to nearly $6 million dollars, easily outspending their left-wing counterparts. This money went to polling, advertising, and outreach efforts to push Governor Rick Snyder to severely undercut labor unions in the state in December by enacting so-called Right to Work.

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These groups are centrally coordinated by the State Policy Network, so there’s a familiar playbook that the Commonwealth Foundation seems to be deploying.

As I noted for The Nation: “State Policy Network’s organizations have also operated as fronts for corporations seeking to cloak their business interests under an ideological veneer. The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy, a Pennsylvania-based affiliate of SPN that is pushing to pass right-to-work legislation, is financed in part by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, a lobbying group that represents US Steel, Hershey Foods, Sun Oil and many smaller firms. The lobbying group even provides office space for the Commonwealth Foundation and its media outlet, Pennsylvania Independent. The foundation has surged in size, with its budget climbing from $890,000 in 2008 to $1.95 million in 2011, the last available figure. The head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, Frederick Anton, has pushed right-to-work legislation for years. But this time, he’s being aided by grassroots organizers from Americans for Prosperity, as well as the media work of Pennsylvania Independent.”

Why haven’t the Democrats been able to pass a climate bill? One reason may be that they employed a PR firm that was close to the coal industry, Lee Fang reports.

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