Portal:State Policy Network/Featured Stink Tank

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A powerful example of how certain SPN affiliates work directly to change state law without reporting any lobbying to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- which requires such disclosures of direct and grassroots lobbying by 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations such as the SPN state affiliates -- is that of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's efforts to make Michigan a "right to work" state.

On December 11, 2012, governor Rick Snyder signed into law a "right to work" bill, which undermines collective bargaining by allowing workers to freeload off the benefits of union negotiations without paying the costs of union representation. The Mackinac Center and its funders, such as the billionaire DeVos family of the Amway fortune, had been coordinating behind close doors to effect this change "for 25 years," as a Mackinac blog post boasted after the bill passed, going on to call the passage of the bill "a classic example of the Overton Window of what's politically possible moving in the proper direction. Mackinac Center experts have been pushing that window toward right-to-work since 1990."[1]

In fact, SPN singled out the Mackinac Center's president, Joseph Lehman, for its highest award at its 2013 annual meeting, the "Roe Award" named after SPN founder and building materials supply magnate Thomas Roe. Why? For "the passage of a right-to-work law in Michigan," another blog post boasted. Betsy DeVos presented the award to Lehman, and Dick DeVos was recognized as well.[2]

Mackinac created or helped create two new online publications -- called "Michigan Capital Confidential" and "Watchdog Wire Michigan" (a project of the Franklin Center, of which Mackinac is a "partner") -- to communicate its claims, gain public support, and put pressure on the governor to adopt its "right to work" changes to state law.

In audio released in early 2013 by Progress Michigan, Mackinac Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio was recorded as telling supporters at an Americans for Prosperity "Citizen Watchdog Training" that he had met with Michigan lawmakers to make a plan for ramming "right to work" laws through the state legislature.[3] And in a series of 2011 emails between Mackinac staffers and Michigan Rep. Tom McMillin about a different piece of legislation, Mackinac's Jack McHugh told McMillin, "Our goal is outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA" (Michigan Education Association, the state's teachers union). In another email, McMillin told Mackinac staffers, "my ability to impact this decision could be assisted by hearing your thoughts...soon (and again, this is off the record - ok?)"[4]

Based on these email exchanges and other evidence, U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) asked the IRS to investigate Mackinac and "take appropriate actions to ensure that the Mackinac Center is in full compliance with federal tax law."[5]

But, despite all its efforts to achieve major legal changes such as "right to work," and its own admission that it had been pushing the change and communicating with state legislators about it, the Mackinac Center reported no lobbying to the IRS in 2012,[6] 2011,[7] or 2010.[8]

For more, please see PRWatch here.

  1. Michael D. LaFaive, Mackinac Center, Right-to-Work and the Mackinac Center: Touting labor freedom for 25 years, organizational blog, November 29, 2012.
  2. Manny Lopez, Mackinac Center President Honored for Leadership, CapCon (Mackinac Center blog), October 1, 2013.
  3. Progress Michigan, Mackinac Center Admits to Lobbying Lawmakers, organizational press release, January 29, 2013.
  4. Mackinac Center Emails, obtained and released by Progress Michigan, June 2011.
  5. Congressman Sander Levin, Letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, undated, accessed December 2013.
  6. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2012 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, August 1, 2013.
  7. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2011 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, August 14, 2012.
  8. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2010 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, August 2, 2011.