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Welcome to Wyoming, ALEC’s Idea of a World-Class Melting Pot and Business Mecca

Investors flock to open commercial spaces in Wyoming.

Investors flock to open commercial spaces in Wyoming.

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ALEC’s annual Rich States, Poor States “report” came out last week, wherein the conservative front group ranks each state’s “economic competitiveness” using their dubious take on free market economics.  The report is compiled by economist Arthur Laffer, a former Reagan administration official who other economists have distanced themselves from due to his lack of objectivity.

Of course, the objective of Rich States, Poor States is not to be objective. It’s more of an extremist award ceremony on paper, highlighting which state legislatures best know their place in the conservative fundraising food chain. Who will most convincingly bow at the altar of ideology and kiss the ring of the brothers Koch?  

Despite the obvious flaws in this annual puppet show, ALEC gets its report published by mainstream media outlets without a footnote of partisanship.

A perfect example of the politicization of the report comes from the ALEC stronghold of Wisconsin, which the report ranks as the 17th best state in terms of economic competitiveness.  A more traditional and widely accepted ranking, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job creation ranking, puts the state 32nd nationally and 9th out of the 10 upper Midwestern states.   

The fact that this report tends to favor Koch-controlled states should come as no surprise since they actually pay for it.  Citing investigative work from The Guardian, PRWatch revealed a breakdown of who funds Rich States, Poor States:

Until recently, little information was available about the funders of Rich States, Poor States, but tucked in a cache of ALEC internal documents obtained by the Guardian in December was a spreadsheet (PDF pg. 40) that showed for the first time that Rich States, Poor States is funded by the Kochs’ Claude Lambe Foundation, as well as the Searle Freedom Trust.

The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation is one of three Koch Family Foundations; this one is controlled by Charles Koch. The Searle Freedom Trust, was founded by David Searle, who made millions from aspartame marketed as Nutrasweet. Both foundations are major funders of a national right-wing infrastructure that includes ALEC and the State Policy Network, 64 state-based think tanks that produce academic reports, talking points and more to advance ALEC’s agenda of tax breaks for corporations, steep budget cuts and attacks on unionized workers.

A spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector confirmed the Koch funding to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We can confirm that the Claude R. Lambe Foundation provided a grant of $150,000 to the Center for State Fiscal Reform that was paid out in November 2012” said Melissa Cohlmia, director of corporate communications. Cohlmia claimed the aid was for general support, but it is clearly listed as funding Rich State, Poor States in the leaked documents. The Center for State Fiscal Reform is an arm of ALEC that lists the Laffer study as its signature publication.

Business Insider laid out ALEC’s rankings in an interactive map which bluntly attacks the integrity of the report.  Writer Joe Weisenthal titles his piece, “This Map of the Most Competitive States in America is a Joke,” and explains that many of the lowest ranking states are home to some of the country’s most dynamic economies:

The map is silly. Dynamic economies like New York and California are ranked near the bottom, while un-dynamic economies like Indiana and Wyoming are ranked near the top.

Obviously ALEC is ranking states based on each state’s level of deregulation and awarding the most deregulated states, but the outcomes seem to have very little bearing in where companies actually want to launch and do business.

Nonetheless, press outlets in Florida, Kansas, Texas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New Mexico have picked up the report. So has the Washington Post.  Now we join the fray, but only as a warning.  In the age of headline journalism, where many people fail to read the entirety of a piece, it is dangerous to not “consider the source.” In the case of Rich States, Poor State, the source can be boiled down to a pair of billionaire brothers who are well-known for attempting to purchase the American electorate. You have to ask yourself: Am I for sale?


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