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Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2003 / 26 Adar I, 5763

John H. Fund

Fund
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Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "Think-tanks are becoming America's shadow government," concludes The Economist magazine in an article that highlights the success of free-market research organizations. It points out that two of the most successful public policy shifts of the 1990s--welfare reform and quality-of-life policing--came out of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and other right-of-center think tanks. The Cato Institute champions private Social Security Accounts, and school choice, a hot topic of debate in a dozen states this year, gets a boost from many of the dozens of free-market groups that operate outside Washington, including Arizona's Goldwater Institute and Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that liberals are upset by all this activity, especially since their think tanks and foundations don't appear to have anything like the creativity or impact of conservative groups. Jealousy has taken many forms, from accusations that free-market groups are fronts for "special interests" to active efforts at discouraging donations. John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, warns state lawmakers that they shouldn't have anything to do with the "radical, right-wing" American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of state legislators that counts more than 80 members of Congress among its alumni.

The prize for intimidation has to go to the Michigan Education Association. The Wolverine State's teachers union is suing the Mackinac Center, a state-level free-market group, claiming it "misappropriated" the "likeness" of NEA president Lu Battaglieri by quoting him in a fundraising letter.

The offending quote? "Quite frankly, I admire what they have done," Mr. Battaglieri said of the Mackinac center, as he announced the creation of the MEA's own research group to counter Mackinac's pro-choice efforts. The Mackinac Center used that quote and then commented: "Mr. Battaglieri, whose union is generally at odds with the Mackinac Center, said this with respect to how Mackinac Center research has shaped education reform in Michigan and around the nation."

Mackinac plainly is exercising its constitutionally protected right of free speech. But MEA is demanding that the think tank turn over to the union all funds that the letter raised. It also demands a copy of Mackinac's mailing list and a gag order baring the group from ever mentioning MEA or Mr. Battaglieri again in a solicitation letter. MEA not only claims "misappropriation" but that Mackinac placed Mr. Battaglieri in a "false light" by insinuating that he admires the center in a different way than the way he actually admires it.

The MEA has itself used names of outsiders in fund-raising letters. Last year, it sent out a letter that began "because [Arnold] Palmer, [Jack] Nicklaus and [Tiger] Woods aren't available to play in MEA's Scholarship Fund golf outing on June 20 . . . Battaglieri is looking for three players to fill out his foursome" by bidding for the right to join him on the links. Maybe Tiger should sue.

What's clearly at work here is a grudge, not a legitimate grievance. Over the years, the Mackinac Center has attacked the MEA for misusing public school health programs, criticized union officials' large salaries, and accused the union of bullying dissident teachers. In turn, MEA has attacked the Mackinac Center as "intent on destroying public education" and accused it of "underhanded and deceitful" tactics along with an "attack and deceive" mode of analysis. Mr. Battaglieri says he views such statements as perfectly appropriate given the hostile "relationship" between the Mackinac Center and MEA.

Clark Neily, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, which represents Mackinac, says the MEA's suit concerns core First Amendment rights: "In a public debate such as the one the two groups are involved in, people shouldn't be able to embrace one set of rules when they are doing the talking, but then insist on a completely different set of rules when their opponents speak."

Mackinac has asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to dismiss the case. Even if it does, the much larger MEA will have won a partial victory. So far, Mackinac has had to spend hundreds of hours responding to the suit, and the Institute for Justice has been saddled with more than $200,000 in legal bills.

Liberals, who like to pose as free-speech champions, are all too eager to use tortured legal theories to silence their critics. That's a sure sign that they can't win the argument on the merits.

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Up

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02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
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01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
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12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
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11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
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10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
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07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
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06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
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03/09/01: Terminated
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02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
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02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
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Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
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09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund