Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2003 / 26 Adar I, 5763
John H. Fund
Shut Up, They Explained:
If you can censor this, thank a teacher
"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
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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©2001, John H. Fund