Who’s Behind Right to Work

The Right to Work movement essentially shares its birth with conservative think tanks. In the 1970’s, after years of Democratic domination, several Republican congressional aides approached Coors Brewery CEO Joe Coors with a proposal to establish a conservative advocacy organization. Coors was a well known opponent of labor unions.

“What was needed … was an outside operation that could provide timely information to Members of Congress from a principled perspective…” that would “supply witnesses for hearings and experts to privately brief senators and congressmen.”

The Heritage Foundation

Initially a subsidiary of the Coors Brewery, Inc., Coors founded the Washington D.C based Heritage Foundation in 1973. It was converted to 501(c)(3) the following year.

Heritage Reps

Heritage’s publications are distributed to many thousands of people, including members of Congress, congressional aides and staff, journalists, and major donors. It takes credit for much of President George W. Bush’s policy, both domestic and foreign, referring to Bush’s policies as “straight out of the Heritage play book.”

Heritage supports faith-based initiatives, school vouchers, ban on abortion, climate change science denial and overturning affirmative action programs, among many other conservative causes.

American Legislative Exchange Council

Also in 1973, the American Legislative Exchange Council was formed to affect state legislation. ALEC specializes in writing legislation for state lawmakers.

ALEC is organized as a non-profit charity and it’s federal tax returns indicate it does not engage in lobbying. Because of this, ALEC is not restricted on the funds is spends on legislators and does not publicly report these funds. Common Cause, a Washington-based political ethics watchdog, has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service to revoke their non-profit status.

Among those who were involved with ALEC in its formative years were Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio.

ALEC brings lobbyists from over 300 major corporations together with conservative legislators. Model ALEC bills are introduced over 1,000 times every year, legislation that is written by and designed to benefit its corporate sponsors:

  • Weaken environmental regulations and deny climate change;
  • Support school privatization;
  • Undercut health care reform;
  • De-fund unions and limit their political influence;
  • Restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes;
  • Disenfranchise voters;
  • Increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry;
  • Weaken gun laws.

Following the lead in other corners of the conservative think tank world, ALEC created The Jeffersonian Project as a non-profit charity under IRS §501(c)(4) in 2013. Unlike it’s 501(c)(3) version, this new hat allows ALEC to engage directly in politics while still hiding its funders.ALEC JeffAs the original proposal shows, forming this shell organization allows ALEC to increase their funding and freely engage in lobbying and politics.

ALEC RTW languageThe Michigan Right to Work bill is taken from the ALEC model. That model language was written by Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank located in Midland, Michigan.

The Mackinac Center

Founded in 1987 with funding by the Cornerstone Foundation, the Mackinac Center was created by Dykema Gossett, Inc. attorney Richard D. McLellan and located in the Dykema Gossett building , Cornerstone’s original Board included Richard McLellan, John Engler and Citizen’s Insurance executive D. Joseph Olson.

Fundraising activity was active from 1984 to 1991, with peak activity in 1987 when Cornerstone established the Mackinac Center.  The insurance industry provided primary funding amounting to $306,382 during this period. McLellan later wrote the original Michigan charter school law for then-Sen. John Engler. Through his Oxford Foundation, he is currently rewriting the School Aid bill in order to release these funds to on-line cyber schools and corporations.
MC Board 2

The Mackinac Center refuses to say who funds its operations. When asked, then-President Lawrence Reed said: “We keep information about our contributors confidential…revealing our contributors would be a tremendous diversion.” The Center’s research posture would be more difficult to maintain if connections between its contributors and the research conclusions it reaches could be easily drawn. This “research” reaches reliably conservative conclusions that serve the bottom lines of its corporate funders as well as the careers of its political supporters. The Mackinac Center Board of Directors has always included major figures in national and state Republican politics as well as from major corporations.

Funding for the Mackinac Center is obtained from three sources: individuals, corporations and non-profit foundations. A review of IRS records reveals the Center’s top foundation funders between 2001 and 2010:

Dow Foundation, Herbert H. and Grace A. $3,215,000 Dow Chemical founder widow
Herrick Foundation $2,150,000 Tecumseh Engines founder’s son
Earhart Foundation $1,273,300 White Star Oil heirs
Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking $799,000 Investment company founder
Rodney Fund $744,500 Detroit Forming founder/Mackinac Board member
Bradley Foundation, Lynde and Harry $562,500 Electronic and radio component heirs
Peters Foundation, Ruth and Lovett $525,000 Procter & Gamble heirs
Hume Foundation, Jaquelin $510,000 Basic Vegetable company heir
DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund $375,000 Automotive corporation
Merillat Foundation, Orville D. & Ruth A $245,000 Cabinet manufacturer founder’s widow
Roe Foundation $180,000 Builder Marts of American founder
Gerstacker Foundation, Rollin M. $160,000 Dow Chemical Chairman (retired)
Prince Foundation, Edgar and Elsa $150,000 Prince Automotive founder’s widow
DeVos Foundation, Richard and Helen $130,000 Amway founder
DeVos Foundation, Douglas & Maria $120,000 Current Alticor (Amway) Co-CEO
DeVos Foundation, Dick & Betsy $105,000 Rep candidate for Gov./former State Rep. Chair
Walton Family Foundation $100,000 Wall Mart heirs
DeVos Foundation, Daniel and Pamella $85,000 Amway founder son, CEO DP Fox Ventures
Strosacker Foundation, Charles J $68,750 Dow Chemical Board member
Chase Foundation of Virginia $62,150 JP Morgan banking heirs
Koch Charitable Foundation, Charles G. $60,000 Oil corporation heirs
Castle Rock Foundation $50,000 Coors founder’s son
Hickory Foundation $50,000 Investment company founder’s former wife
Scaife Foundation, Sarah $50,000 Mellon industrial, oil and banking heirs
JM Foundation $45,000 Borden Milk Company heirs
Humphreys Foundation, J. P $40,000 TAMKO roofing, composite decking founder’s wife
Perrigo Company Charitable Foundation $36,000 Over-the-counter drug manufacturer
Donner Foundation, William H. $30,000 Heirs of Union Steel Co. founder
General Motors Foundation $30,000 Automotive corporation
Broad Foundation, Eli & Edythe $27,500 Home building and retirement
Hansen Foundation, Robert and Marie $25,000 Cogen Technologies founder (energy cogeneration)
Dart Foundation $20,000 Founder of Dart Container Corp
Van Andel Foundation, Jay and Betty $20,000 Amway founder widow
ExxonMobil Foundation $10,000 Oil corporation
Gelman Educational Foundation $10,000 Gelman Instrument Company
Schiavone Family Foundation $10,000 Construction company
Heritage Mark Foundation $7,000 Christian causes, emphasis on evangelism
Hanover Insurance Group Foundation $5,500 Insurance corporation
Pope Foundation, John William $5,500 Variety Wholesalers retail chain founder
Beach Foundation $5,000
Brandon Foundation, David A. $3,500 Former Domino’s Pizza CEO
Kelly Services, Inc. Foundation, MI $3,500 Staffing corporation
Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation $2,000 Community Foundation
Aequus Institute $1,000 Free Market/Christian Science Advocacy
Bretzlaff Foundation, Hilda E. $1,000
Fisher Foundation, Max M. and Marjorie S $1,000 Gas stations and real estate
Staley Educational Foundation, Richard Seth $1,000

This list includes many of the major funders of conservative causes nationwide: the Koch brothers, the Devos family, the Walton (Walmart) family, the Coors and Mellon heirs, as well as major Michigan corporations.

In fact, of tForbes Top 10he 10 wealthiest people in America, as listed on the Forbes 400, nine support anti-union efforts.  Bill Gates  has attacked teacher tenure, teacher pay schedules, seniority layoffs and smaller class sizes. The Gates Foundation provided significant resources to promoting the movie Waiting for Superman. Gates appeared in the movie as an ‘educational expert.’  Warren Buffet does nearly all of his philanthropy through the Gates Foundation and has a seat on its Board.

Four of the ten wealthiest Americans are from the Walton family, who maintain 40% ownership interest in Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is perhaps the most obstinately anti-union of American corporations. The Walton Family foundation commits about $160 million each year for charters, vouchers,  think tanks, and media. The Waltons also promoted Waiting for Superman and provided financial support to Michelle Rhee’s “Students First.”

Charles and David Koch, are the main financiers of the Tea Party movement and have bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy his state’s teacher unions. Koch Industries is one of the leading corporate polluters in the US, and the Kochs fund organizations that claim global warming is a hoax.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has campaigned for an end to seniority based layoffs, an end to teacher tenure and a great reduction of teacher pensions and health care.

The great majority of the Mackinac Center’s remaining revenues for this period, $31,422,144, is assumed to come from the same corporations who fund these foundations, although those tax records are not made public and the Mackinac Center refuses to admit to these, or any other contributors.

The Mackinac Center has long advocated any policy change that would serve to weaken unions, either to restrict the power of a union to advocate for its members, or to reduce its membership and therefore its revenues.

In Michigan, this has in recent years taken the form of a “death by a thousand cuts.” Legislation enacted to weaken unions in general, and the Michigan Education Association in particular include:

  • Cut public education to give businesses $1.8 billion in tax cuts;
  • Removed seniority as a factor in layoff and recalls;
  • Gave Emergency Managers unlimited power to change working conditions, reduce salary and benefits and void contracts;
  • Taxed school employees’ retirement;
  • Gutted the Tenure Act;
  • Tied teacher evaluation to student performance, prohibited bargaining;
  • Mandated a 20 percent health insurance premium payment;
  • Eliminated the cap on charter schools;
  • Ended bargaining for retroactive insurance payments and step increases;Fundraising letter
  • Increased the teacher probationary period and made it easier to dismiss probationary teachers;
  • Made teacher assignment, layoff/recall and discipline/discharge prohibited bargaining subjects;
  • Attempted to end payroll dues deduction;
  • Enacted Right to work.

The Center efforts to weaken unions has long centered on the MEA. A 2011 fundraising letter established that its work to rewrite Michigan school law is a weapon it wields to weaken unions. Pushing for school choice, charter schools, vouchers and diverting school funding to private corporations isn’t meant to benefit school budgets or students, it is designed to “end the union monopoly on our classrooms.”

While unwilling to disclose its funders, the Mackinac Center has long been an advocate of transparency for unions. It pursues this cause through the extensive use of Freedom of Information requests. But as The Nation reported, transparency is not the point:

Speaking at a panel discussion in Dallas a year before the right-to-work law’s passage in Michigan, Mackinac Center president Joseph Lehman conceded that his group’s campaign to promote government transparency through hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests was really an effort to hurt the unions. “The strategic idea we had in mind was defunding unions,” he said.



Related Content

MoyersMoyers & Company presents “United States of ALEC,” a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.


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