Odd Bedfellows: Grass Root Inst. & Ehren’s Dad (06/09/06)

The above photograph of Bob Watada and Carolyn Ho  by George F. Lee ,  accompanied Gregg K. Kakesako’s  story, “Watada: Like father, like son,”  in yesterday’s Honolulu Star Bulletin.

Their son is  Lt.  Ehren Watada,  the first American officer to refuse deployment to Iraq on moral and legal grounds.  As I wrote yesterday,  the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii awarded Bob Watada its Unsung Hero Award last year for fighting corruption.  I wonder the conservative group is thinking,  now as Watada supports his son.  Kakesako writes,

More than four decades ago, Bob Watada, who lost a brother fighting in Korea, opposed the war in Vietnam.

Instead of running off to Canada, Watada approached his draft board in Colorado and was allowed to serve in the Peace Corps for two years in Peru.

He believed the Vietnam War was illegal.

The Grass Roots Institute’s name makes it  sounds, as Martha Stewart would say, like  “A Good Thing.”  But when I checked the website, I found out, as I do so often these days, that the Institute is part of a web of conservative efforts to influence public policy.  The  same names of issues groups,  astroturf front organizations, think tanks and foundations  turn up as supporting each other, again and again and again.

Pick any imatter before Congress I’ve written about–attempts to end the estate tax, to end net neutrality, to  install English as the official language, to weaken environmental protection, to sell off national parks and forests and all the dots connect.

For instance, The Grassroot Institute is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN), which also claims as an affiliate member Grover Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform (ATF).   When you check at  ATF’s site to look up the name of its state affiliates, you are told to check back at SPN.  ATF also has a list of “Center-Right Coalition” Meetings and guess who attends in Hawaii?  Yup.  And who provided the seed money for the institute?  The  Atlas Economic Research Foundation , another SPN affiliate.  And the Institute is the field office for Dick Armey’s Freedomworks as of March 28 of this year, according to a press release issued by that group.

Today,  I discovered a great tool for tracking down the interconnections between conservatives who influence public policy,   Media Transparency.org, a site which lets you search its  database by grant recipient, by person, by grant purpose, or all three factors.

The site got its start in July of 1999 when  Rob Levine began investigating a local Minneapolis “Think Tank,” the “Center of the American Experiment.”   As he wrote on February 25, 2000,

Intuitively I had sensed very close connections between the Center, a 501(c)(3) charity, and the Republican Party of Minnesota, which set me out to find what actually was happening there.

To make a long story short, what I discovered was an interconnected web of conservative organizations spanning the gamut from academia to law to publishing to politics, all being funded and coordinated by a relatively small but wealthy group of philanthropies, chief among them the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Though the Center has only received about $310,000 directly from the philanthropies, nearly every one of its speakers and presenters is in some way connected to or funded by this movement.

The Center, far from being a place where “deep thinking” takes place, can most accurately be called a cog in this movement, both producing content for the machine, as well as providing a local outlet for the rest of the movement’s content providers, media faces, ideologues, and last but certainly not least, its politicians.

Levine  relied on earlier work by The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), which allowed him to use its data, reported in 1997, on the grant making activities of 12 foundations over the period from 1992 through 1994 in “Moving A Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations.” laid out a fine groundwork for understanding this movement, yet fell short in providing a comprehensive, interactive, open-to-all database that maps out the actual grants, for all to see. People for The American Way accurately described the engine of this movement in the title of another report on the phenomenon called “Buying a Movement.”

What else I’ve been writing today

* For SourceWatch.org  (you’ll have to search for it on the site–for some reason direct  links blow up my page here:

  •  ” Americans for Tax Reform”–updated current projects  
  •  “Doner Fundraising”–new article on conservative Texas political operative Kate Doner
  • ”John Doner  & Associates” –new article on her husband’s turnkey pr firm
  • “State Policy Network”–enlarged from a stub this article on the conservative market-oriented professional organization, providing a listing of all the affiliated state and national think tanks. 




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