On Saturday, we noted the Star Tribune being played by DC beltway talking points in Strib: Homage to the Club for Growth's script. We'll review some points from Saturday in a bit.
The Club for Growth got pretty ticked off at Walz for listening to farmers in Minnesota rather than big buck-backed ideologues in DC. We predicted they'd be loud and angry, and sure enough, right on cue, their carnies have pranced onto the stage.
It's Fair time, the spin is on, and the Republican Party of Minnesota and its bloggerific minions are dutifully echoing the conservative well-funded Beltway's ideologues in Minnesota. The Club for Growth and the Republican Party of Minnesota would like to treat Southern Minnesotans like marks at a side show.
The source of the money backing this PR war isn't the only thing the Club for Growth and its poodles at the MNGOP have to conceal behind the scenery in order to make this scenario play from Pipestone to Plainview. It's the items in the Club's report card and the nature of earmark reform itself.
The anti-pork benchmarks in the report card are amendments Republicans ideologues offered on the floor, moves intended to create the report card and similar political talking points. Now the Club for Growth denigrates the work that Congress is doing on real earmark reform and bids (very loudly) the audience to focus only on its banter as it shuffles the deck. Think that deck might be stacked? Hmm.
The Club for Growth would have you think that all earmarks are bad, without asking you to take at closer look at any of the facts of the matter. It's a basic tool of the propagandist/con artist. But why would citizens would think staying ignorant is in their best interests?
So, let's take a calm look at the biggest money item on the report card, one which sends money to Minnesota and eight other states:
House Vote 813 - Bars funding of $6,371,000 for the wood utilization grant in Mississippi, North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia. Amendment failed, 68-363.
Note that only 68 legislators voted against this "pork." What was the funding for?
It's part of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 (H.R. 3161), according a description to Mississippi Republican Congressman Chip Pickinger's web site:
• Wood Utilization - $6,371,000: Mississippi State University and universities in Oregon, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia share in these funds to research technologies to maintain America’s worldwide timber industry competitiveness.
The OMB lists specifics here. The University of Minnesota-St. Paul receives $249,000.
Let's turn to the floor debate for more details. In the Congressional Record ( Page H9637--H9639 , 110th Congress), Amendment #12 sponsor Jeff Flake praises the country's timber industry but questions the money for the earmark:
I sincerely question why the Federal Government needs to involve itself in a program that educates students about the utility of wood as a renewable resource.
Pretty slick, sport. Flake is pretending that money to universities is just for educating students, while the appropriation is for research. America's land grant colleges have been a place for practical research in agriculture and ever since their creation in the Morrill Act of 1862. They're not some wild new pork project, but a long-standing tool for America's economic development. Much of the research in the United States takes place at universities, which then transfer technology to industry.
What happened to the free market? What happened to common sense? I think we have had it out there for a while. After 1985, we have been doing this same earmark or this same program for the past several years, or it has been earmarked for the past several years. I would say it's time to reconsider the project.
Not a bad question. So what's the project all about? Several gentleman from both parties rose to explain.
Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, the wood utilization consortium is made up of 10 universities in 10 different States around the country with varying missions.
I am familiar with the program mainly because of the involvement of North Carolina State University. NC State's contribution to the consortium is focused on wood machining and tooling. The programs help develop innovative production methods and use stronger, longer-lasting tools which are allowing U.S. manufacturers to maintain domestic production and compete in the global economy.
Such work is critical to support the U.S. furniture and lumber industries. North Carolina's furniture industry alone is estimated to contribute $10 billion to the economy.
North Carolina State University's contribution to increased manufacturing efficiency and global competitiveness within this major industry represents only a small component of the wood utilization program. Continued funding is a wise national investment.
I urge defeat of the amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to my colleague from North Carolina, who represents the main campus of North Carolina State University (Mr. Etheridge).
So why fund a technology program that helps American furniture manufacturers? Can't they do the research themselves?
Mr. ETHERIDGE. I thank my friend for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, my friend from Arizona has already made a statement why this earmark ought to stay in here. It really is making a difference for the industry, and it's employing people. I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.
The funding for this wood utilization grant helps fund the Wood Machining and Tooling Research Program, as you have just heard. Part of it is really on the campus of NC State University, a land grant university. It has been matched more than dollar for dollar, every Federal dollar by private dollar. [emphasis added]
This is not a giveaway program but, rather, one that has been designed to work to make the Southeastern furniture industry more competitive, as you have heard, in the global economy. This research program investigates and solves problems related to manufacturing tools used in the wood machining and manufacturing operations.
Other than Wood Machining and Tooling Research Program, there is no other Federal research program to support U.S. wood manufacturing and tooling companies who are competing with low-wage jobs on the other side of the world with other countries. It is only right to invest in the industries we have remaining in our rural parts of this country when outsourcing these industries overseas has hurt States all across America. [emphasis added].
Given America's high wages, we could race to be bottom and pay workers less. Yeah, that'll work. Another solution is to use our brainpower to develop cutting edge technology that keeps good jobs here. That's the sort of thing the Club for Growth would like you to think is wrong.
And there's more technology coming out of the project. Government often partners with universities to solve problems. Congressman Allen from Maine points out one problem solved by project dollars in his state:
At U-Maine, every dollar appropriated to the Center generates an additional $7 in economic output. The research has promoted important advances in fields as diverse and important as biofuels and advanced wood composites.
I want to highlight one program in particular that was born from this funding. The Modular Ballistic Protection System, developed at the U-Maine Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center, is a series of lightweight, strong-as-metap wood composite panels that are inserted into tents to protect our soldiers from mortars and other incoming fire in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lifesaving technology would not have been possible without the initial investment from the Wood Utilization funding . [emphasis added]
I appreciate the gentleman's intent but I believe it is misguided. In offering these kinds of amendments, the gentleman has frequently asked: what is the federal interest?
Well, in this case, it is clear. This is a project with national implications that helps our competitiveness, our industries, and our national defense. It is an investment that the federal government should be making so that America can lead the way in a variety of important R&D fields, create jobs, and in some cases, save American lives.
The Club's short on a lot of details and don't want you to ask. Look beneath the fold for more.
Back to those points from Saturday. We looked at the Club's big-buck contributors there and the FEC's long-standing lawsuit. And we noted an April Roll Call article, Club for Growth, Other Big Groups Altering Tax Status, about the games the Club plays in order to conceal its contributor lists (emphasis ours):
The Club for Growth, the conservative political organization known for targeting moderate Republican lawmakers, recently shelved its 527 tax status in favor of the designation used by AARP, the National Rifle Association and others, a legal retooling many expect to accelerate as the 2008 election cycle turns on the afterburners.
"There's been a lot more scrutiny over the past several years on 527 organizations," said Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and now a Republican election law attorney in private practice. "There's a growing recognition that 501(c)'s are the vehicles of choice in this legal and political environment."
Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the group's president, first told club members in January of the plan to transfer operations from the much-maligned 527 tax status to 501(c)(4), a section of the tax code used by social welfare organizations. Charities, labor unions and business groups also are organized under section 501(c) of the tax code. . . .
. . .The club's reorganized tax status will alter little of the group's focus on "promoting economic freedom," Toomey wrote, but also will allow unlimited anonymous donations from individuals and allow the group to take part in a variety of new lobbying activities. Club directors also reconfigured its political action committee, which it can use to channel hard-dollar donations to candidates.
"With the Democrats now in charge of Congress, we need that hard-hitting advocacy more than ever ... we can now directly lobby Congress and run grassroots lobbying campaigns without paying huge tax penalties," Toomey wrote. "Unlike in the past, your donations to the Club will not be disclosed to the public, except in very limited circumstances."
A report out Tuesday by the Campaign Finance Institute also suggests that 527s will prove pass, once the chips for the 2008 election cycle are counted and cashed. Instead, big-dollar, soft-money donors increasingly may prefer redesigned groups such as the Club for Growth, which are precisely crafted to avoid hefty FEC fines and can keep their donor lists confidential. The requirement that 527s make public their donor lists proved politically troublesome recently for White House nominee and GOP donor Sam Fox.
So what's in it for shady contributors who want to defund projects that help create and preserve jobs and preserve American lives? More importantly, what's in it for the citizens of Minnesota's First?
The Club would have us believe "earmark reform" eliminates all earmarks, effectively barring local and state leaders from having a meaningful say in federal dollars spent in their area. Before the current Congress, earmarks weren't linked to individual legislators, nor were there safeguards against an individual representative or his relatives profiting.
Tim Walz? He has been transparent about his own earmarked appropriations and, unlike the Club for Growth, isn't moving to conceal his contributors. My, My.