Posted by Anne Landman on March 15, 2011

The MacIver Institute, also known as the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, is a Wisconsin-based, free-market think tank formed in 2009 which also acts as a "news service," supplying videos and reports to media outlets, like newspapers and television broadcasters. But just who is the MacIver Institute?

Harry Bradley, a founding member of the John Birch SocietyIn the last three years, the MacIver Institute has gotten at least $300,000 in funding from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which advocates eliminating labor unions under the guise of "restoring worker rights" and "modernizing labor laws." Harry Bradley, after whom the Foundation is named, was one of the original charter members of the 1960s right-wing extremist group, the John Birch Society, along with another Birch Society board member, Fred Koch, the father of Koch Industries' billionaire brother-owners, Charles and David Koch.

MacIver's Ethically-Challenged Staff

The MacIver Institute's staff contains a number of notorious former Wisconsin state public officials who got into legal trouble for political campaign violations and violations of the public trust.

Chief among those is the Republican former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen. The Institute has worked to distance itself from Jensen, to the point of denying he had any "formal role" with the group, and for good reason.

Cory Liebman, who writes for the Eye on Wisconsin Web site, discovered that Jensen writes press releases for the MacIver Institute, even though his name doesn't appear on them. Jensen's authorship of the releases, Liebman points out, can be discovered by accessing a PDF copy of some of the organization's press releases online, right-clicking on them and observing the document's properties, e.g. "Author:Scott Jensen." Jensen also authored a PowerPoint presentation on the MacIver Institute's web site.

Convicted former WI State Assembly Speaker Scott JensenIt makes sense that the Institute would want to hide Jensen's involvement. While he was in office, Jensen was the subject of an eight-year criminal case for misconduct. In 2002, Jensen, along with other GOP leaders in the State Assembly, were criminally charged with felony misconduct for using taxpayer dollars to run a secret, illegal campaign machine out of the Capitol. Waukesha County, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Patrick L. Snyder found Jensen guilty of using his government position for illegal gain. In court documents, Jensen denied any wrongdoing. The case concluded in December, 2010, after Jensen took a plea deal in which the felony charges were dropped in exchange for his agreeing to pay a civil forfeiture fine of $5,000 and reimburse the state of Wisconsin $67,174 in legal fees that were initially paid by taxpayers. Jensen also has a 2006 misdemeanor conviction in Dane County, Wisconsin for violating the public trust. That conviction may have prohibited Jensen from seeking public office in Wisconsin.

The MacIver Institute's president is Brett Healy, who worked for Scott Jensen for 12 years. Healy was Jensen's Chief of Staff during the time Jensen was brought up on criminal charges. Healy testified in Jensen's trial, but his sworn statements contradicted the testimony of two staffers he supervised at the time, who testified that Jensen was fully aware of the campaign work they and others did on behalf of Jensen while they were paid state employees. One staffer said that she worked on Jensen's campaign for four months in 2000, while at the same time drawing a state salary. Healy claimed he was unaware of the arrangement.

But Wait ... There's More

The MacIver Institute's treasurer, Mark Block, was State Director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity. As part of a settlement of charges of violating election laws, Block was exiled from political campaigns and fined $15,000 for allegations arising out of an illegal scheme in the campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. Block, who served as Wilcox's campaign manager, was charged by the election board with illegally coordinated $200,000 worth of campaign activity with a group that pretended to be operating independently. The person who ran the purported "independent" group was fined $35,000 and banned from Wisconsin state politics for five years. Justice Wilcox -- who, astonishingly, was running for the state's Supreme Court -- also paid a $10,000 fine. The fines were the largest ever assessed against a campaign in Wisconsin's history.

The Institute's Director of Communications is Brian Fraley, who served as the Senior Vice President for State Affairs at America's Health Insurance Plans in Washington, D.C., a lobbying group that represents big insurance companies. Fraley was also the national Health and Human Services Task Force Private Sector Chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded front group that helps advance the legislative agenda of global corporations.

The MacIver Institute's Educational Policy Analyist, Christian D'Andrea, was formerly a Policy Analyst and State Program Director with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named after free market economist Milton Friedman, who was controversial for teaching that the only "social responsibility" that corporations have is to increase their profits. The Friedman Foundation has since changed its name to delete the reference to Milton Friedman. It is now known as the Foundation for Educational Choice, and advocates the use of voucher systems for education, which would divert taxpayer funds from public schools and let them to flow to private schools instead.

From this roster of employees, it seems that 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations like the MacIver Institute are the next stop for convicted or disgraced -- but still ideologically driven -- right-wing political figures who still want to influence the public agenda.

That's the way it works in the U.S., and it's all fine and legal. But when considering whether to pay credence to "news" that emanates from the MacIver News Service, it would be prudent to be aware of the backgrounds of the people associated with this organization, and as always, to consider the source.

Comments

Of course, you may also want to consider that their reporting has been demonstrably proven accurate and true by the likes of the non-partisan PolitiFact watchdog and official state agencies who have launched investigations in the wake of possible waste, fraud and abuse uncovered by the MacIver News Service

Can you cite some "investigations by official state agencies" that MacIver didn't just publicize but actually had a part in initiating, as your comment seems to claim? I searched "investigation" on MacIver's website, and the only item I found that seemed to qualify was the phony sick slip matter.

As for PolitiFact.com, I found only two items on MacIver: the 3/4/11 item on teacher compensation in Milwaukee public schools, rated True, and the 2/21/11 item on phony sick notes, rated Mostly True.

From those results, if I were running PolitiFact I'd put a new point on the truth scale for your claim: "True as Far as It Goes, Which Ain't All That Far." And in poker I'd count it as two cards towards a flush.

PolitiFact is hardly a comprehensive review of all of the claims made by the group. That's actually one of the main flaws with the site across the board. Just look at Dick Cheney's page--in ratings on just five random claims a reader would have a completely distorted picture that suggests he mostly tells the truth when he has helped hatch and repeat major lies that have led to the deaths of thousands of people, through the propaganda that led the march to war in Iraq.

As for the two claims actually rated by PF, even a stopped clock is right two times a day.

The larger point is that readers ought to know who Maciver is.

Bill Moyers 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.