The Bush administration ventriloquists are out in full force these days, breathlessly hyping "Personal Retirement Accounts" as a way to save Social Security by destroying it. For the average voter, getting a handle on what the Bush administration is proposing to do to Social Security is quite a challenge. The dozens of bobbing heads and clicking fingers, holding forth on cable news programming and the Internet is enough to make anyone's head spin. Is that spokesman from the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security speaking as an independent economics expert, a civic-minded individual or as a paid shill from a corporate-funded front group?
If you're having trouble keeping track of all the players, our very own SourceWatch can help. It will tell you that the Alliance is sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable, among other pro-business groups. It shares its executive director Derrick Max and a number of its members with the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security (COMPASS). In fact, the Alliance and COMPASS both count as members of the United Seniors Association, a corporate-funded lobbying group that recently changed its name to USANext.
The New York Times reported Monday that USANext is launching a campaign "to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP, the powerhouse lobby opposing [Social Security] private investment accounts." To oversee the operation, USANext hired Chris LaCivita, recently of the 527 groups Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Progress for America and an employee of the DCI Group, a firm specializing in astroturf with close ties to the Bush White House. True to its word USANext, ran an ad on the American Spectator that equates the AARP to the "spit-on-the-troops/gay marriage lobby," as TalkingPointsMemo blogger Josh Marshall has been following.
Progress for America, after raising $38 million last year to support Bush's reelection, has also jumped in to the Social Security privatization game. PFA "has estimated it will spend $20 million promoting private accounts. It has run a series of ads on cable television, including a spot that invokes the legacy of Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed the legislation creating the retirement system," the Houston Chronicle reported.
PFA told the Chronicle it will be asking past donors for money to fund their new campaign. The head of the prominent investment firm Charles Schwab contributed $50,000 to the group's political arm in 2004. Schwab gave $75,000 more to the Club for Growth, which is also lobbying for Social Security privatization and expects to spend $10 million lobbying to promote private accounts. Peter J. Ferrara, an alumnus of the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and National Center for Policy Analysis, is heading the Club's Social Security Project.
"The emergence of the center-right phalanx backing the Social Security proposal is a major victory for the Cato Institute, a prominent libertarian group," The Washington Post's Thomas Edsall wrote recently. "In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cato was almost alone in its willingness to challenge the legitimacy of the existing Social Security system, a politically sacrosanct retirement program. Recognizing the wariness of other conservatives to tackle Social Security, Cato in 1983 published an article calling for privatization of the system. The article argued that companies that stand to profit from privatization - 'the banks, insurance companies and other institutions that will gain' - had to be brought into alliance. Second, the article called for initiation of 'guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.'"
Clearly, the "guerrilla warfare" has begun. And while it may seem like we're playing a GOP version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the stakes are high. The foundations of the U.S. system to ensure that average workers and their families are not left penniless, out in the cold is under serious attack. At SourceWatch we're tracking these innocent-enough sounding groups and what they are doing. And the best part is, you can help. SourceWatch is open to online citizens to add or edit any article in our collaborative database of people, groups and ideas shaping the public agenda.
The uncovering of the GOP plant Jeff Gannon (aka James Guckert) in the White House press room was the work of online citizen journalists, using their web research skills to expose the fake reporter and the White House's failure to explain truthfully how he got to ask the President a question. We do the same thing at SourceWatch, documenting the hidden connections between corporate trade associations, astroturf groups, and the White House.
Want to cover the newly minted website Generations Together? Or find out what impact Women for a Social Security Choice is having? How would you like to dig in and discover the common elements shared by Alliance for Retirement Prosperity and FreedomWorks?
So far, we've catalogued over two dozen articles on individuals and groups that are promoting Bush's Social Security privatization plan. There's plenty of groups and people to go around. To get involved, visit SourceWatch's "Welcome newcomers" page. On it you'll find tips for using a Wiki (SourceWatch runs on Wiki software), guidelines for writing SourceWatch articles and for research using the Web, plus advise from experienced SourceWatchers on how to research front group.
While the Right is coordinated in its attacks on Social Security, they are fighting an up-hill battle. By tracking and exposing their movements on SourceWatch, you can help make a difference.