The Universal Notebook: Who elected the Maine Heritage Policy Center?

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Although I disagree with virtually everything the Maine Heritage Policy Center says, does and is, I would have no problem with it pursuing its conservative political agenda were it not for the fact that it pretends to be a nonpartisan think tank and, thereby, gets away with not disclosing who provides its funding.

People have been trying to figure out who is behind MHPC for years, ever since it started launching referendum efforts to pass a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. But so far no one has cracked the secretive organization.

“Why do folks on the left want to know so badly?” former MHPC Chief Executive Tarren Bragdon was quoted as saying in a September 2010 Lewiston Sun Journal article by Steve Mistler. “To what end?”

Well, Mr. Bragdon, let me tell you why folks who care about democracy and transparency in government might want to know where you get your money.

First, there’s just that little matter of hypocrisy (the calling card of all things far right) when an organization publishes the salaries of all state employees but refuses to release the names of its donors.

Then, there’s the obvious malarkey about MHPC being nonpartisan and an educational organization. MHPC is a far-right conservative advocacy group and everyone, including you, knows it. Public citizen Carl Lindemann waged a one-man campaign to force the center to reveal its funding back when it championed TABOR, but the totally useless Maine Ethics Commission (now there are a few wasted salaries for you) swallowed the idea that MHPC was just educating the public about TABOR, not advocating for it.

Educational organizations, by the way, Mr. Bragdon, don’t usually sue organizations with which they disagree, as the MHPC did the Maine Municipal Association, arguing that MMA used taxes dollars to oppose TABOR. Whose dollars did you use to promote it?

Now, of course, the reason that full financial disclosure has become so crucial is that, under Gov. Paul LePage, MHPC has become Maine’s shadow government. Maine citizens have a right to know who is in the shadow, who is dictating public policy. Let in the skunk and the stink comes with it.

Former MHPC education director Stephen Bowen is now Maine’s education commissioner and is busy pressing MHPC’s conservative charter-school agenda.

MHPC chief economist J. Scott Moody has been appointed to the recently gutted Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, where he will no doubt shake ‘n’ bake the numbers to suit the Republican agenda. Forget consensus, the economic forecast from now on cannot be trusted.

Until he was tapped to set up a bigger and better free market advocacy group in Florida, Bragdon headed LePage’s transition team and served as one of his chief policy advisers.

MHPC has also largely taken over the public policy functions of the State Planning Office, which is where LePage parked unseated Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Darryl Brown after Brown was disqualified. Brown has made it clear that the LePage administration does not want the State Planning Office in the policy business.

When you look at the Republican policy agenda, what you often see now are not state issues, but national initiatives that seem to serve the interests of big business, not local business: health insurance reform that puts all the power in the hands of out-of-state insurers, the repeal of Maine’s Informed Growth law, the failed attempt to prevent Maine from banning toxins in children’s toys, and what we must hope will be the failed attempts to push through union-busting right-to-work laws, split the Department of Health and Human Services in two and get rid of the Land Use Regulation Commission.

In fact, just about everything on Paul LePage’s regulatory reform agenda seems to have come out of nowhere.

Where might these issues be coming from? My guess is right field – the Maine Heritage Policy Center and its fellow traveler Americans for Prosperity, another free-market advocacy group headed here in Maine by none other than Trevor Bragdon, Tarren’s brother. Who funds Americans for Prosperity? The Koch Brothers, the oil-baron moneybags behind the tea party.

Who funds Maine Heritage Policy Center? Wouldn’t you like to know? I know I sure as heck would.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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