Friday, April 10, 2015

Washington Policy Center anything but non-partisan on Spokane trolley line

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 11:46 AM

In a post on their website titled “Inlander Columnist gets it wrong on WPC,” you can imagine my disbelief to see The Washington Policy Center’s response after I wrote they opposed Proposition 1.

The author of the post, Eastern Washington staffer Chris Cargill, clarified they didn’t oppose it. Or support it. They don’t take positions; rather, just educate the public. However, Cargill has made it his business to destroy the Central City Line, the electric trolley project contained in Spokane Transit Authority’s Moving Forward plan. He has labeled it the “electric folly” and even penned an op-ed in the Spokesman-Review called "Electric Trolley not Spokane Transit Authority's best idea.” The day before my column was released, the Washington Policy Center hosted a breakfast for their constituents at the Davenport about Proposition 1 under the theme "the case, the cost, the concern?" For all the focus on one project, their report concluded public transportation as a whole is not underfunded. This is a view completely opposed to the point of my column — that we haven’t properly funded Spokane Transit Authority and as we continue to grow the benefits of public transportation become impossible to ignore.  

Additionally, the Washington Policy Center doesn’t seem terribly aware that saying it’s an “attack” every time somebody criticizes you doesn’t do a lot of good for your image. The Washington Policy Center is a right-wing think tank. The defensive response neatly comports with the portrayal since they have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them.

I asked Cargill if he would disclose what percentage of their annual operating budget comes from Kemper Freeman. He wouldn’t. He equated it with newspaper advertisers influencing newspaper stories. Fair enough. However, the comparison doesn’t stick in this case. On the Board Of Directors, Freeman’s involvement is germane due to his heavily tangled record on transit and more noteworthy than just one of a thousand donors across the state. In 2011, he gave $1.1 million of the $1.35 million raised for Tim Eyman’s transit killing Initiative I-1125 and, more recently, his case against Sounds Transit’s light rail on I-90 was rejected by the state Supreme Court. His role, his influence, these actions – it informs the Washington Policy Center's basis in Spokane to pull statewide wins in an effort to defeat transit.

The WPC is affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council and The State Policy Network that push conservative legislation through umbrella organizations at the state level. Look no further than the very non-partisan Koch Brothers to see where the funding comes from, and a national pattern develops. The billionaire industrialists are known for their strongly conservative politics and for their efforts to finance a network of local advocacy groups whose goal is to move the country to the right and buy their way out of criticism. In the last year T-Mobile, Google, Facebook, eBay decided pro-business legislation wasn’t worth the risk and dropped ALEC memberships due to their controversial tactics and misinformation.

The messaging advantages to “independent, non-partisan” are clear. However the litany of policy positions the Washington Policy Center has presented — creating a “right-to-work” state, touting the failures of the Affordable Care Act, arguing against our constitutional obligation to fund education, weakening climate legislation — obviously speak otherwise and therefore are misleading. The findings and recommendations on these issues they publish – just like Proposition 1 — are nothing more than propaganda masquerading as “key facts.” Through this process, they continuously stress to never take a position, instead hoping voters will make a deformed decision.

In his post, Cargill concludes by lauding the sunset clause that was introduced by City Council member Mike Allen at a Spokane City Council meeting — then presents an ostensibly contradictory statement that it shouldn’t even go the ballot in the first place. But "it's up to the voters to decide." The sentiment is all equivalent to: “I’m a nice guy but…"

To respect the will of the voters is a one of the holy political proverbs used from both sides of the aisle, but to respect voters enough to tell the truth is an entirely different story. The Washington Policy Center is running another campaign that just won’t really come out and say what it’s about. They don’t like to be asked, I learned.

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