Today's New York Times (12/13/09) includes a full-page ad sponsored by the "Committee to Rethink Reform." The ad shows an elderly couple on a lonely country road facing a "highway sign" that says "Next Medicare Doctor 71 miles." The lady is using a walker. Huge letters above the graphic spell out "Cutting Support for Medicare Means Cutting Doctors for Seniors." Below the photo, we find this baffling message: "Incredibly, the Senate just voted to cut billions from Medicare. And despite $36 trillion in debt they expanded the program! More debt and rationing for seniors is coming."
Just out of curiosity, I did a little research. I wanted to know who was so concerned about the health care our seniors are receiving. I also wanted to know, if possible, where that $36 trillion figure came from and who wrote the ad copy that uses a plural pronoun to refer to a singular noun. LOL.
This so-called committee is really a project of the "Employment Policies Institute," which according to its own website is "a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth." Among other things, the Institute publishes studies allegedly demonstrating that the minimum wage has a damaging effect on certain parts of the labor market. (It also doesn't help businesses very much, but I suppose that's incidental.)
CREW -- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- links the "Rethink Reform" effort to discredit health care reform to Bernard & Company, which is closely connected to another non-profit called the "Center for Union Facts." According to the IRS Form 990 filed for calendar year 2007, the "Center for Union Facts" paid Bernard & Company more than $839,000 in compensation, from revenue of less than $3 million. According to CREW, Bernard & Company is closely associated with a long list of conservative causes.
So, I ask you: who really paid for this "Rethink Reform" ad? If we're going to exercise our right to free speech (yes, we all believe in it), is there at least an ethical responsibility to stand up and say it publicly, without hiding your identity?
The question has two answers. First, I don't really know who paid for it. Maybe somebody with lots of time and a research tool more powerful than the Internet can find out. (How likely do you think most readers of the ad will be to find out who really paid for it?) Secondly, in a sense, we all paid for it, because contributions to the "non-profit" organization that sponsored it were tax deductible!
I recently saw in another publication -- I believe it was "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" -- that the IRS is approving applications for new non-profit agencies almost carte blanche these days. Now, I suppose one could argue that doing "research" and publicizing the results also serve an educational purpose. But is education the real purpose of organizations like the "Center for Union Facts" and the "Employment Policies Institute"? Or is the purpose to blatantly influence public policy? (The ad in question concludes with "Call your Senators and raise hell," followed by an area code 202 phone number.) And if they can lobby with tax deductible money, why are the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union not eligible for non-profit status?