Leaked Memo: Rio Grande Foundation, National conservative network planning huge new anti-union campaign to hurt Democrats

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A memo leaked to The Guardian newspaper shows that conservative mega-donors are committing millions of new dollars to a secretive “think tank” network in states (including New Mexico) to create new campaigns to “defund and defang” labor unions in states.

The blockbuster report published today included a copy of a 10-page strategy and fundraising memo outlining how the State Policy Network’s supposedly non-partisan foundations have successfully organized for years to discredit the value of organized labor in order to advance anti-labor laws, specifically “right to work.”

Why?  The memo makes it clear: to deprive Democrats of campaign dollars to stand up to conservative big-money campaigns.

In a letter authored by the President and CEO of (SPN) or State Policy Network, the aim is clearly laid out for potential supporters and donors.

SPN’s president and CEO Tracie Sharp,describes the $8m“breakthrough” campaign as a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left … We are primed, right now, to deliver the mortal blow to permanently break its stranglehold on our society.”

What is the State Policy Network?

SPN is a national conservative organization, but you might not know it.  Their network consists of 67 different non-profit foundations in states whose missions are, in their own words, to be “idea factories” for state-based conservative policies.  But, in reality, national policies are simply pushed out to innocent sounding state foundations who push them as their own ideas.

Here’s what our friends at the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch project report about SPN:

SPN groups operate as the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), giving the cookie-cutter ALEC agenda a sheen of academic legitimacy and state-based support.

Many SPN groups are and often write ALEC “model bills.”

In the states, SPN groups increasingly peddle cookie-cutter “studies” to back the cookie-cutter ALEC agenda, spinning that agenda as indigenous to the state and giving it the aura of academic legitimacy. Many SPN groups, such as the Mackinac Center in Michigan, have been accused of lobbying in their states, in violation of IRS rules for non-profit “charitable” organizations.

Some SPN groups, like the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, also contain litigation centers funded by national foundations to defend or pursue the SPN/ALEC agenda.

SPN shares many of same sources of funding as ALEC, including Koch institutions.

The Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity provides the “grassroots” boots on the ground for this agenda.

Although many SPN groups claim to be independent and non-partisan, they promote a policy agenda — including union-busting, attacks on the tort bar, and voter suppression — that is highly-partisan and electoral in nature. SPN President Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal that she had always felt Wisconsin and Michigan were only “thinly blue,” and that the GOP has been put on better footing by the unions’ slide. “When you chip away at one of the power sources that also does a lot of get-out-the-vote,” she says, “I think that helps — for sure.”[4]

The New Mexico Connection

New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation is an SPN member and in 2015 we exposed how they worked directly with New Mexico Republican operatives, including the governor’s own advisor Jay McCleskey, to raise money and produce a report full of fake news that Republican legislators could use to justify anti-labor Right to Work laws.

Jan 29, 2015 — Today’s committee hearing on right-to-work was one of the most hotly contested of the session, testing the new Republican majority’s ability to govern in a democratic way.

After allowing members of the public to read letters from business leaders and employees across the state, the Chair of the House Business and Employment Committee told ProgressNowNM’s communications director he could not read an email between the sponsor’s expert witness and political operatives discussing right-to-work legislation, then had him removed from the microphone.

In the third hour of the committee’s hearing on Rep. Roch’s ‘right-to-work’ bill, HB22, ProgressNowNM’s Alex Curtas introduced himself in public comment to read an email between the sponsor’s expert, Paul Gessing, and Republican campaign operatives discussing their plan to find a ‘sugar daddy’ to fund a study and push right-to-work as a tool to un-elect ‘dumb’ Democrats. (read the email here)

Chairwoman Jane Powdrell-Culbert (R-Bernalillo) immediately interrupted Mr. Curtas and said he could not speak if he mentioned the expert or others included in the email.  Mr. Curtas informed the chair that the email was germane to the topic, read part of the email, then was cut off by the chair who said he could not continue.  She then motioned to the attendant to remove Mr. Curtas from the microphone.

Read more: Committee Chair Boots ProgressNow from Mic, Censors Public Comment Against Right-to-Work Supporters

That email (read it in full here), made public as a part of court discovery in the case of Governor Martinez’s hacked emails, was one of the first to show a direct connection between a Republican fundraiser and the Rio Grande Foundation discussing a play to find a “sugar daddy” donor to fund a study to be used exclusively for the purpose of unelecting Democrats.  As a 501c3 non-profit, the Rio Grande Foundation (and the other members of the SPN) is supposed to be non-partisan.

So what exactly is Right to Work and why are conservative donors spending so much money to push it ahead of elections?

So what can you as a New Mexican citizen do about it?

The next time you see the Rio Grande Foundation represented on any major news outlet, read a column they’ve penned in the ABQ Journal, or hear them on the radio, call them and let them know how much you do not appreciate the way that they are allowing dark money to play a role in New Mexico politics. Shame on the Rio Grande Foundation. #WhoWeElectMatters and there’s no room for big corporations and dark money to play in New Mexico politics. Send your message of #Resistance loud and clear.