The Mackinac Center bills itself as a free market think tank, which suggests its purpose is to produce meaningful research to fight government regulation of business. It operates as a group of serious policy analysts writing scholarly studies to establish that minimal corporate regulation would be in the public interest. Increasingly, it justifies every policy it advocates as in one way or another furthering freedom.
But adopting this ‘free market’ brand demonstrates that it established its conclusion before it did any research. A “free market think tank” can hardly conclude anything else. Deception is among its founding principles. Its very germination was fed by deceit.
This initial deceit opens the door for its Machiavellian approach to working toward its goals. The Mackinac Center functions as a Republican/corporate propaganda mill, promoting any public policy that increases its sponsor’s profits. And always under the guise of an IRS-sanctioned “social welfare” charity.
Take for example it’s stance on unions. Officially writing “government-neutral, free market labor policy” by offering union members information on their rights and working tirelessly for “worker freedom,” the Center has pushed a endless series of union-weakening laws. In fact, the Center has served for years as the principal source of union-busting model legislation for ALEC.
The Mackinac Center’s union-busting work represents a twofer: The Center’s union-debilitating legislation helps the corporations that fund it avoid the bother of negotiations, as well as any meaningful opposition when they decide to expand into new markets, say, into K12 education. At the same time, unions that have lost members can raise fewer campaign dollars to oppose the Center’s elected (always Republican) supporters.
But the Mackinac Center has historically avoided admitting to a political goal. In fact its IRS tax returns have always stated they do no political work:
The Mackinac Center, like all right wing think tanks, are organized as 501c3 public charities, which means contributions are both anonymous and tax deductible, amounting to a public subsidy of political work. Make no mistake, tax deductions are public subsidies. Just ask the granddaddy of right wing think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, which opposes them except those that fund their operations.
But long success and non-existant enforcement can lead, ironically, to a little less dishonesty. With the Janus national right to work Supreme Court case holding about to be announced, and with it the prospect of their funders having an easier time pushing workers around, the Center has lost its restraint and is gladly taking credit for the always-intended effect of Michigan’s 2012 Right to Work law: cutting union membership means fewer members contributing to PACs, giving conservative (Republican) politicians a improved campaign finance advantage.
The Wall Street Journal happily made the same point after Pres. Trump’s ultra-thin Electoral College win:
Why does this publicly-subsidized charade continue? Why doesn’t the IRS crack down on this network of corporate-funded political operations masquerading as social welfare charities?
This weak-kneed approach can be traced back to 2013 and a ham-handed IRS approach of choosing which groups to audit by putting those with either “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their names at the top of the list. The firestorm that ensued caused President Obama to apologize and fire the IRS commissioner, Steven T. Miller. The conflagration continued through the 2014 midterms where the Republican party made its biggest gains in a century including winning control of the US Senate.
Nevermind that a subsequent review of the process proved both conservative and liberal groups were targeted. Which, of course, is what should have happened.
But the damage was done. The Obama administration wouldn’t attempt again to control this political work by non-profits, and under the Trump administration it’s clearly out of the question.
As a result, groups like the Mackinac Center are freer than ever to be honest about their political aims. Effectively being more honest about their deceit.