When Your Ideas Harm Taxpayers, Make Stuff Up

The Patriot-News has been all over the Commonwealth Foundation’s recent report exposing the activities of PennFuture, the environmental lobbying group whose former president is in charge of Gov. Rendell’s Department of Environmental Protection.  On Monday, reporter Jan Murphy’s lengthy story ran, exploring the points we made.  Yesterday, the editorial board weighed in.  And now today, the newspaper has run a letter from a PennFuture board member that makes several claims so outrageous that they merit a response, lest anyone believe his claims.

First, the letter accuses us of “unfounded smear tactics.”  “Smear” is one of PennFuture’s favorite words, but one wonders if the group knows what it means.  It’s not a smear when you shine sunlight on what somebody’s really doing, and it’s not unfounded when the other folks admit you caught them with their hand in the cookie jar.  In this case, we accurately showed that PennFuture was spending a lot more than it said it was lobbying legislators to vote a certain way on particular bills.  If we were wrong about this, why did PennFuture’s president admit to the Patriot-News that the numbers it reported to the IRS for its lobbying expenditures were inaccurate?

Next, the letter says CF is “an anti-environment organization.”  Now here’s a real smear!   There is nothing “anti-environment” about CF’s love for free markets and opposition to, for instance, natural gas extraction taxes that are transparently efforts to prop up the deficit-ridden General Fund budget.  Companies should certainly be held accountable for any negative impact they have on the environment, but it’s a farce to assert this proposal is the way to do that.  We want to protect the environment just as much as PennFuture; we simply believe an overbearing government is not the way to do it.  In fact, we believe limited government is the best way to make Pennsylvania a place where people want to actually live-by allowing businesses to create jobs and instituting simple rules to ensure they pay for any negative externalities they create.  Shame on PennFuture for pretending otherwise.

There’s a lot more we could say about this letter, but one other particularly false allegation is found in the last sentence, in which the PennFuture board member says we “do industries’ bidding.”  Let me say this as clearly as I can:  No one who is even marginally familiar with CF’s work should be able to say with a straight face that we do anybody’s bidding.  Period.

We say this in our guarantee of quality scholarship, but perhaps more importantly, we prove it every day.  While we are rightly known as critics of many of Gov. Rendell’s policies, we have also praised him when he’s done the right thing.  Similarly, we don’t flinch from criticizing powerful legislators when they go astray-or praising them when they do the right thing-no matter who they are, what they may have done for us, and which party they prefer.  Just in the past week on our blog, we have criticized an initiative founded by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), praised a bill authored by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), praised and criticized the House GOP’s new policy agenda, and criticized both major-party gubernatorial candidates’ positions on unemployment benefits.  As for companies, we’re famous for opposing corporate welfare across the board, no matter what companies are involved.  Contrast this with PennFuture, which supports subsidies for renewable energy that would take money from taxpayers and give it certain politician-preferred companies.

The Big Government crowd can clearly differ with our positions on the merits.  But to say they’re just postures we adopt because somebody else says so, that we’re against the environment, or that we haven’t hit the nail on the head about PennFuture’s lobbying,  is ludicrous.  If you ask me, PennFuture’s habit of doing this suggests that they know their policy proposals are only popular in smoke-filled rooms in the State Capitol-not in front of the taxpayers who are on the hook to pay for them.