Charges of a right-wing conspiracy again filled the October air in Washington. But this time the claim came not from the first lady but from the National Education Association.
"The Real Story Behind `Paycheck Protection': The Hidden Link Between Anti-Worker and Anti-Public Education Initiatives: An Anatomy of the Far Right" claims to uncover a link between state-based efforts to make union dues voluntary (so-called paycheck protection initiatives) and a national effort to undermine public schooling by a centrally managed right-wing conspiracy. "The conservative network is disciplined, organized and extremely well funded," intones the report. "It has a national reach and management with a local presence."
Despite the hyperbolic tone of its title and introduction, much of the study is little more than a list of various conservative and libertarian public policy and political advocacy groups, taking information about their missions and donors from annual reports and press releases. And it may well become a cult classic among the groups profiled. "It's a great address book for funding sources," says Maureen Blum of the Institute for Justice. Says Claremont Institute President Larry Arnn, "To have the bad opinion of the National Education Association is a badge of honor."
But like all great drama, the report contains plenty of fiction. It incorrectly cites the nonpartisan Reason Foundation (publisher of REASON) as a supporter of Proposition 226, the unsuccessful California initiative that would have required unions to get annual permission for the dues spent on politics; the foundation does not support initiatives or candidates for office and did no research or publishing on the initiative. In an even larger howler, the document cites the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation as "supplying the legal muscle for `paycheck protection.'" One phone call to the group's Virginia headquarters would have dispelled this notion, since National Right to Work took no position on the initiative and indeed sees "paycheck protection" as a potential diversion from the organization's goal of ending compulsory unionism.
Even University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato, who wrote the report's foreword, backs away from its conclusions. "People who claim there are conspiracies in the [conservative and libertarian policy community] have never worked with these people," he says.