I have no use for monied special interests of any political stripe. But conflating the conservative business lobbying group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) with the Trayvon Martin tragedy, as Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal Constitution does here and has done elsewhere, is unspeakably sleazy.

Jim Galloway: Giving Indignation a Bad Name

The AJC used to practice some standards in its political reporting. No matter where Galloway’s predecessor stood on issues, he made an effort to be even-handed, and this sort of character assassination was not routine.  No more: Jim Galloway sets a deeply nasty, unprofessional, uninformed tone.

How uninformed?  It’s amazing how fast sloppiness takes over when the newsroom stops even trying to present a facade of objectivity.  This AJC story uncritically apes a press release from the vaguely-named, doesn’t-practice-what-they-preach group, Better Georgia.  And by being busy with such uncritical aping, Jim Galloway and his trusty polysci sidekicks miss some pretty glaring flaws —  one might call them ironies — in the Better Georgia report.

But “miss” is not quite the right term: “cover-up” is better, as I’ll explain below.

By all means take a look at the ALEC report from Better Georgia — you’ll see revelations of a bunch of $12 lunches and so on. Horrors!  Is it really possible that giant special interests buy legislators lunch, send them to conferences, and give them money for their campaigns?

The point is not that these are good things: outsized influence in politics is not good, but, contrary to what Better Georgia wants you to believe with their breathless exposé, everyone in politics does it.   Verizon does it and the ACLU does it; Apple Corporation does it; the Eagle Forum does it; Planned Parenthood does it; the Christian Coalition does it.

More to the point, Better Georgia does it, but what is even more ironic than just doing it is how they do it: they do it by engaging in precisely the same tax-deductible sleights-of-hand that they condemn in ALEC and others.  They do it with money funneled through various nonprofit schemes, some unaccountable, some with changing names, some using precisely the same tax reporting loopholes they scream about when other groups use them.

Ironically, Better Georgia is the real fake grassroots organization with a top-down agenda — an accusation they falsely fling at ALEC, which doesn’t pretend to be what it is not.  Better Georgia is the Georgia office for ProgressNow, a Soros-funded network of powerful leftist political operators who use their state-level groups to gain credibility in the media (a not-too-difficult task with sycophants like Jim Galloway to carry their water) and to present a local face.   Depending on the state, chapters of ProgressNow focus on different issues to mobilize local activism, but they focus mainly on the progressive/leftist/Democrat/public school employee/NEA agenda.

After all, that’s where state political power resides: educator unions are pretty much the biggest leftist power base, especially in Republican-controlled states.  In right-to-work  Republican states, they’re among the few unions powerful enough to make demands at all.  Teacher’s unions and other progressive groups use Better Georgia as a shell organization as scores of lefty foundations and donors from elsewhere help perpetuate and bankroll the fraud.  It’s a way for Democratic Party operatives to extend their state-level reach through faux-local politics.  Just take a look at their website: it’s a confection of professionally manufactured vagueness, right down to the neutral-sounding name and odd lack of detail.

Contrast this with ALEC, which openly names its corporate members and openly promotes its political agenda, no matter what you think of that agenda.

Better Georgia could not perpetrate this fraud without armies of lackeys in the media and in academia.  Ironies abound: in thousands of newspaper stories and a growing dungheap of pseudo-academic “studies,” the Tea Party, which is an actual grassroots movement, is attacked by the Jim Galloways of the world for being an astroturf group.  Meanwhile, Galloway and his editors at the AJC help perpetrate a deception by reporting on Better Georgia as if it were a real “grassroots” group arising spontaneously from citizen action, rather than the brainchild of a group of professional DNC operatives.

In some ways, Better Georgia has a similar profile to Americans For Prosperity, a national nonprofit of the right that partners (and I mean partner) with Tea Party groups.  I realize heads might explode at this comparison, but I think it’s apt in several ways.  In both cases, a national nonprofit that is not entirely transparent about its motives and organization creates state offices to maximize its influence on state-level legislation.  In both cases, the big nonprofit claims membership from among the ranks of local activists and purports to speak for those activists on a wide range of issues and legislation.  Both have people who join locally, but Better Georgia, being part of a leftist, union-driven movement, probably speaks more seamlessly for individual members’ interests because those interests — growing the government dependency culture, defending union and public worker turf, opposing school choice, socializing medicine  — march in lockstep with its members’ paychecks and pocketbooks.  The relationship between AFP and Tea Party groups is much more voluntary, and often much more rocky, a fact that speaks well for the Tea Party and even sometimes for AFP — at least when they play fair, which isn’t always the case.

AFP tries to use the power of the grassroots to advance their agenda, but the Tea Party and related groups are fiercely independent and genuinely citizen-led.  While they often have common cause with AFP, AFP is not the Tea Party, though in Florida in particular they pretend as if they run the movement, and I have seen some very ugly efforts in that state to try silence Tea Party activists.  I doubt Better Georgia has such problems — precisely because a victory for Better Georgia generally means that the taxpayers, and not their members, are on the hook for one thing or another: taxpayers are the grudging involuntary “partners” in Better Georgia’s every scheme.

And of course the media hysterically demonizes the Koch brothers, who make many jobs in this state and elsewhere and are reportedly very ethical employers, no matter the problems with AFP.  ALEC is similarly the victim of relentless media smears, a trend that is accelerating with this recent Better Georgia report — and the reports simultaneously generated in other states by other ProgressNow “affiliates.”

Better Georgia’s report on ALEC is pure partisan agitprop.  I haven’t had much time to look at it, but one thing immediately jumps out: the research selectively focuses on donations to Republicans in this state while ignoring donations made to Democrats by the very same companies.  This is a very useful side-effect of the state-based pseudo-activism model.  For example, in Republican-majority Georgia, ProgressNow’s front group Better Georgia can attack every company that donates to Republicans; meanwhile, their group in California, Courage Campaign, can avoid criticizing the same companies when those companies donate to the Democratic elected officials there.  That’s political expediency at its slickest (check out the website of Better Georgia’s California partner to see a less covert version of the group’s radical aims).

Also, when it takes three paragraphs to describe how a school choice bill for handicapped students is a Tool of the Man, you’re either not very good at producing agitprop, or you are very good at it.  It’s hard to tell, however, how good Better Georgia really is at manufacturing agitprop because they’re getting such a helping hand from the media — and the taxpayers, who were forced to fund that Grady High School video.

If there were real political reporters left at the AJC, there would be some semblance of nuance in discussions about Better Georgia, ProgressNow, ALEC, AFP, the Tea Party, and a host of other political issues.  Readers might even learn something when they read the AJC, which changed its slogan a few years ago from Covers Dixie Like The Dew to the highly funny yet less amusing following non-trifecta: Credible. Compelling. Complete.

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