Commentary

The Fisking of Edgar Allen Beem

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Oh, Edgar.

There’s something almost comical about reading a piece of writing that is so bad, so riddled with errors, so logically inconsistent, and so factually inaccurate, that you don’t even know how to begin to refute it. Something sad, but also humorous about its failed attempt at profoundness.

Such is the case of Edgar Allen Beem’s recent column in The Forecaster, attacking The Maine Heritage Policy Center for our recent report on the ballot initiative process.

Despite the difficulty in even figuring out where to begin in responding to it, I am going to go ahead and give it the old college try. And I will be doing so with gusto — by fisking his column. Fisking, for those unfamiliar, is a rebuttal to an article that is made by quoting its content in sections and refuting each section individually.

This is a technique that is typically used when something is so bad that you have no choice but to literally go point by point, refuting the unending nonsense a little bit at a time.

So buckle up, kids. Here we go.

“In one of the most blatantly hypocritical guest editorials ever printed in a Portland newspaper…”

And the Academy Award for most ridiculous use of hyperbole in a newspaper column goes to…

“…an analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center last week complained that outside groups are funding citizen initiatives in Maine.”

What Beem doesn’t say here — or anywhere else in his column — is that the assertion is correct.

The report he is talking about can be read here, and there is nothing in the report that he is able to quibble with. MHPC was not interpreting vague concepts and making broad assertions — we analyzed hard data, and there is no other conclusion that anyone could have come up with. These are just numbers, folks. And so transparent about the project were we, that we posted the raw data that we used for the report for media, lawmakers and the general public to see and analyze for themselves.

A gigantic percentage of the money spent on initiative campaigns in Maine came from outside the state. “Among the $81,321,456 in total funds contributed,” our report read, “71 of funds were contributed from out-of-state sources, 23 percent came from within Maine, and six percent of funds were non-itemized.”

This is what we like to call, in the business, a fact. And one Beem can’t argue against. Which is why he spent his time lying about us.

This from a conservative political organization that is largely funded by outside groups.

Beem’s first, and most egregious lie.

Leftists like Beem fall prey to this temptation virtually any time they talk about us. They assume things they don’t know to be true. They fill vacuums of their own knowledge with supposition, stating it as fact.

Indeed, later in this same column, Beem complains that he doesn’t actually know who gives us money. So how do you think that he was able to make the claim that we are “largely funded by outside groups,” if he has no idea who is doing the funding? And boy does he want to know.

In fact, seven years ago, Beem was already whining that he had no idea who funded MHPC. “Who funds Maine Heritage Policy Center? Wouldn’t you like to know? I know I sure as heck would,” he said.

Didn’t know then. Doesn’t know now. Yet he is confident enough to say, in fact, he does know.

His assertion is a lie. While we do not expose our individual supporters to public scrutiny — specifically because people like Beem would publicly assail and harass them — I am happy to give you demographic statistics about those supporters.

It would probably surprise Beem to learn that 93% of our donors live in Maine. Sitting on my desk right now are thank you letters to an individual in West Gardiner who gave us $25, and another from Bowdoin who just gave us $50. That kind of donation is what fuels our organization.

Let’s make something clear: you don’t get to make up claims just because you have an absence of information.

“Maine’s ballot initiative system,” claimed the Maine Heritage Policy Center, “is exploited regularly by outside interests who use groups like the Maine People’s Alliance as lackeys to do their bidding.”

Once again, Beem is restating a claim that we made that is simply a fact. By adding his derision to it, he thinks it makes the point less true. It doesn’t.

Sincerely, it would be nice if he would have the intellectual honesty to accept reality. It’s okay, Edgar. You are allowed to admit that the preceding sentence is correct, and still argue that you don’t mind that it is true.

George Soros alone has given hundreds of thousands of dollars this year to impact the initiative process.

This is a matter of public record, Edgar. And you know why? Because that money is going into the elective process. The Maine People’s Alliance is a 501(c)(4), and that means they are allowed to do things that MHPC, which is a 501(c)(3), is not allowed to do. They have opened up separate groups, including ballot question committees, to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into, so that they can affect elections and engage in electioneering.

We don’t. No one has ever claimed that we don’t have an ideological (not partisan, but philisophical) point of view, Edgar, but we don’t endorse candidates and our mission is educational in nature. We don’t engage in independent expenditures in political campaigns. We do not run referendum campaigns, either for or against. We don’t buy television and radio commercials that seek to influence the electorate. They do.

And you know what? I don’t even begrudge them that. What they are doing is perfectly legal.

But that is, in a nutshell, the difference between us and them, and why they — for their elective campaign activities — need to disclose donors.

I won’t get into all the other money they don’t have to disclose that you, predictably, don’t want to know about.

Maine Heritage Policy Center singled out the Maine People’s Alliance because the progressive social action group has mounted successful referendum campaigns in recent years to expand Medicaid, tax the rich to pay for education and raise the minimum wage.

We singled them out because they are the yearly beneficiary of a lot of out of state money, and the subject of our report was the referendum process. We would have pointed out any group that was that central to the story. In fact, if you read our report — which I’m sure you didn’t — you would find that we published all of the money that funneled to conservative groups, as well as the money that funded to liberal groups, and everyone in between.

The reason you’re mad is because this little project uncovered a very inconvenient fact that you don’t want to admit, and no one on the left wants to hear.

The very people that complain the most about “money in politics” and “fat cat billionaires” interfering in elections, are themselves — by exponential factors — the largest beneficiaries of that money in politics from fat cat billionaires. I’m sorry that it is inconvenient, but it is true.

And you know what? More power to them.

Again, I don’t have any legal issue with them doing it. I have a rhetorical problem with it. The findings of our report completely undercut the notion that these campaigns are a response to the “will of the people,” and make clear that they are simply the local vehicles for large, nationally focused organizations who want to play in Maine and use the referendum system because we are a cheap date and it is the easiest way for them to pass ideas that could never survive legislative vetting.

In November, Maine People’s Alliance has yet another referendum question on the ballot seeking to fund universal home care for the elderly and disabled by imposing a payroll tax on incomes over $128,400.

They do. And a terrible idea it is.

Until Maine Heritage Policy Center starts disclosing where it gets its money I see no reason why any Maine publication should give this conservative lobbying group free space to spin its agenda.

Because, Edgar, we aren’t running election activities related to the campaign. We will analyze the proposal, and we will publish that analysis of it, and then you folks — in the media and the general public — can read that research and do whatever you want with it. We will tell people what we have found, but again, we aren’t buying ads, paying for canvassers to knock on doors, or running any kind of large scale campaign against it. There is another group — which you bring up later in your piece — that is running point on that.

Maine media is exploited regularly by outside interests who use groups like Maine Heritage Policy Center as lackeys to do their bidding.

So wait, Edgar. I’m confused. Is outside money that floods into Maine to try to get groups to “do their bidding” a bad thing, or a good thing?

Because you seem to think it is a good thing when The Maine People’s Alliance gets the money, yet are trying to take us to task for… outside money?

So, good when your friends do it, bad when your adversaries do? This was an article on hypocrisy, right?

Not that it ultimately matters since, as I said, MHPC is not used by outside groups to do their bidding.

Sometimes I wish we were — I would have a budget three times the size that I do. (That’s a little light humor, Edgar.)

Maine Heritage Policy Center is a tool of the Heritage Foundation…

Oh here we go.

For probably the one hundred millionth time in my four years as CEO of this organization, MHPC is not an affiliate of the Heritage Foundation. Yes, both organizations have the word “Heritage” in them, and yes, we are a free market policy think tank. But we are not a part of the Heritage Foundation. We are not an affiliate. We are in no way connected, outside (very) occasionally seeing Heritage Foundation people at conferences I attend. We do not get money from them. Again, wish we did. (More humor, Edgar.)

But see, here again is an example of Beem’s sloppy, shoddy work.

He doesn’t actually know anything. But he feels confident enough in his anecdotal assumption, which he is undoubtedly regurgitating from the complaints of others, to just pass them off as fact. Firm declarations of truth, despite not actually knowing something to be true.

…and the American Legislative Exchange Council and gets much of its funding from far-right sources such as Cato Institute, Jaquelin Hume Foundation, Roe Foundation, State Policy Network, the Koch Brothers and the Donors Capital Fund. Suffice it to say, nothing it reports can be relied upon to be anything other than conservative propaganda.

::sigh::

Beem is, predictably, rattling off every leftist boogyman he can think of to try to portray us as tools of big scary conservative groups. His lazy accusations are made, once again, out of his own assumptions, not facts.

The closest thing that I’ve been able to find that would justify Beem’s assertion, is the laughably discredited report from 2013, published by two extreme-left wing (and generously and darkly funded) interest groups — Maine’s Majority Education Fund and The Center for Media and Democracy — that made some wild leaps of logic regarding our funding structure.

For instance, it attempted to associate us with the American Legislative Exchange Council because, well, school choice is a priority of ALEC’s, and of Governor Paul LePage’s. And it is one of our priorities too. So that must mean we take our marching orders from ALEC, and must be getting tons of their money. Or something.  (Hint to Beem and others: people on the political right often independently believe in the same things.)

The report uses all the scary buzzwords and group names it can to try to portray us as in the pocket of people they hate. Interestingly, they use completely transparent public disclosures of a few limited foundation gifts we have gotten over more than a decade, to make the leap of logic that we are wholly owned by the evil Kochs, for example.

The Koch’s are a fine example of the twisting of truth by Beem and his friends. MHPC has, on occasion, participated in the Charles Koch Institute’s Liberty@Work program. The program is intended to take young employees of a variety of organizations, and provide them an educational experience that helps give a greater understanding of the core concept of liberty, and free market economics. The program is supported by a small foundation gift, typically a few thousand dollars, which is meant to reimburse us for the time the employee takes away from work to do the educational work, and to pay for a flight, and room and board for a small conference of the enrollees at the end of the program. In other words, we don’t even make anything out of it, outside of a slightly more libertarian employee, perhaps.

The program has been valuable for people we have had go through it. But yeah, I guess to people like Beem, that tiny and very transparent program is on the same level as an out of state billionaire trying to buy a referendum election with hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single year.

So when Maine Heritage Policy Center complains that the people who fund citizen initiatives “just don’t live in Maine,” someone should remind them that, regardless of who pays to gather signatures, all the signatures have to be verified as Maine residents and, regardless of how much money out-of-state donors pour into political campaigns and pay shills to editorialize, they don’t get to vote.

And someone should remind Mr. Beem that the ultimate campaign waged each fall over those referendums is — as our report makes clear — never fought on equal terms, and the people who are asked to vote on the measure are typically flooded with an avalanche of messages from one side, funded by out of staters, and very little (if anything) from the opposition. Thus, is anyone surprised that the side that has all that out of state money ends up winning these fights most of the time?

A referendum vote is a form of direct democracy.

And direct democracy is a terrible way to make law, particularly when you are talking about complex tax policy. These things should go through elected representatives in the Legisalture, where they can consider the law over time, refer it to a specialized committee that is focused on the subject area of the law, hear public testimony, engage in a work session to mark up and change the bill, propose amendments, debate those amendments, and then consider it in a large body of representative with diverse backgrounds, to be amended, passed, or rejected outright on its merits.

That is the right way.

There is a reason, Edgar, why people are tired of making laws by referendum. The Legislature just spent months — again — dealing with the flaws and unintended consequences of some of these laws passed by referendum. That is good for no one.

Maine Heritage Policy Center would like us to believe that citizen initiatives are not the will of the people because Maine people aren’t funding them. But, hey, that’s the best of all possible worlds. Fat cats from away pay the bills, but only Maine people get to vote.

So, out of state funding is good, now?

Because a minute ago you said it was bad. When you thought that money went to us.

But now it is good?

Maine people clearly express their will in referendum votes…

Really? So, just as a hypothetical, when say 60 percent of registered voters come out to vote in an election, and 51 percent of those who come out vote in favor of something, and none of those 51 percent was presented a compelling case against the question because out of state billionaires bankrolled millions of dollars worth of commercials to swarm us with their propaganda, and the opposition group didn’t have enough in or out of state money to present the opposing case, that represents an expression of the will of the people?

No one with any rational sense believes that, Edgar.

…but the state Legislature and the governor have repeatedly thwarted the expressed will of the Maine people by finding excuses not to do what the people have told them to do.

Or, they are given the responsibility of governing this state and realize the folly of the ill conceived laws that were passed, and take action. Need I remind you the number of democratic votes for some of the things you are complaining about here?

Ironically, in the circular firing squad that is state government, the main reason we have so many major referendum initiatives in the first place is that the Legislature, hamstrung by obstructionist Republicans, can’t get its act together to make thoughtful public policy.

This is the main talking point of the left in Maine today, and Beem dutifully does his part to propagate this fiction.

Quick question: if no money from outside the state ever came in here — none — how many of these campaigns that we have seen, from Clean Elections, to Ranked Choice Voting, to the most recent in home care initiative, would have found authentic, grassroots support enough to get it on the ballot?

In other words, if it was up to Mainers, and Mainers had to volunteer for the organizations collecting the signatures, and Mainers had to bankroll it, and Mainers had to implement it, just how many of these things would have come up on their own?

I dare say “not many, if any at all.”

This is just a spinmeister’s talking point, Edgar. The legislature acts as deliberatively as it always has. The momentum for most of these ideas simply didn’t exist in this state at all, prior to a fat cat swooping in and bankrolling an attempt to create that momentum where it didn’t exist. With enough money, anyone could get virtually anything on the ballot in any year.

The legislature, ironically, couldn’t get much of anything done this year specifically because of these referendums, as the response to them and need to clean, alter or repeal them, dominated the session and took up all of their time. If “inaction” is bothering you, there’s a big part of your problem.

And if these elected officials are truly angering the people with their inaction, as you claim, than they should be losing their seats in the legislature left and right. After all, in a representative democracy we have the power to eject any lawmaker we don’t think is doing their job.

Ballot initiatives are not the best way to make public policy.

Look at that, I agree with you!

We would all be better off if policies were developed by a consensus process involving all stakeholders and then enacted by our elected representatives, but that seems to be too much to ask these days.

No, it doesn’t. You just don’t like that the ideas you favor — incredibly liberal ones — do not enjoy consensus. I will remind you that right now the legislature is made up of a durable democratic majority in the House, and a one vote republican senate majority — with two notoriously liberal republican Senators, and a collaborative anti-partisan Senate president — so the inability to pass these dream proposals of yours is a sign that your ideas are just not that interesting to anyone.

Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot is a perfect example of legislative failure. It is on the ballot because the Legislature refused to act on LD 1864, “An Act to Establish Universal Home Care for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities.” The Democrat-controlled House refused to hold a public hearing on the bill while the Republican-controlled Senate was eager to do so in order to embarrass Democrats.

I know this is difficult for you to understand, Edgar, but the democrats in the House refused to act on it because it is a terrible idea.

It is such a terrible idea that all four candidates for governor have come out in opposition to it. Those four candidates include one democrat and two former democrats-turned-independents, none of which are going to be accused of being even the least bit conservative in any way.

Sometimes, Edgar, bad ideas are bad ideas.

Besides, you are once again not telling the truth. The way you have phrased this, you are trying to imply that there was a bill that was a great idea that the legislature failed to act on, which caused “the people” to react by engaging in a referendum campaign to do what they would not.

In reality LD 1864 was an automatically referred bill, created by the already completed signature gathering campaign. The announcement of the campaign began on September 27th, 2017, and its launch had nothing to do with legislative failure. The in home care proposal is one half of a Maine People’s Alliance dream scenario — the other half being universal pre-K — that they knew would never pass the legislature. They also knew they could get Soros and friends to fund it as a referendum, and that it would be easier to win that fight.

The in home care initiative signature gathering process was completed, with signatures turned in, on January 26th of this year. In response to those petitions being turned in, LD 1864 (the bill text of the referendum) was transmitted to the clerk on March 12, 2018, and died between the houses on April 13, 2018.

The legislature always, as a matter of course, allows referendums to go to the ballot. I can’t think of a single time — though I admit my memory might be hazy — where signatures were turned in, only to have the legislature pass the bill. It is a matter of legislative philosophy to simply pass the initiatives along and let us vote on them. The only “controversy” about LD 1864’s fate was the fact that the democrats wouldn’t even allow a public hearing on it.

More to the point, it was always going to go to referendum, Edgar. It didn’t end up there because of legislative stonewalling. This was initiated on its own.

The Maine business community has come out with all guns blazing against Question 1…

Because it is a terrible idea, and would do significant damage to the Maine economy. So terrible, in fact, that it got the typically lethargic business community to actually take action.

…charging the proposed tax is unfair and unconstitutional, the board that would oversee home health care is unelected, and the whole referendum is an underhanded scam aimed at unionizing home health care workers.

All of which is true.

And, oh yes, opponents also complain that most of the funding for the referendum came from out of state…

Which it is…

…namely from the Open Society Foundation established by billionaire George Soros…

You’re on a roll, Beem.

…who is to progressive causes what the Koch brothers are to conservative agendas.

Except for the Koch’s don’t cut me checks for 400 grand every election cycle to run election campaigns on their behalf. But yeah, samesies.

Who funded Question 1 is immaterial.

Go ask your average citizen if that is true. They would disagree with you.

Maine has been remote-controlled its entire history.

Well there’s the best argument for continuing to be used as a play thing by out of state interests for the rest of time. We’ve always been!

Not sure I’d lead with that.

Led by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce

(Not us)

…Question 1 opponents include the Maine Hospital Association, Spectrum Healthcare and Homecare & Hospice Alliance of Maine, as well as business associations representing everyone from innkeepers and auto dealers to contractors, manufacturers, Realtors and retailers.

That should tell you something, Edgar, because that is not a list of groups that typically like working with each other. Maybe, just maybe, the referendum is a bad idea.

All this opposition tells me that the Maine People’s Alliance has once again succeeded in raising a vital public policy issue, and I hope they succeed again. I support Question 1 knowing full well that the state Legislature won’t let it stand, but it will be forced to act.

That is, perhaps, the most convoluted logic I’ve ever read in two sentences. Ever.

That alone is worth a Yes vote.

No, it isn’t.

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to his tenure at MHPC, Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

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