In a recent report by The Center for Media and Democracy, a lobbyist watchdog group, it has come to light that numerous tech firms including Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) have been contributing to a network of self-styled “free-market thinktanks” called the State Policy Network (SPN).
In actual fact, the SPN is a shadowy group of lobbyists whose policies include cutting taxes, opposing climate change regulations, advocating reductions in labor protections and the minimum wage, privatizing education, restricting voter rights and lobbying for the tobacco industry.
No matter your personal politics, at least one of these policies is certain to offend at least some of your personal sensibilities. If not, did I mention that the Koch brothers are major supporters of the network, which presently has a war chest of over $80 million annually?
SPN supported by Facebook, Microsoft and others
In addition to Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) the group is supported financially by AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) in the telecom industry as well as Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) and GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK) (LON:GSK).
Lisa Graves, the director of the Center for Media and Democracy, is surprised by the support both Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) have given ($99,000 each) the group given her belief that the SPN “…is at odds with science and common sense.”
Free market think-tanks
Tracie Sharp, the president of SPN, has refuted these claims, claiming the group was dedicated to providing “state-based, free-market think tanks with the academic and management resources required to run a non-profit institution”. Each of its 64 member think tanks are “fiercely independent, choosing to manage their staff, pick their own research topics and educate the public on those issues they deem most appropriate for their state.”
According to Gordon Lafer, a professor at the University of Oregon, “This looks like scholarship from local organizations, but in fact it is neither – neither scholarship, nor local.”
Lafer’s research has shown a pattern of attacks on organized labor, efforts to expand the use of child labor, cut the minimum wage, reduce unemployment benefits, and to make it harder for workers to sue employers for sex or race discrimination.
The U.K.’s Guardian asked a number of the companies mentioned to explain their support of the SPN, but as of today only Microsoft responded to the paper’s requests for comment.
Microsoft’s statement for supporting SPN
In a statement, a spokesperson for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) said: “As a large company, Microsoft has great interest in the many policy issues discussed across the country. We have a longstanding record of engaging with a broad assortment of groups on a bipartisan basis, both at the national and local level. In regard to State Policy Network, Microsoft has focused our participation on their technology policy work group because it is valuable forum to hear various perspectives about technology challenges and to share potential solutions.”
Or in layman’s terms, we always play both sides of the political spectrum.