Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Established 1987
Chairman Joseph Olson
President Joseph G. Lehman
Staff 35
Budget US$4 million.
Location Midland, Michigan
Address 140 West Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, Michigan 48640
Website mackinac.org

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is an American non-profit[1] free market think tank headquartered in Midland, Michigan.[2] It is the USA’s largest state-based free market think tank.[3] The Center’s stated mission is "improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions” by assisting "policy makers, scholars, business people, the media and the public by providing objective analysis of Michigan issues” with the goal of helping “to equip Michigan citizens and other decision makers to better evaluate policy options."

The Mackinac Center conducts policy research on a broad range of public policy issues. Its commentaries frequently appear in Michigan newspapers, and its policy staff are often guests on radio and television news programs around the state. It also conducts educational programs such as workshops for high school debate students and sponsors MichiganVotes.org, a comprehensive online legislative voting record database. Mackinac Center scholars generally recommend lower state and local taxes, reduced regulatory authority for state agencies, labor law revisions including making Michigan a right-to-work state, school choice via universal tuition tax credits, and enhanced protection of individual property rights. They have been outspoken in their opposition to state higher taxes, economic central planning programs including subsidies, targeted corporate tax breaks, etc.

The Mackinac Center is nonprofit and non-partisan, and its scholars’ and policy staff’s views are not consistently aligned with any political party.[original research?] For example, the Center was critical of former Republican Governor John Engler’s use of selective tax breaks granted to certain companies,[citation needed] and has praised efforts by former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm to enact criminal sentencing reform as a way to reduce the state’s prison population.[4]

History[edit]

Mackinac Center building in Midland, Mich.

The genesis of the Mackinac Center is described on its Web site as follows: “The Mackinac Center was founded in 1987 by a group of citizens who met on Mackinac Island and shared an interest in making Michigan a better place to live and work. They were concerned about the state's direction and the fact that no institution in Michigan was developing policy ideas that harnessed the benefits of our free enterprise system.” This group formed what ultimately became the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, so named after Mackinac Island, which is considered to be an iconic Michigan image.[5] The Center began operations in 1987 with no office or full-time staff, but formally opened offices in Midland in 1988 with its first president, Lawrence W. Reed, an economist, writer, and speaker who had chaired the economics department at Northwood University. The Lansing-based Cornerstone Foundation provided early direction and some funding. The first budget under Reed was $80,000. In 1997 the Mackinac Center moved from rented offices to its current headquarters after having raised $2.4 million to renovate a former Woolworth’s department store on Midland’s Main Street.[6] Lawrence Reed served as president from the Center’s founding until September, 2008, when he assumed the title President Emeritus and also became the president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Former Chief Operating Officer Joseph G. Lehman was named the Mackinac Center’s president on September 1, 2008.[7]

The Center was created with funding by the Cornerstone Foundation. Created by Dykema Gossett attorney Richard D. McLellan and located in the same building as the Dykema Gossett law firm, Cornerstone’s original board included McLellan, then-Senator John Engler, and D. Joseph Olson then General Council for Amerisure Insurance. Fundraising activity was active from 1984 to 1991, with peak activity in 1987 when Cornerstone established the Mackinac Center. The insurance industry (primarily Citizen’s) provided initial funding, amounting to $306,382 during this period. Various officials of Dow Corning and Dow Chemical paid $335,986.[8]

In a 2011 interview, founder Olson said that the Center was first conceived in a Lansing Michigan bar at a meeting between he, another insurance company lobbyist Tom Hoeg, Richard McLellan and then Senator John Engler: "In 1986, John Engler, then majority leader of the state Legislature and later governor, summoned attorney Richard McLellan and the state's two top insurance lobbyists, Olson and Hoeg, to the private club in Lansing." It would be designed to bolster the insurance lobby's influence in the legislature: "Back in 1980s, Hoeg said the insurance industry was losing a lot of battles in the state Legislature and didn't have what he called "intellectual authority," namely research and information to support their ideas."[9]

Budget and finances[edit]

The Mackinac Center is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization under U.S. Internal Revenue Code which means it is legally limited in the amount of money it can spend on legislative efforts.[10] The institute performs no contract research and does not accept government funding. For revenue, the institute is largely dependent on private contributions. Federal law does not require 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations to disclose the identity of their donors, and in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama the U.S. Supreme Court turned back efforts to force such disclosure by nonprofits, although that case involved the publication of member lists, not donor lists. In 2004 the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit filed against the Mackinac Center by the Michigan Education Association against the Mackinac Center in which one of the remedies sought by the union was a list identifying the Center’s donors. The court ruling was based on the MEA's failure to show actual malice. It did not reach the question of whether the Mackinac Center's donor lists should be made public.[11]

When asked by Detroit’s Metro Times in 1996, the Center’s President Lawrence Reed said: "Our funding sources are primarily foundations … with the rest coming from corporations and individuals," but that "… revealing our contributors would be a tremendous diversion…"[12]

In that year, the Mackinac Center earned only $2,630 (“program sales”); the rest of its revenues came from tax-deductible contributions. Funding from non-profit foundations can be tracked by an examination of the IRS returns they file. From 2002 to 2006, the following conservative and corporate foundations funded the Center:[13]

These contributions total $7,198,700; the remaining revenue for this period (about $14.5 million) was contributed by entities that are not required to file statements with the federal government: individuals and corporations.[citation needed] In Strategic Grantmaking, Foundations and the School Privatization Movement, Richard Cohen estimates that one-half to two-thirds of all corporate grantmaking is: “made through the CEO’s office or the marketing department, for which there is no public disclosure requirement.”[14] In 2006 the Center’s revenues totaled $2,711,545. Its funding has grown substantially over the years, from just over $1.7 million in 1998. Its 2005 payroll reached $1,790,963, with a staff of 40 people.[15]

Principles[edit]

The Mackinac Center’s work is rooted in the tradition of John Locke and Adam Smith. More recently, the Center has spoken approvingly about the Tea Party movement.[16] The Mackinac Center often cites work by three Nobel Laureates who are unaffiliated with the Mackinac Center: Milton Friedman, who first proposed the concept of school choice, which is now promoted by the Center’s Education Initiative; F.A. Hayek whose ideas about spontaneous order and inability of government central planners to create thriving economies are seen in the Center’s criticism of targeted tax credits and corporate subsidies used by government economic development bureaucracies; and James M. Buchanan, whose work in public choice economics has informed many of the organization’s critiques of state government programs. Although it is sometimes called “conservative” (including by the New York Times[17] and the Raleigh News and Observer[18]), the Mackinac Center characterizes the label as inaccurate, pointing out that it does not address social issues usually identified with modern conservatism including abortion, censorship, and gambling, and that “free market” is a more useful shorthand description of its policy expressions.[19] The Center’s ideology is most accurately described as classical liberal, holding that civil society responses to social and economic problems are more effective than political ones, and that limited government is more conducive to enhancing individual liberty than the welfare state.

Public policy research[edit]

Education policy[edit]

Mackinac Center studies and reports have promoted Universal Tuition Tax Credits[20] and charter schools as forms of school choice, and the privatization of non-instructional services such as transportation, custodial, and food service. Center analysts have been critical of what they conclude to be excessive influence in school governance of school employee unions, including the Michigan Education Association. In 1993 it published a study on the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA), a school health insurance administrator created by the MEA, characterizing the entity as the “MEA’s money machine.”[21] Following publication of the study a state statute was adopted prohibiting unions from making the selection of health insurance providers a bargaining issue. Another new law made privatization of non-instructional services a prohibited subject of collective bargaining in public schools.

Fiscal policy[edit]

The Center's Fiscal Policy Initiative is described on the Center’s Web site as working to “limit taxation, champion broad-based, private sector economic development, and reduce government outlays through privatization and spending cuts.” In 2007 Mackinac Center analysts were active in making the case against a $1.4 billion tax increase proposed by the Granholm administration, publishing studies and op-eds, and making numerous radio appearances arguing that state government should restructure itself to eliminate the need for tax hikes. On the issue of targeted tax incentives, a 2005 Mackinac Center study showed that in its first 10 years Michigan’s “flagship” economic development program, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) created by former Gov. John Engler and continued by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, did not generate any overall increase in employment or personal income in counties that had MEGA projects compared to ones that did not.[22] In 1996, 2002 and 2004 studies were published analyzing the state budget line-item by line-item and recommending privatization or elimination of many government activities.[23][24][25] The Initiative publishes an annual survey of privatization of non-instructional services in Michigan’s 552 school districts, and also publishes a biannual journal, the Michigan Privatization Report, which is sent to Michigan municipal officials and approximately 4,200 public school board members.

Labor policy[edit]

The first article on the Mackinac Center Web site recommending that Michigan become a right-to-work state is dated 1996, which is the year former National Labor Relations Board member Robert Hunter joined the Center.[26] In 2002 the Labor Policy Initiative published a study presenting evidence that states with right-to-work laws have enjoyed faster economic growth than states which allow employers to make union membership a condition of employment.[27] The Center has also been critical of state and federal “prevailing wage” and minimum wage laws, and has argued for more financial and political activity disclosures by unions, including stronger “paycheck protection” laws protecting the rights of employees working under union contracts to pay only those union dues or fees necessary to cover the costs of a union's employee representation duties.[28]

Legal Studies Project[edit]

According to the Mackinac Center Web site the Project “produces legal analysis of state and national policy issues in order to better inform policymakers, the media and the public,” and in strategic cases at both the state and federal levels the initiative writes and submits amicus curiae briefs that “explore the broader constitutional, statutory and public policy considerations at stake.” These briefs are published on the Center’s Web site.[29]

Science, Environment, and Technology Initiative[edit]

This Initiative’s stated mission is to promote “scientifically sound and market-based polices” that “enhance environmental protection and public health, and maximizes the benefits of new technologies.” It publishes studies and the quarterly Michigan Science magazine, sponsors student essay contests, and more.[30] The Center has suggested that "socialist ideology is alive and well" in the environmental movement and says "Global climate change is also the perfect issue to advocate for one-world governance, as air knows no national boundaries."[31]

Educational programs[edit]

Students for a Free Economy[edit]

A campus outreach project and blog, SFE visits Michigan colleges and universities “taking policy ideas to students . . . who may be unfamiliar with the ways that markets affect their lives and the issues they care about.”[32] It also sponsors "writing, research and art contests with cash prizes, gain access to internship and scholarship opportunities, and more.”[33]

Property Rights Network[edit]

The Network’s stated mission is "preserving and expanding private property rights in Michigan by elevating public awareness of these rights and how to protect them; encouraging policymakers to respect property rights when crafting laws and regulations; and identifying, organizing and supporting concerned property owners, thereby establishing an effective statewide property-rights coalition.” In 2006 initiative scholars “educated legislators who drafted the Proposal 4 ballot measure that prevents Kelo-type takings in Michigan.” The network has held citizen meetings around the state raising consciousness regarding both physical taking of private property via the government’s power of eminent domain and by regulatory taking.

MichiganTransparency.org[edit]

Also called the "Show Michigan the Money Project”, this initiative uses press releases and Freedom of Information Act requests to encourage governments to meet their “obligation to disclose their actions and expenditures” and to “make their checkbook spending directly available to the public.“[34] The MichiganTransparency.org Web site contains links to the Center’s own school finance database and to various government sites disclosing spending details, and other information sources.

MichiganVotes.org[edit]

MichiganVotes.org is a free legislative database that since 2001 has provided concise, neutral-point-of-view, plain-English descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote in the Michigan state House and Senate. Voting records and bills are searchable and sortable by legislator, issue category, keyword, date range, or a combination of these. It also contains a “missed votes report” that allows users to see how many and which votes each legislature has missed within a user-selected date range. As of mid-2008 the site contains descriptions of some 12,000 bills, 10,000 roll call votes, 9,000 amendments, and 2400 new laws.

High school debate workshops and essay contests[edit]

Each year the Mackinac Center sponsors a series of one-day high school debate workshops at locations around the state, at which students from different schools are provided with speakers, news and research material related to the annual national debate topic.[35] In recent years the Center has offered a $1,000 scholarship to one student at each debate workshop location who wins a panel-judged essay contest. Another contest offered a $500 prize to a student in grades 6 through 12 who “explores a scientific fact or exposes a scientific fallacy in a book, movie, song or other pop culture medium.”[36] In 2007 the Center announced a “Freedom in Fiction Prize” competition offering 10 cash prizes of $10,000 to authors who write a new book with “. . . characters that demonstrate an appreciation for liberty, free markets and/or explicitly or symbolically oppose government oppression or restraints on their freedom . . .” and which does not “. . . advance themes or characters who promote government-sponsored solutions; vilify entrepreneurship; degrade personal initiative, self-reliance and responsibility, or regurgitate discredited myths and misconceptions about liberty and free enterprise.”[37]

Publications[edit]

Studies[edit]

The Mackinac Center’s Web site lists some 120 studies published since its founding.[38] A sampling includes A School Privatization Primer, The Economic Effects of Right-To-Work Laws, The Opportunities and Limitations of Biomonitoring and Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan’s State Budget.

Periodicals[edit]

The Center also publishes the periodicals Michigan Education Report, Michigan Privatization Report, Michigan Science, Michigan Capitol Confidential, and Impact, plus a weekly on-line 'Michigan Education Digest that is also e-mailed to subscribers.

Other publications[edit]

On its Web site the Mackinac Center posts four new Current Comments each week, and each month it mails and e-mails several op-ed length “Viewpoints” to daily and weekly newspapers around Michigan. The Center’s Web site also lists 11 books[39] that it has published dating back to 1990, and a number of monographs including Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy, The Inspiring Story of Thomas Clarkson: A Student's Essay that Changed the World, both by Lawrence Reed, and With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds: A Second Look at Public Education in America by Andrew Coulson. Finally, the Center has published several amicus curiae briefs that it submitted in court cases related to important issues, such as Rapanos v. United States.

Influence[edit]

Influence on public policy[edit]

Isolating the degree to which the activities of a state-based “non-partisan research and educational institute” contribute to public policy changes is inherently imprecise. A 2008 column by Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman stated:[40]

(In 1988) Michigan had a death tax and an ’intangibles’ tax. Income tax rates were higher. Property taxes were higher, and increases were not capped by law. Government assigned kids to schools by ZIP code alone. Schools were funded more on the basis of nearby land prices, not the number of students enrolled. Teacher strikes were legal and frequent. Unions needed no one’s permission to take political contributions right out of workers’ paychecks. Governments could legally take property from one owner and transfer it to another for ‘economic development.’ Lawmakers whose greatest skill was pleasing powerful special interests could enjoy uninterrupted decades entrenched in the Legislature. The terms ‘free market’ and ‘privatization’ were in the dictionary, but rarely the news.”

These are all issue areas where both changes of the type favored by the Mackinac Center have to some degree occurred in Michigan, and about which its scholars have published studies and articles, testified in legislative committees, made arguments on the radio, issued press releases, and more. In other areas the policies supported by the Center have not come about, such as reducing state budgets, school choice, a right-to-work law, and more. Determining the extent to which the changes that have occurred would have happened in the absence of the Mackinac Center is not possible. It can be said that the Center has provided much “intellectual ammunition” to policy makers who share its point of view. In addition, the responses of some of its public policy adversaries including the Michigan Education Association suggest that the Mackinac Center has had some influence.[original research?]

Influence with other think tanks[edit]

As a member of the State Policy Network, an umbrella organization of conservative think tanks operating at the state level, the Mackinac Center promotes and supports similar activity across the United States. In November 2006 the New York Times published a two-part series about state based free market think tanks that described how the Mackinac Center’s biannual Leadership Conferences had trained nearly 500 think tank executives from 42 nations and nearly every state.[41] Times Journalist Jason DeParle reported that, “When the Mackinac Center was founded in 1987, there were just three other conservative state-level policy institutes. Now there are 48, in 42 states …” Describing one free market think tank founded by an alumnus of the Leadership Conference, DeParle said, “No one is more central to this replicating effort than (Mackinac Center President Mr. Lawrence) Reed …”

News coverage[edit]

The Mackinac Center is very effective in getting its policy staff and scholars published in newspapers around the state, cited in news reports, and interviewed on radio talk shows. It posts most of these in a “Mackinac Center in the News” feature on its Web site. For 2007 there are 450 separate citations listed.

In 2011, the center gained media attention with its analysis that concluded "each Chevy Volt sold thus far may have as much as $250,000 in state and federal dollars in incentives behind it...".[42]

Opponents[edit]

The Center has promoted policies that would reduce the influence of unions in both the private and public sector; supported alternatives to conventional public schools; recommended reducing the authority of state regulatory agencies including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and recommended cutting state spending. Not surprisingly, it is viewed as an adversary by unions (especially the Michigan Education Association school employees union), environmental activists, and others. One of its opponents has characterized the Center and other state-based free-market think tanks as "propaganda mills."[43] In 2001, the MEA created a new organization called the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. Remarks by union president Luigi Battaglieri at the press conference announcing the entity suggested that at least in part it was formed to serve a counter to the Mackinac Center’s influence in Michigan education policy.[44] In a subsequent fundraising letter the Mackinac Center quoted Battaglieri in his press conference saying about this, “Frankly I admire what they have done.” The Michigan Education Association filed a lawsuit against the Mackinac Center, which alleged that it had “misappropriated likenesses” from the union and its president.[45] In 2004 the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit, and the union chose not to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Notable Mackinac Center personnel[edit]

Policy staff members[edit]

Adjunct scholars[edit]

Board of directors[edit]

Board members[edit]

Former members[edit]

  • William Rosenberg, Bush Presidential Campaign, Reagan Administration, Michigan Gov. William Milliken and Gov. John Engler administrations
  • Robert Teeter, RNC Chairman, Pollster for Nixon, Ford, Bush campaign
  • Dick DeVos, Amway, Republican Candidate for Governor

References[edit]

  1. ^ IRS Data: EIN 38-2701547 (Public Charity)
  2. ^ The Mackinac Center: ID Number 71871; Domestic Nonprofit Corporation Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
  3. ^ New York Times "Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government", Nov. 17, 2006
  4. ^ Mackinac Center Web site "Budget Hawks Should Think Outside the Bars"
  5. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "What Is the Mackinac Center?"
  6. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "Mackinac Center to Build $2.4 Million Headquarters", March 23, 1998
  7. ^ Midlland Daily News, ‘’Lehman succeeding Reed as Mackinac Center president’’, July 21, 2008
  8. ^ "Behind John Engler: The Big Mac Attack, The Metro Times, March 1996
  9. ^ "Genoa resident one of the founders of Mackinac Center", Oct 19, 2011
  10. ^ mackinac.org/about
  11. ^ "Ibid."
  12. ^ Link inactive on Aug. 14, 2008: http://metrotimes.com/johnengler/002.html
  13. ^ Review of IRS Form 990, 2002-2006
  14. ^ Strategic Grantmaking, Foundations and the School Privatization Movement, Richard Cohen, The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2007
  15. ^ Michigan Education Association, "The Truth Behind the Mackinac Center"
  16. ^ Mackinac Center Website, "Grateful to President Obama"
  17. ^ New York Times, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government Nov. 17, 2006
  18. ^ Raleigh News and Observer The knight of the right, Jan. 29, 2006
  19. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, “Is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Liberal? Libertarian? Conservative?”
  20. ^ Mr. Patrick L. Anderson, Richard D. McLellan, Joseph P. Overton and Gary L. Wolfram, "The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education", Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1997
  21. ^ Joseph P. Overton and Andrew Bockleman, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine", Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Nov. 1, 1993
  22. ^ Michael D. LaFaive and Dr. Michael J. Hicks, "MEGA: A Retrospective Assessment", Mackinac Center for Public Policy, April 12, 2005
  23. ^ Joseph P. Overton and Aaron Steelman, "Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture"
  24. ^ Michael D. LaFaive, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan’s State Budget"
  25. ^ Michael D. LaFaive, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan’s State Budget — 2nd Edition"
  26. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "Should Michigan Become a Right-to-Work State?"
  27. ^ Dr. William T. Wilson, "The Effect of Right-to-Work Laws on Economic Development", Mackinac Center for Public Policy, June 5, 2002
  28. ^ Robert P. Hunter, "Paycheck Protection in Michigan", Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Sept.1, 1999
  29. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "Legal Studies Project"
  30. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "Science, Environment and Technology"
  31. ^ Mackinac Center Website, "Environmentalism is a Threat to Liberty"
  32. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, Mackinac Center Launches University Campus Project
  33. ^ Students for a Free Economy Web site About SFE
  34. ^ MichiganTransparency.org
  35. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, High School Debate Workshops Overview
  36. ^ Michigan Science Magazine No. 3
  37. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, Freedom in Fiction Prize
  38. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, List of Mackinac Center Policy Studies
  39. ^ Mackinac Center Web site List of Mackinac Center Books
  40. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, Defending Liberty for Twenty Years"
  41. ^ New York Times Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government", Nov. 17, 2006
  42. ^ Michigan Capitol Confidential Chevy Volt Costing Taxpayers Up to $250K Per Vehicle December 21, 2011
  43. ^ Light Rail Now Project Web site, "Exposing Those Far-Right Propaganda ‘Think Tanks’"
  44. ^ Institute for Justice, “Ligation Backgrounder,” "The Michigan Education Association Tries to Take the “Free Out of ‘Free Speech’"
  45. ^ Michigan Court of Appeals, March 18, 2004, Luigi Battaglieri and Michigan Education Association v. Mackinac Center for Public Policy
  46. ^ MCPP Board page, MCPP website page for current board members, and individual members' pages linked to the Board page. Retrieved 2010-07-08.

External links[edit]