|Purpose||Lobbying and advocacy|
Chief executive officer
|Michael A. Needham|
Chief operating officer
|Affiliations||The Heritage Foundation|
Heritage Action for America, more commonly known simply as Heritage Action, is a conservative policy advocacy organization founded in 2010. It works with citizen activists nationwide to generate support for legislation in the U.S. Congress. The organization has state operations in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and is a sister organization of the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Action has been called a "powerhouse in a new generation of conservative groups" and "perhaps now the most influential lobby group among Congressional Republicans." It is led by chief executive Michael A. Needham.
Background and history
Heritage Action was first announced in April 2010 by Ed Feulner, president of The Heritage Foundation. He stated the purpose of the organization was to harness "grassroots energy to increase the pressure on Members of Congress to embrace The Heritage Foundation’s policy recommendations." He also said it would not be involved in election campaigns. Heritage Action's goal was to expand the political reach of The Heritage Foundation and advance the policies recommended by its researchers.
The organization was launched primarily as a response to The Heritage Foundation's growing membership, and the fact that The Heritage Foundation is not allowed to back legislation due to its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Heritage Action fulfills this role and provides a link between the think tank and grassroots conservative activists.
Officials at The Heritage Foundation began engaging in political advocacy following the March 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a 501(c)3 organization, the think tank cannot engage in direct lobbying, so it created Heritage Action to serve as its lobbying and advocacy arm.
Heritage Action launched its first advocacy campaign in July 2010, targeting Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), President Barack Obama's health care reform law. By August 2010 the organization had helped to secure 170 Republican co-sponsors for a petition by Rep. Steve King to force a vote on repealing the healthcare reform. Following this, in September 2010, the group began a 10-day television and web campaign to persuade Democrats to sign onto a repeal of the law. The group opened its state operations in North Carolina and Pennsylvania in January 2011, specifically to focus on mobilizing voters against the health care law.
Heritage Action received attention in late 2010 for its opposition to the New START treaty, an agreement between the United States and Russia to reduce nuclear weapons. The organization sent out fliers to a targeted group of conservatives in Tennessee, which argued that the treaty could lead to nuclear proliferation.
Heritage Action launched a campaign in August 2013 to link the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA or "Obamacare," with laws to keep the federal government open or to increase the federal debt limit. The organization played an instrumental role in the government shutdown of October 2013. While the shutdown was ongoing Heritage Action continued to urge lawmakers not to negotiate a measure to fully fund the government without dismantling the ACA. The strategy of Heritage Action in tying the ACA to the shutdown, according to Needham, was to make President Obama "feel pain" because of the shutdown. Senator Orrin Hatch criticized Heritage for warning legislators not to vote for the Senate budget compromise during the government shutdown of 2013:
There's a real question on the minds of many Republicans now—I am not just speaking for myself, for a lot of people: Is Heritage going to go so political that it really doesn't amount to anything anymore? I hope not. I'm going to try to help it survive and do well. Right now I think it's in danger of losing its clout and its power around Washington, D.C.
According to a New York Times March 1, 2014 editorial, since the Heritage Action successfully "urged the House to stop legislating and focus only on attacking the Obama administration" (a somewhat inaccurate description)[why?][according to whom?][neutrality is disputed] in 2013, there has been a wave of retirements from the 113th Congress, the "least productive in history". Discouraged by the "death of legislation", twenty-one House members and six senators chose retirement. Some of these retirees are described by "congressional scholar Norman Ornstein as the "problem-solving caucus",—legislators such as—Doc Hastings, Frank Wolf, Howard “Buck” McKeon, John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Carl Levin, Jay Rockefeller, Tom Harkin, Rush Holt, James Moran, Carolyn McCarthy.
Criticism of Trump
On July 19, 2015, Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham publicly criticized then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. "Donald Trump's a clown. He needs to be out of the race," Needham said on Fox News Sunday. On September 18, 2015 Trump cancelled his scheduled appearance at Heritage Action's candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina citing a "significant business transaction." Then on November 22, 2015, Needham publicly praised Trump. "I think that part of Donald Trump's attraction is that he's provided bold leadership,” Needham said on Fox News Sunday. "I think Trump is driven by people who want bold leadership.” Trump publicly thanked Needham the following day, tweeting “Thank you for your nice words @MikeNeedham...” According to a 8 March 2016 article in The Washington Post, Needham claimed "A Trump election or nomination is a complete vindication that Washington needs to change."
- Federal payroll – Heritage Action expressed support for a bill that would overrule President Obama's December 27, 2012 Executive Order #13635, continue an ongoing pay freeze, and avoid giving civilian federal employees a 0.5% raise in 2013. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this measure would save the federal government $11 billion over 10 years. The bill passed the United States House of Representatives in the 113th United States Congress on February 15, 2013.
- Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act (H.R. 6; 113th Congress), a bill that would direct the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to issue a decision on an application for authorization to export natural gas within 90 days after the later of: (1) the end of the comment period for that decision as set forth in the Federal Register, or (2) the date of enactment of this Act. Heritage Action argued in favor of the bill, charging that the "Department of Energy is refusing to move forward on approximately 24 applications to export liquified natural gas (LNG) to non-FTA countries... onerous delays (that) are detrimental to America's international competitiveness." Some of the current applications have been waiting for a determination from the Department of Energy for over 2 years. Heritage Action said that how a member of Congress voted on this bill would be reflected in the organization's scorecard.
- Unemployment benefits – On January 6, 2014, Heritage Action announced opposition to a bill that would extend federal unemployment benefits for three additional months. The organization stated that research has shown that increasing unemployment benefits actually results in "higher unemployment," "longer unemployment," and "ineffective stimulus."
- Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act (S. 540; 113th Congress) – a bill that would suspend the United States debt ceiling until March 15, 2015. Heritage Action announced its opposition of the bill and called on Senators to vote against it. According to Heritage Action, while the limit is suspended, "President Obama and Congress will have a blank check to spend and borrow. This is extremely reckless given our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt. Every American household already owes more than $140,000 on the debt."
- Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013 (H.R. 3370; 113th Congress) – a bill that would reduce some of the reforms made to the National Flood Insurance Program that were passed in 2012. The reforms were intended to help cut the $24 billion debt of the program by bringing insurance premiums up to more accurately reflect flood risk, but the increases made flood insurance impossible to afford for some home and business owners. Heritage Action urged supporters to ask their representatives to vote against the bill. The organization criticized the bill because it "forces taxpayers to continue subsidizing high-risk development of flood-prone areas and sets a terrible precedent of never letting positive reform take effect."
Heritage Action is supported by individual and corporate donors, with its 2012 tax return indicating that 44 percent of its overall contributions came from donations of $5,000 or less that year. At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in October 2013, Needham stated that Heritage Action was "not being transparent" with their donors. They have generally declined to disclose who their donors are. One exception to this was a donation from conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch; the Koch brothers donated half a million dollars in October 2013.
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