Americans for Limited Government has spent large amounts of money around the country in support of TABOR-like ballot questions and other initiatives.

Oregon $561,177

Maine $20,000

Oklahoma $350,000

Arizona $827,000

Nevada $100,000

Source: (Oregon) Statesman Journal, campaign disclosure reports, High Country News. Amounts were as of last reporting period, which varies from state to state.
TABOR backed by funds out-of-state funds
Big benefactors boost national effort to enact spending caps

LEWISTON – Mary Adams and the Maine Heritage Policy Institute are the public faces on the drive to enact a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in Maine, but much of the financial support so far has come from the same people who are supporting similar efforts around the country.

Maine is one of several fronts in an ongoing national campaign to enact TABOR-like restrictions on state and local governments. From Oregon and Nevada to Michigan and Montana, efforts are under way to use state ballot initiatives to enact similar measures that would limit governments’ ability to raise revenue and spend it.

While TABOR’s defenders say it is a local effort rising from the frustration of taxpayers in the states where it’s being considered – and in Maine, many property taxpayers have expressed great frustration – Americans for Limited Government, its chairman, New York developer Howard Rich, and other groups associated with him are writing most of the checks.

Financing

Consider Maine and Oregon, two states with little in common beyond cities named Portland and an open-ballot initiative process that has allowed TABOR a spot on November’s ballot.

Despite the differences in the economies of the two states, the intent and language of the initiatives are similar, with one big exception. In Oregon, TABOR would amend the state’s constitution. In Maine, TABOR changes state law, exposing it to legislative tinkering.

Both would limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and require voter approval for any tax or fee increase. Increases beyond the limits would have to win support from two-thirds of the Legislature or governing body and then also be sent to voters for approval.

While the states with TABOR on the ballot are different, with their own fiscal and economic challenges and advantages, much of the money behind the TABOR effortsv is the same.

According to the Statesman Journal in Oregon, Americans for Limited Government, a conservative-to-libertarian political organization, contributed $571,177 of the $671,705, or 85 percent of the total, that was spent to get TABOR on the ballot in Oregon.

The same group has contributed $20,000 to TaxpayerBillofRights.com, the Maine political action committee that is supporting TABOR – $5,000 in September and another $15,000 in May. For 2006, Americans for Limited Government’s contribution accounts for 32 percent of the TABOR organization’s total fundraising of $46,316.60. Since it started in 2004, TaxpayerBillofRights.com has raised a little more than $78,000.

Americans for Limited Government is supporting similar efforts in a number of other states, including Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada and Oklahoma, where fights over TABOR-like initiatives also are being waged and where large amounts of money have been spent.

Heather Wilhelm, Chicago-based ALG’s communication director, would not provide an aggregate amount for how much the organization has spent on TABOR-like efforts around the country, but did say that they’ve reported everything required by law.

According to reports published from around the country, in Oklahoma, ALG gave $350,000 to support the TABOR petition drive. In Arizona, ALG has spent $827,000 on ballot initiatives, including one to restrict eminent domain which has been tied to corresponding TABOR campaigns in some western states. In Nevada, ALG has contributed more than $100,000.

The Portland Oregonian, in an investigative story published earlier this month, connected Rich to more than $7 million in contributions supporting various ballot initiatives around the country.

The states that have TABOR movements are all over the map, literally and figuratively, and include fast-growing Nevada and troubled Michigan, which is trying to absorb huge losses in its automobile manufacturing base.

“We encourage groups from all 50 states to ask us for help,” Wilhelm said.

ALG supports groups that have a strong grassroots base and growing support, she said, describing the state efforts as locally driven.

But a review of proposed legislation from Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Michigan, and Missouri shows that they are all similar, tying increases in government spending to growth in population and inflation and requiring voter approval for increases in revenue.

“The general principles that they all share is to give taxpayers greater say in their government,” Wilhelm said.

Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the Citizens United to Protect Our Public Safety, Schools and Communities, which opposes TABOR, said advocates for the ballot question were taking advantage of Maine’s initiative process to be part of a national effort.

“I don’t doubt that there are activists who believe in this here,” Bailey said. “But they’re trying to sell this as some kind of homegrown idea that was cooked up at the kitchen table, and that’s just not true. … Clearly this is an imported thing.”

Adams makes no bones about the financial support from ALG.

“They sure didn’t come to us,” she said. “They became interested in helping us when they saw that it was a serious effort there. It’s not their plan, it’s our plan. We didn’t need any out-of-staters to tell us we’re No. 1 in taxes.”

The beginnings

TABOR got its start in Colorado, where it was adopted in 1992 as a constitutional amendment. The other proposals, which have changed some of the details around the edges of the idea – such as adding provisions that mandate government reserve accounts – are all derivative of the original.

Both sides point to the Colorado example to make their case.

TABOR’s advocates say it has worked as intended by restraining government growth and returning billions of dollars to taxpayers.

Opponents say it has hurt investment in things like health care and education and stifled the state’s economy.

Both point to a vote in Colorado last year to override TABOR’s provisions for five years as proof of their point. Supporters say is shows the power rests with the people, while opponents say it shows that the restrictions put the state in a desperate situation.

In Maine, much of the intellectual muscle for TABOR has been provided by the Maine Heritage Policy institute.

Founded in 2002, one of the first topics that the Portland-based conservative think tank tackled was the notion of limiting taxation and government spending.

“This has been an issue we’ve been passionate about from the very beginning,” said Bill Becker, the president and CEO of Maine Heritage.

MHPC wrote the Maine version of TABOR two years ago as model legislation, Becker said. It was introduced in the Legislature but was not enacted.

“We put it out there for anybody who was interested,” Becker said.

Maine’s law is based on Colorado’s, with improvements, Becker said.

“The Maine TABOR was written specifically for Maine,” Becker said. “Did we consult with people? Absolutely. … This idea is sweeping the nation because taxpayers are fed up.”

And, Becker said, it should be a national idea.

“We’re tired of being at the bottom of the economic barrel,” Becker said. “Is it any wonder that other states don’t want to join us?”

Credentials

There’s no doubting Mary Adams’s credentials. She’s been a tax reform activist who successfully eliminated the state property tax in 1977.

She sees herself as a descendent of the revolutionaries who founded the United States and is an ardent and committed conservative.

She’s no Johnny-come-lately to tax activism, and was there at the beginning in September 2004 when TaxpayerBillofRights.com registered as a political organization in the state and began work on its ballot initiative.

“This kind of revolt, I’ve only seen it happen twice in 30 years,” Adams said.

And TABOR is firmly part of the state’s Republican Party platform.

Early polling in Maine shows broad support for the TABOR proposal, with support outpacing opposition by two- or three-to-one margins.

“People are worried about whether they’ll be able to retire, whether their parents will have to come live with them,” Adams said. “There’s personal drama here and that’s what’s motivating people.”

But the strong poll numbers and vocal supporters haven’t translated into Maine-based economic support, at least not yet.

Indirect support

The support for TABOR doesn’t end with direct financial support to TaxpayerBillofRights.com.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center has remained involved in the pursuit of TABOR since crafting the legislation two years ago.

Roy Lenardson, a former senior policy analyst for the center, is running the pro-TABOR campaign and remains an adviser to Maine Heritage.

Becker, of Maine Heritage, is a frequent companion of TABOR activist Mary Adams, who has become the public face of the ballot initiative. He is a strong advocate for TABOR, a close adviser to Adams and a charismatic spokesman for conservative policies.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center has received financial support from a number of prominent conservative-to-libertarian funding groups. As reported by Victoria Wallack in the Lincoln County News in March, those groups include the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the J.M Foundation.

Becker would not disclose MHPC’s donor list, saying that its confidential, and state and federal law does not require nonprofit organizations to reveal where they get their money.

“We have received financial support from people both inside the state of Maine and outside,” Becker said.

On its Web site, Americans for Limited Government lists TaxpayerBillofRights.com as one of its state partners and also links to the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the Maine Public Policy Institute.

New York developer Howard Rich is the chairman of Americans for Limited Government. His wife, Andrea, is on the board of directors for Atlas. Rich, also, is heavily involved in the Club for Growth, another national organization which supports TABOR and reducing the size of government at all levels and was founded by Grover Norquist, a national anti-tax activist.

Norquist has visited Maine as a guest of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

According to Rich’s biography on the Americans for Limited Government Web site, he founded U.S. Term Limits in 1992 and serves on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., the Club for Growth and the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, which advocates for expanded school choice.

He also leads the Club for Growth State Action, which establishes state affiliates for the Club for Growth, and the Fund for Democracy, which provides seed money for state initiative campaigns.

The Fund for Democracy contributed $1.5 million in March to support a ballot question that would increase property rights, according to campaign disclosure reports filed in California.

The J.M. Foundation reported in 2004 a $15,000 grant to the Maine Heritage Policy Center and a $35,000 grant to Atlas.

Another TABOR benefactor, W.R. “Dick” Jackson Jr. of Yarmouth, has given the TaxpayerBillofRights.com $11,000 since September. He also contributed $2,000 in 2004.

Jackson, along with Becker, co-founded the Maine Heritage Policy Center, and he’s the chairman of its board of directors.

The opposition

Opposition to TABOR has its own cadre of big supporters, including a number of groups that have a vested interest in government.

Citizens United to Protect Our Public Safety, Schools and Communities is a coalition formed to stop TABOR.

According to the most recent disclosure reports filed for the period between June 2 and July 18, The Maine Municipal Association and the Maine State Employees Association each contributed $25,000. Citizens United also reported $6,635 in in-kind contributions for the period. The Maine Education Association gave $1,725 in staff time and travel expenses.

That, ALG’s Wilhelm, said is typical of anti-TABOR efforts in other states.

“There are very well-funded opposition groups out there,” Wilhelm said. “In Oregon, the teachers’ union has poured more than $2 million in.”

She also said that much of the money, especially the contributions from unions, comes from dues that workers have no choice but to pay.

“In Oregon, there are more than 350 individual donors who aren’t forced to give and support is growing like gangbusters,” Wilhelm said.

The groups aligned against TABOR are much the same everywhere, and include the AARP, unions and liberal advocacy organizations. In Maine, Citizens United lists 87 groups as coalition members, including the Maine AFL-CIO, EnvironmentMaine, Maine People’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Tri-County Mental Health.

A lot of these groups, especially the teachers’ and state employees’ unions and Maine Municipal Association, rely directly on taxpayer money to fight tax reform, Becker said.

“All of them are funded 100 percent by taxpayer money and have a vested interest in keeping unfettered access to public dollars,” Becker said.

Bailey, from Citizens United, dismissed the idea that TABOR’s opponents are only looking out for their own, selfish interests.

“It’s an unfair criticism. Everybody has an interest in efficient government,” Bailey said. “Teachers are involved because they think it’s going to decimate the schools. They’re close to the issue, no doubt about that, but they’re concerned about quality education.”

Becker offered a history lesson about the fight for tax reform.

Citizens United is the same PAC that successfully fought the Palesky tax cap proposal in 2004, Becker said.

Its largest single contribution came from the National Education Association, which gave $300,000 in September 2004.

“People who are interested (in TABOR) inside the state of Maine and outside the state of Maine are going to be involved, are going to be involved financially,” Becker said. “History will always repeat itself.”


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