How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Heritage’s Fatally Flawed Study Doubles Down on Romney’s 47 Percent

By Marshall Fitz, Philip Wolgin, and Patrick Oakford

Even though the 2012 presidential election put an end to Mitt Romney’s idea that 47 percent of Americans were moochers “who are dependent upon government,” the Heritage Foundation on Monday doubled down on that thinking, releasing a report that claimed that immigration reform could cost the country $6.3 trillion.

But to believe the Heritage Foundation is to believe—as they say on page 10—that just under 70 percent of all Americans are moochers, taking more from the American economy than they pay in. Only from a starting point that claims 70 percent of Americans “take” from the economy rather than pay into it, can Heritage claim that legalized immigrants would also cost the government trillions of dollars:

 

Unsurprisingly, a bevy of conservative voices, including Paul Ryan, Doug Holtz-Eakin, Grover Norquist, the Cato Institute, and the Bi-Partisan Policy Institute’s Immigration Task Force (co-chaired by former governor Haley Barbour) have all come out against the study.

The fact of the matter is that Heritage’s study is fatally flawed, failing to account for any changes that might occur after legalization. Here are three examples of how Heritage misses the mark:

1. They do not account for increases in wages after legalization: Previous empirical studies of legalized immigrants (particularly the seminal 1996 Department of Labor study of the nearly 3 million unauthorized immigrants who gained legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986,) have found that legalized workers see a 15.1 percent increase in their wages within 5 years. Recent research has also found that citizenship leads to an addition 10 percent increase in earnings. And yet the Heritage study only includes a 5 percent increase. Higher wages and citizenship means more tax revenue, and a lower fiscal cost because immigrants will pay more taxes on their increased earnings and their increased earnings will lower the need and likelihood of using social programs.

2. They count children only in the “benefits-received” column: Heritage includes even native-born U.S. citizen children of unauthorized immigrants in their calculations, leading to large expenditures on things like public K-12 education. And yet they fail to consider any taxes that these children will pay, simply noting that “the odds that the children of unlawful immigrant, on average, will become strong net taxpayers are minimal.” But all children are “costly” when it comes to getting a public education—the implicit bargain is they pay back into the system once they graduate and become taxpayers. By discounting any of these future payments Heritage artificially inflates their overall costs.

3. They undercount current and future education levels: The Heritage Foundation report is premised on the idea that people with lower levels of education use more in benefits than they pay in taxes. So the percentage of people that Heritage counts as less educated matters. But they do not account for the fact that once legal, people have a strong incentive to get more education and training, now that they can legally work in better jobs. So even if the current undocumented population is skewed more toward people without a high school degree, the incentives to get more education in the future (especially for people who might need this education to qualify for things like the DREAM Act provision) will mean a more-educated future immigrant population. Past experience indicates that these aspiring Americans would likely take the steps needed to invest in their education. For example, a Department of Labor study that followed the cohort of immigrants that gained legal status in 1986 found that just five years later, immigrants at all levels had made investments in their education.

Taking each of these changes into account would significantly raise the amount of tax revenue paid by legalized immigrants, and minimize their costs. By failing to account for them, Heritage gives a skewed picture of the ‘cost’ to Americans from immigration reform, one that defies logic and believability.

And beyond just the direct costs and benefits from immigration, the report casually discards any possibility of indirect benefits from immigrants, as the newly legalized take their higher wages and spend them in the economy, growing demand for goods and services, helping grow businesses, and creating more economic value — all of which helps the economy. In fact providing legalization will boost the U.S. GDP by a cumulative $832 billion over ten years, creating on average 121,000 new jobs in each of those years. These are benefits Heritage does not even begin to consider, instead attempting to resurrect the divisive “moochers and makers” arguments of Romney.

Our guest bloggers are Marshall Fitz, Philip E. Wolgin, and Patrick Oakford, who study immigration at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Heritage vs. Heritage: Major Immigration Report Released Today Directly Contradicts Its 2006 Study

— by Igor Volsky 

On Monday, the Heritage Foundation published a widely panned study arguing that comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, as the population will take advantage of an array of government programs, including, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, public education, and population-based services like police and parks.

But the study, which comes out under the leadership of conservative former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), is a sharp departure from a “Backgrounder” the Foundation published in 2006. Then, Heritage noted that “worker migration is a net plus economically” and warned lawmakers against succumbing to “a lopsided, ideological approach that focuses exclusively on border security while ignore migrant workers (or vice versa) is bound to fail.” Below is a comparison of the two:

Heritage in 2013 Heritage in 2006
“[F]ormer unlawful immigrant households would likely begin to receive government benefits at the same rate as lawful immigrant households of the same education level. As a result, government spending and fiscal deficits would increase dramatically.” “An honest assessment acknowledges that illegal immigrants bring real benefits to the supply side of the American economy, which is why the business community is opposed to a simple crackdown… Most immigrant families have a positive net fiscal impact on the U.S., adding $88,000 more in tax revenues than they consume in services.
“Amnesty would also raise retirement costs by making unlawful immigrants eligible for Social Security and Medicare, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of around $22,700 per retired amnesty recipient per year.” “Social Security payroll taxes paid by improperly identified (undocumented) workers have led to a $463 billion funding surplus.”
“Many conservatives believe that if an individual has a job and works hard, he will inevitably be a net tax contributor (paying more in taxes than he takes in benefits). In our society, this has not been true for a very long time. “ “Whether low-skilled or high-skilled,immigrants boost national output, enhance specialization, and provide a net economic benefit.
Unlawful immigration appears to depress the wages of low-skill U.S.-born and lawful immigrant workers by 10 percent, or $2,300, per year. Unlawful immigration also probably drives many of our most vulnerable U.S.-born workers out of the labor force entirely.” Studies show that a 10 percent share increase of immigrant labor results in roughly a 1 percent reduction in native wages-a very minor effect… [C]ritics of this type of insourcing worry that jobs are being taken away from native-born Americans in favor of low-wage foreigners. Recent data suggest that these fears are overblown.”

NOTE:

The author of the 2006 Heritage report disputes the 2013 analysis: “Unless they expect readers to believe all this household income (a) generates no productive work (e.g., makes product, mows lawns, nurses the sick, and starts businesses that hire other Americans) and (b) is 100% remitted abroad, consuming nothing in the U.S. macro economy, then the report is misleading.” Like the other fiscal conservatives today, he argues, “The net effect of this Special Report does real damage to the cause of dynamic analysis. For more than a decade, Heritage has called on CBO to add dynamic analysis to its tax reform studies.”

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.