By Jan Jarrett

A smear campaign is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual’s or group’s reputation, credibility, and character…. Smears often consist of ad hominem attacks in the form of unverifiable rumors and are often distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies… Even when the facts behind a smear are shown to lack proper foundation, the tactic is often effective because the target’s reputation is tarnished before the truth is known. – Wikipedia

PennFuture is under assault by a smear campaign launched by the Commonwealth Foundation (technically, “The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives”). In a press release announcing a “Policy Brief”, the Commonwealth Foundation alleged that our lobbying efforts are secret, even though we’ve filed full reports to both the IRS and the Pennsylvania Department of State. The report also labels our lobbying efforts as “hypocritical, unethical and possibly illegal.” The entire basis for these charges is an apparent error made on our IRS form 990 tax return.

The Commonwealth Foundation’s “report” uses the basic strategy of a smear – take a piece of information and then claim it means something that it does not – and deploys almost all of a smear campaign’s tactics. The report is a concoction of outright lies, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous quotes, and illogical statements. No credible, ethical organization would publish such a dishonest screed.

So, what did we do to deserve this?

The report’s author, Paul Chesser, is a right-wing hit man who specializes in smearing climate research, climate scientists, and organizations working on policies to reduce global warming pollution. He writes for the Heartland Institute’s Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, the American Spectator, the Carolina Journal and other right-wing media outlets. Previously, he had a project associated with the John Locke Society that stalked the Center for Climate Strategies, which advises states on how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

PennFuture has been successfully advocating for progressive policies to move Pennsylvania toward a clean energy economy. We were strong supporters of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, which requires that electricity sold in Pennsylvania include an increasing amount made from renewable resources like the sun, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric projects. That landmark legislation has created a robust renewable energy industry in Pennsylvania and thousands of new jobs. We were also strong advocates for legislation that required the state to develop a climate change action plan; I served on the Climate Change Advisory Committee which produced the recommendations for the plan. Our state plan was facilitated by the Center for Climate Strategies.

The Commonwealth Foundation and its right-wing fellow travelers are losing the debate about climate change. The Foundation was the state lead in the attack on Penn State’s Dr. Michael Mann, who was a prime target of the manufactured “Climategate” scandal. Five investigations have now cleared Dr. Mann and discredited the attack on climate research and climate scientists. So the Commonwealth Foundation needs to continue to try to divert the public discourse from the real issues – how should we combat climate change – by attacking the credibility of PennFuture, which has been successful in promoting policies that will reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

There are also abundant ironies in the attack on PennFuture. The Commonwealth Foundation makes the false charge that our lobbying is secret. As noted above it is not. Chesser was able to put together his report on our “secrets” based on financial information that is freely available on our website. We post our IRS tax returns in full as well as our audited financial statements, and make every effort at transparency and full disclosure. We have nothing to hide.

In stark contrast, the Commonwealth Foundation refuses to disclose its donors. In a remarkable exchange with a commenter on its website who challenged the Foundation to reveal its donors, Nathan Benefield, the Commonwealth Foundation’s Director of Policy Research said, “That PennFuture disclosed their major funders was foolish…” He goes on to give the organization’s rationale for keeping its funders secret, “No chance, we don’t want unions goons (or the KKK) showing up at our donors homes and bashing their skulls with baseball bats.”

The final irony is that the Commonwealth Foundation has its own lobbying reporting problems. In 2008, the Foundation reported spending more on lobbying than it received in total revenues. – which, if true, means it is in total violation of its tax exempt status.

PennFuture will survive this smear attack undertaken by a secretive and paranoid organization. In fact, we take it as a point of pride (and some amusement, since being called unethical by these guys is like being called ugly by a toad).

We will continue to be strong advocates for clean energy policies and other policies they attack us for — like a severance tax on deep natural gas drilling, to protect the environment and local communities, and to reimburse Pennsylvanians for the loss of our natural resources.

This experience will only make us stronger.

Jan Jarrett is the President & CEO Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)

One Response

  1. If Jan is so opposed to “smear campaigns,” how should one characterize her rant?

    ” No credible, ethical organization would publish such a dishonest screed. … Paul Chesser is a right-wing hit man. … [Commonwealth Foundation is] a secretive and paranoid organization. … being called unethical by these guys is like being called ugly by a toad.”

    Come on Jan, your defense is nothing more than ad hominem attacks – a smear campaign of itself to attack the messenger.

    Jarrett goes on to state,

    “The report is a concoction of outright lies, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous quotes, and illogical statements.”

    Yet in her rant, she cannot name a single incorrect fact! She identifies no lies, no unsubstaniated charges, and no illogicial statements. We at CF stand by our guarantee of quality scholarship, and if Jan can find a single error in our Policy Brief, we challenge her to point it out.

    Jan goes on to then avoid discussing PennFuture’s lobbying by writing about Commonwealth Foundation’s. It is true, we report every dollar we spend under Pennsylvania’s lobbyist disclosure law – the state law is so vague it includes any work which could influence policies in the future. The IRS definition is much more narrow – encourage lawmakers or administrative officials to support certain policies, or urging the public to contact lawmakers in support of legislation (which CF does little of, but PennFuture does a lot of).

    The problem is not that CF may report more than required by state law, but that PennFuture is not reporting how much they spend on lobbying. Indeed here is what Jarrett writes,

    “The Commonwealth Foundation alleged that our lobbying efforts are secret, even though we’ve filed full reports to both the IRS and the Pennsylvania Department of State.”

    But the problem is that in their IRS filing, they report spending zero dollars in grassroots lobbying for four of the past five years despite, as shown in our Policy Brief, being engaged heavily in lobbying. Filing reports that hide lobbying expenditures make it pretty secret, does it not?

    Finally, Jarrett glosses over the only fact revealed in her missive:

    “The entire basis for these charges is an apparent error made on our IRS form 990 tax return.”

    So, for the past five years, PennFuture has been making “errors” on their tax returns (we would suggest omissions)! These “errors” are not reporting any lobbying spending, when all they are is a lobbying outfit. And they did not notice these “errors” until the CF exposé pointed it out – yet our report is “lies”.

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