I kept waiting for the governor or an agency head to defend state employees against last month’s Wyoming Liberty Group (WLG) attack. They’re apparently unwilling to do so in this political environment.
Just who is the Wyoming Liberty Group and why are they targeting Wyoming state employees?
Susan Gore, a wealthy heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, founded WLG. According to IRS filings, WLG had about four million dollars in revenue from 2009-2011, big money in small state politics. A Republican friend credits WLG with the new meanness in Wyoming politics. “Without the financial clout of a Texas millionaire that decided to show us Wyoming hayseeds the light,” he says, “those other fringe groups wouldn’t have gotten the traction they have.”
The WLG attacked state employee retirement benefits in an op-ed entitled “A gold-plated pension plan.” WLG employee Maureen Bader, who comes from Canada bearing a Master’s Degree in marketing and policy, wrote the column. The policy she’s marketing is the destruction of state employee pension plans.
WLG’s divisive approach was evident in their attack. WLG employs Bernie Madoff’s name, claiming Bernie would be proud of “the gold-plated promise of retirement security” afforded state employees. The great irony is that someone working for Susan Gore would use Madoff as a metaphor.
Bader repeatedly referred to state employees as “bureaucrats.” The term is designed to elicit a description of someone more concerned with procedure than with people's needs. It’s a derisive term showing disrespect and a lack of any real-world knowledge of the people Wyoming employs to do the people’s work.
It’s especially objectionable when used by an organization more interested in the wealth of the 1% than the welfare of the 99%. WLG is part of what Hillary Clinton called “a vast rightwing conspiracy.”
According to sourcewatch.org, WLG is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). The center for Media and Democracy reports, “The Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.”
SPN developed an agenda directing members to conduct assaults on public education, environmental regulation, Medicaid, and public pension plans.
WLG’s attack on Wyoming’s public pension plan is nothing more than a cookie cutter provided to them by ALEC and SPN. However, the attack is irrelevant in Wyoming where the actuarial status of the plan is excellent. The funded benefits ratio has increased significantly in the last year alone and thirty-year projections show the plan is on a trajectory leading to assets totaling 114.7% of benefit costs.
F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that the rich are different. Fitzgerald was describing people like WLG’s founder. According to Forbes.com (July 8, 2014) Susan Gore once adopted her ex-husband as her “child” as a strategy to get an “extra helping” of her parents’ estate. They died leaving equal shares of company stock in a lucrative trust for grandchildren. Susan had three children. Her siblings had four. So she adopted her ex-husband to give her four “children.” A court said, “Nice try, but no bananas.”
Yet this is the person attacking Wyoming state employees as greedy. The rich are, indeed, different.
Wyoming’s employees didn’t adopt former spouses to secure their retirement. They did it the old fashioned way. They worked for it. There were many years when the legislature refused any salaries increases. Many of those years they were instead assured the state would pay a greater share of retirement contributions.
It was a trade-off of which out-of-staters like Gore and Bader wouldn’t have been aware.
(In the interests of disclosure, I receive state retirement benefits.)
If WLG wants an honest dialogue about pension reform, they should do so with more knowledge of the program’s historic development and be less hypocritical and far less insulting.